New Official Plan (OP) proposals from staff, based on the public consultations, were presented to Council last month. The initial Council discussion identified two contentious issues. Not surprisingly, both focused on growth: where it should go and how we should control it.
The public consultations showed a strong preference for most new residential development taking place in hamlets: specifically, Verona, Harrowsmith, Sydenham, Inverary, Battersea, Sunbury and Hartington.
Some on Council suggested that there were many non-productive rural areas that could be developed. They also argued no one wants development in their own area, and since everyone on Council does not live in a hamlet, that is why some want development in hamlets. There was also the contention that there is not enough room in hamlets to accommodate all the new development, nor is it safe to have that many private wells and septic systems so close together.
The result of their arguments is that we should continue more or less as we have and develop a township of two acre lots from the Rideau Canal to Stone Mills.
Some of these concerns are real. Finding good ground water is a limiting factor on development in Harrowsmith, Sydenham and Inverary. The crowding of septics is a ground water pollution problem, even if they are all functioning properly. For these reasons Council and the County have been actively developing, as part of the new OP process, policies for small scale municipal water and sewer systems.
There is sufficient space within current hamlet boundaries to accommodate the projected growth over the next 20 years, to state otherwise is not accurate.
Yes, there are non-productive rural lands, from a farming point-of-view, that could be built on. These properties are also very likely productive wild spaces, add to the aesthetics of the Township, and, if developed, could add to the Township’s operational costs and contribute to global warming.
In the past the Township has favoured creating large lots anywhere. Because land was cheaper and water easier to find is rural areas, that meant most development spread out across rural South Frontenac.
An alternative is to have an OP that makes it easier for good development in hamlets and difficult to develop on agricultural lands, in wild green areas, and near lakes and wetlands.
More people living in our hamlets makes them more viable for the services and small business most people want as part of their daily life.
Commercial and Industrial Growth
The staff’s OP proposals recommended dedicated lands for commercial and light industrial growth. This is partially in response to a provincial requirement that we need to accommodate 1,100 more jobs in South Frontenac.
Some councilors argued that we need “to remove roadblocks” to development so that when developers, both residential and commercial, come with a plan they can proceed quickly. The argument is essentially opposed to community-controlled development.
The planning process, at its best, is a democratic community coming together and saying this is the kind of community we want in 20 years. We want vibrant hamlets, viable wild spaces, good community services, a range of housing options, safe communities and in our case strong farms and good lakes. The Official Plan, at the end of the process, should take into account as many views as possible, but, in the end a vote will determine what development can go where.
The Official Plan and related Zoning Bylaws can be amended over the next 20 years, but it should be difficult. The plans should be a brake on anyone coming along and saying “I have an idea that works for me and I want to do it here”. A good process should make it easy for development that fits with what the democratically decided plan and makes it much harder for random individual plans.
Wetlands and Non-Prime Agriculture
In these preliminary discussions Council seemed in general agreed that non-prime agricultural lands, lands that are often useful for grazing and hay, both needed for a strong local food production system, should be protected as well as prime agricultural land.
Similarly, there was little objection to stronger shoreline protection and moving development farther back from significant wetlands. Both of which have been contentious issues in the past.
Setting the current plan is a once in a generation opportunity to structure our Township to be the best that it can be. Please take a few moments to look at the initial proposals from staff.
Send along your comments to the consultation page and watch for a draft Official Plan.
The schedule is still for a vote on a new Official Plan in the fall of 2022.
Open Air Burning Permits?
The Township is also gathering community comments on a permit system for open air burning. Please read the information and send along your comments through the survey.