Business was slow around the council circle in May. However, lawyers and the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) had a busy month with 11 days of hearings in the Township Hall. Both the Hartington subdivision and the 30 meters lake protection bylaw appeal were heard. Decisions are expected in a few months.
OMB hearings show how important the words and ideas in our official plan (OP) and zoning bylaws are. These are two of the four main documents used in determining how development will take place in the Township. The other two are provincial: the Planning Act and the Provincial Policy Statements.
The importance of our OP and zoning bylaw will increase, if, as proposed by the government, the Ontario Municipal Board is abolished. Greater power is proposed for municipal councils to make the final decisions on development.
The suggested new process will allow development decisions to be overturned only if they do not follow provincial policies or municipal plans. The new “Local Planning Appeal Tribunal” will, if a violation is found, rather than determining the final development, refer it back to the local Council for re-working.
These changes make it more important that we have an up-to-date Official Plan and zoning bylaw that reflect the wishes of the community.
The fact that Hartington is a “settlement area” listed in our OP was important in the planning discussion at the OMB. The provincial government’s Policy Statements direct that “settlement areas” or hamlets should be prioritized for development.
One of the ways we can control development is by being clear on what areas should be hamlets. Our Township has many small historic hamlets. Hartington is one of these, as well as in Loughborough, Rialton, Perth Road, Wilmer and Spaffordton. Do we want subdivision developments in these areas? Should we be more restrictive of development in rural areas? Should we prioritize a few hamlets for more development and make them commercial hubs for the community?
The Hartington hearing pointed to hamlets and hamlet boundaries as one of the urgent issues to consider in a community rewrite of our Official Plan.
Poor Water Areas
The Hartington appeal, regardless of the outcome, highlighted that we do not have policies that adequately protect and improve ground water quantity and quality. This is an oversite for a township with many areas of poor water quality and quantity and one that will rely on private wells for the foreseeable future.
The Conservation Authorities’ recent identification of water recharge zones and areas of ground water vulnerability, the provincial source water protection initiatives and current research on septic systems and water quality provide more information that we need to consider in directing development. Ground water is another area that needs to be addressed in a new Official Plan.
The Hartington subdivision hearing also questioned whether the Township and County can ensure that conditions put on subdivisions proposals are completed before development can begin. Last year, Council echoed this concern by proposing to hire an outside consultant to oversea the implementation of conditions on all ongoing subdivision/condominium developments.
It is common, and often reasonable, to say to a developer, if these conditions are met then the development can proceed. The developer takes the risk of trying to meet the conditions (if they are not met than the development can not proceed and the investment is lost). On the other hand, there is an assurance that if the conditions are met then the development will proceed.
For this approach to work, the community needs confidence that any conditions placed on the development, for instance around water, traffic, noise, lights, aesthetics, and other improvements beneficial to the community, are met.
The proposal to hire a consultant was put on hold pending the hiring of new Manager of Planning and Development. That has been done and a motion is coming to the next Council meeting asking for a report on the Township’s ability, in terms of resources and process, to ensure that conditions placed on developments are met.
In addition to our regular summer activities there is a Township wide Canada 150th celebration taking place in Centennial Park, Harrowsmith on August 26. The first annual Lakes and Trails Festival is being held in Sydenham on July 15 from 10am-2pm. More information can be found at: https://lakesandtrailsfestival.org/