Lawyers and Lessons

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.

Important Words

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.

Hamlets

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.

Monitoring

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.

Summer Activities

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/

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Noise and Notification

Concerts by the Lake

For decades Desert Lake Campground has been having up to 12 open air concerts a summer on the shores of Desert Lake. For decades residents have complained about the noise negatively affecting their quality of life. Over the past couple of summers this conflict has “come to a head” with the OPP being called. New owners of the resort responded last summer by ending the concerts ended at 11pm. The Township responded by saying that the noise bylaw must be respected.

South Frontenac’s noise bylaw was passed to regulate noise that is “likely to disturb” residents: including electronically amplified music that “disturbs the peace and comfort of a person.” The Campground needed and, last winter, applied for an exemption to the noise bylaw to hold open air concerts this summer.

Council has granted other exemptions. The Great Canadian Guitar Festival has been exempted, as were the mud drag races and, occasionally, family celebrations, like weddings. Last year, fireworks were further restricted primarily to maintain some semblance of peace and quiet in the evenings.

There are over 40 campgrounds in the Township and none have regular live bands. Maybe because they offer a peaceful vacation, most of our campgrounds are full most of the time. Campgrounds are not meant to be concert venues: it is not compatible with lake life. Sound travels on lakes making lakes close residential communities. It is hard to imagine why a loud music event would be allowed in any residential community, urban or rural, on a regular basis.

Seven Councilors voted in favour of a noise bylaw exemption that will permit four live music concerts at Desert Lake Campground this summer. I and Councilor Revill voted against. The exemption includes a stipulation that the concerts must end at 10pm and bylaw enforcement will be present. Whether further exemptions are granted next year will partially depend on the response of the residents and the Campground to this year’s concerts.

The exemption allowed by Council will likely continue the tension between the campground and residents. It will continue to hurt the quality of life on the lake and sets a precedent that could undercut all communities in South Frontenac.

Notification for Subdivisions Proposals

Last year South Frontenac Council passed expanded notification for public input on proposed subdivisions to allow all residents, permanent and seasonal, a reasonable opportunity to comment. When Frontenac County took over the all aspects of the subdivision approval process Council forwarded our expanded notification provisions to the County for adoption.

The County is now asking for public input on the suitability of expanded notification for residents.

Our Council supported more notification for two main reasons. New subdivision and condominium proposals are complicated, involving many studies and issues, like water is low water areas, proximity to wetlands, and overcrowding on lakes and roads. To prepare adequate comment on these proposals takes time.

Second, many residents of South Frontenac are away for significant amounts of time during the year. Expanding notification gives the time needed to notify these residents and for them to comment.

If you wish to comment on the importance of extended notification please contact the County by May 29: Mail to: County Clerk, Frontenac County, 2069 Battersea Road, Glenburnie, ON, K0H 1S0; or, email your comments to: info@frontenaccounty.ca.

The requirement to ask for something that has already been supported by South Frontenac is another reason that we need to bring back full control over subdivisions to the Township.

OMB Hearings

May will be a busy month for South Frontenac at the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).
Two weeks have been set aside to hear the appeal of the County’s approval of a 13-unit subdivision in Hartington. The hearing starts on May 8 at 11 am.

The appeal of the changes to the zoning bylaw intended to add clarity to the 2003 rules on development in the 30-meter buffer around lakes is scheduled for two days starting May 25 at 10:30am.

Either hearing could not proceed if the sides reach an agreement ahead of time. Both hearings will take place in the Township Council Chambers. The Hearings are open to the public.

Bedford Road Improvements

Bedford Road from the CRCA dam in Sydenham to Alton road, including the Bedford- Portland Corner, is scheduled for redevelopment this year. A meeting to review the proposal from Public Works and invite comments from the public is being held on Wednesday, May 10 from 7-9 pm in the Township Hall. Everyone is welcome. Come along, find out what is proposed and have your say.

 

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Fire and Water

 

Vulnerable Ground Water

One presentation at a recent Conservation Authority session on vulnerable ground water showed that South Frontenac is one of three “hot spots” in Ontario for contaminated ground water.  The study added to previous work that mapped the extensive areas of vulnerable ground water in South Frontenac.

Early results, using genetic analysis on bacteria in our ground water, indicate that the main cause of the contamination is human waste, primarily from septic systems.  A much larger study in the United States, using a similar technique, found that areas with high septic system concentrations had the highest rates of water human waste contamination.  The 2015 U.S. study can be read at:  http://www.pnas.org/content/112/33/10419.full.

 

Water Quality Protection

Council continues to wander around options to protect ground and lake water from septic systems.

Our Chief Building Official (CBO) surprised the Corporate Services Committee by suggesting that many of the ideas raised in the last few years for septic system inspection may not be legal, that is outside of the scope of Council. The suggestions may not be allowed under the Building Code. While there is considerable debate around what can be done, other Townships are introducing septic system programs to protect their ground and lake water.

The CBO also informed the Committee that the Province has introduced an amendment to the Building Code that would make it mandatory to have sceptic tanks pumped at least every five years.  The wording of the proposed amendment can be read at: https://rosssutherlandloughborough.net/2017/03/16/monitoring-septic-systems/

If the province passes this amendment, it would create more options for a Township program.  Since most people already have their systems pumped at least every five years any cost increase would be small, just enough to fill in a form that the tank was pumped.  For the Township, there would be relatively small data entry and education costs.  A program focused on regular pumping would also identify potential high risk septic systems for further attention.

A discussion at Council found that most Councillors were opposed to supporting the proposed amendment to the Building Code. A positive step for those interested in protecting our ground and lake water quality would be to write to the Provincial Government and encourage the passing of the building code amendment on septic system pumping. Send your comments to:  Bill Mauro, Minister of Municipal Affairs, bmauro.mpp.co@liberal.ola.org.

 

Air Quality Protection

Some Verona residents raised concerns about air pollution from outdoor wood furnaces.  The Corporate Services Committee is now considering this issue.  The Committee meetings are open to the public with the agendas and minutes posted on the Council website.

There are many reasons to support wood burning as a source of heat.  There is also little doubt that the conventional outdoor wood furnaces produce a lot of smoke and particulate pollution.  The smouldering burn in these conventional furnaces is the primary cause of the pollution.

One option being discussed is to permit a type of outdoor wood furnace that uses a method called “gasification” that burns much cleaner and has the added benefit of using substantially less wood.   This option would allow existing conventional units in hamlets to continue but when they are replaced they would have to be replaced with a “gasification “unit.  In rural areas, the proposal would allow new conventional units if they were located a significant distance from property lines.

I would like to hear your thoughts on this proposal and any other ideas on outdoor wood furnaces. The Corporate Services Committee will make a recommendation to Council. If Council wants to change the rules on outdoor wood furnaces a public hearing would have to take place before any bylaw changes could be made. In other words, we have time for a full discussion.

 

New Planning-Development Manager

The Township has finally hired a Planning and Development Manger, Forbes Simon.  He has a wealth of experience in rural municipal planning.  As discussed in previous posts, South Frontenac has a multitude of planning and development issues, from the application and approval process to the need to make the Township the final approval authority for subdivisions.  It is a relief to have the full staff compliment in our planning and building department.

 

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Monitoring Septic Systems

A mandatory septic inspection program would be helpful to our lake protection efforts.  It would also protect ground water, particularly in the parts of the Township on Limestone.  Pollution from septic tanks contaminated many wells in Sydenham and ground water nitrates, possibly from septics, are a concern in Hartington.

Council, through the Corporate Services Committee, has been considering a septic inspection programs. Numerous Townships, including, Tay Valley, Huron-Kinross, North Grenville and Springwater, have already enacted some sort of mandatory inspection.  I am sure there are many more but those were easily found in a google search.

The following text is from a report on the Huron-Kinross program.  It outlines some of the legal considerations when setting up a program.  I have followed that with a proposed amendment to the building code which would make septic pumping mandatory: also, something our township is considering.

From the Huron-Kinross Township report:

“1.1        PROGRAM INITIATION 

The Ontario Building Code Act (1992) and Building Code (Ontario Regulation 350/06) regulate the design, construction and renovation of on-site, private wastewater treatment systems with design capacities of less than 10,000 litres/day. ….

To address surface and groundwater quality and concerns regarding the potential of impacts from septic systems…..It was determined that Section 15 of the Building Code Act, gives building officials and inspectors the authority to enter onto private property for the  purposes of inspecting a building or sewage system to determine whether the building or sewage system is unsafe. Relating specifically to sewage systems, Section 15.9 (3) of the Building Code Act states: “a sewage system is unsafe if it is not maintained or operated in accordance with the Act and the building code”. From these requirements of the Building Code, it was determined a septic system inspection program could be instituted to identify whether systems in the Township are being properly maintained and operated.

…….it was estimated that there were approximately 2,700 septic systems in the municipality and that it would take 8 to 9 years to complete inspections for every system. A program was designed with an approach based on first inspecting systems in high risk areas, as determined by local environmental conditions (e.g. soil types, proximity to surface or groundwater) and the suspected relative age of the systems.

……From the authority given by the Building Code, the Township passed By-law 2007-33 on April 16, 2007, implementing a sewage system re-inspection program (the Huron-Kinross Community Septic (HKCSI) program) across the entire municipality. The by-law states the intent of the program is to “identify and resolve hazards associated with malfunctioning sewage systems” and to raise awareness and provide education regarding proper maintenance and operation of sewage systems. Additionally, the long-term goals of monitoring sewage systems and preventing surface and groundwater contamination are outlined in the bylaw.

Funding for the program is based on a user-pay system. In 2007, the cost of an inspection was estimated at $430 per property with a septic system. To reduce the financial impact to property owners, the cost of the inspection was charged as a flat rate of $55 per year, per property on the tax bill. The fee structure and application of fees, as authorized by Section 391 of the Municipal Act, S.O. 2001, is also included in the implementation by-law.

Failure to participate in the program may result in an Order for an inspection issued against the property. The Township can also place a lien on the property to recover costs associated with issuing an order. Given that sewage systems are considered structure, under Sentence 15.10.1(2) of the Building Code, an order can be made if the inspector is not permitted to conduct the maintenance inspection as denying permission would be considered a contravention of the Act.

The following is a proposed amendment to the building code that would mandate pumping of septic sewage systems:

“ PROPOSED CHANGE TO THE 2012 BUILDING CODE

REG. 332/12 AS AMENDED

DESCRIPTION OF THE PROPOSED AMENDMENT

The proposed change requires regular pumping out of septic tanks and keeping of the septic tanks and treatment units’ maintenance records.

EXISTING 2012 BUILDING CODE PROVISION(S)

8.9.3. Maintenance

8.9.3.4. Class 4 Sewage Systems

(l) Septic tanks and other treatment units shall be cleaned whenever sludge and scum occupy one-third of the working

capacity of the tank.

PROPOSED CODE CHANGE

8.9.3. Maintenance

8.9.3.4. Class 4 Sewage Systems

(l) Septic tanks and other treatment units shall be cleaned whenever sludge and scum occupy one-third of the working capacity of the tank or every within five years of the last pump out, whichever occurs first. .

(2) The records of septic tanks and treatment units cleaning as required by Sentences ( 1 ) shall be kept by the operator of the sewage system for submission to the chief building official upon request.

RATIONALE FOR CHANGE

Problem/General Background

The proponent requested the change to strengthen the maintenance requirements of septic systems through regular pump outs and to require record keeping thereof to help ensure compliance with the code requirements.

Conventional systems need to be maintained regularly. Current Code requirements do not include regular/periodic pump outs of septic tanks. The proposed requirement will make it mandatory to pump out septic tanks on a periodic basis and to keep the maintenance records of the pump out.

For anyone interested, sending a letter to the provincial political parties supporting this change would help.

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The Devil’s in the Details

“Ice storm Tuesdays” cancelled a couple of meetings contributing to January and February being relatively quiet months on Council.  Yet, working away in the background, a few changes have been made that could have a big effect on the way Council works and the Township develops.

County Takes Subdivision Approval Process

The County has formed a seven-member Planning Advisory Committee with two representatives from South Frontenac.  The County exercised its legal right and will now take over the official public engagement on subdivisions and condominiums in South Frontenac.  The Planning Advisory Committee will hear the public deputations and make the recommendation to approve or reject a subdivision.  South Frontenac Council will become a voluntary commenting agency.

The new planning process is described in the report,  “Future Policy Direction of Planning Matters.” It can be read at: https://frontenac.civicweb.net/filepro/documents/1189?preview=119505

While the County has had final approval of all subdivisions the Township has organized the public meetings, notified the community, prepared draft conditions for approval, debated the subdivision and made a recommendation to approval or deny. The Township’s recommendations were usually followed by County Council.

The County started to become more involved when South Frontenac delayed, questioned and initially rejected a subdivision proposed for the middle of a provincially significant wetland on Johnson’s Point.  The County, in a significant break with tradition, then approved the Hartington subdivision that South Frontenac Council had rejected.

The planning process changes mean that residents of South Frontenac, if they have concerns about a subdivision or condominium, will be making their case to a committee chaired by the Mayor of North Frontenac which has a large majority of members from outside the Township. It is not clear if the County will recognize the Township’s expanded pubic notice requirements.

Overall this process will reduce the level of public influence on major development decisions in South Frontenac.  It will be less democratic.

Last year, Council passed a motion that the Township take over the final approval for subdivisions and condominiums.  This objective was put on hold until we hired a new Planning /Development coordinator.  The hiring has taken longer than expected. It is time to start the process of taking local control of our subdivision approval regardless of the hiring.

The Township also needs to redo its official pan to reflect current community wishes on how the Township should develop.  This process has also been delayed by the hiring process and our committee structure.

Opening up Council Committees

Council has two small committees, a Public Services Committee and a Corporate Services Committee. There is discussion of establishing a third on Development and Planning.

These committees have been fairly low key affairs providing “political” advice on issues being considered by staff before reports come to Council.  In some instances, the Committees operate as a place to send issues that Council does not want to vote against, but does not want to proceed with: sort of a non-controversial kill zone.

While legally public, the times of the meetings and the agendas are often not even known to all Councilors, let alone the public.

The Corporate Services Committee is recommending that committee meeting times and agendas should be posted on the Township website.

Currently only Councilors on the committee are allowed to speak.  The next step may be to open up the Committee meetings further and have a process where other Councilors and the public can have input into committee discussions.

Questionable Road Contract Pricing

Two recent contracts awarded by tender are cause for concern. The contract for double surface treatment has increased 46% from 2011 to 2017 a yearly average 7.7%, The unit price for micro surfacing has increased 25% between 2015 and 2017, or 12.5% a year,

Oil, a key component of these costs, has dropped from $115 per barrel in 2011 to $52 in 2017; and, labour costs have increased on average 1.5% a year between 2011 and 2015.

Seven and twelve percent increases on a major budget expense, 1,009, 682 dollars in 2017, is not sustainable.

Council has asked Public Works to approach other eastern Ontario municipalities to explore the possibly of cooperating in the purchase of these services or in jointly providing them.

 

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Community Basics: Septics, Budgets and Festivals

Septic Inspection

A septic system inspection program is back on the agenda. The Corporate Services Committee heard verbal briefings from the Public Health Unit and the Chief Building Inspector on options. The public health unit was skeptical of the value and affordability of a Township-wide mandatory inspection program. They also questioned the legality of just inspecting septic systems on Lakes.
A program in Tay Valley Township allows a lake association to request a mandatory inspection program, run by the Township, for its lake. Central Frontenac Township has a committee developing a program that could lead to mandatory pumping of septic systems every five years. While the details are still being finalized, the pumping company would be responsible for completing a short form on the condition of the septic and those records would be monitored by the Township. Similar programs exist in Quebec.
Township staff have been asked to come back with a report on the next steps. One proposal is to create a community committee to look at the options and hold a public meeting to discuss programs like the ones in Tay Valley and Central Frontenac.

Budget Update

Council passed a 28 million dollar budget for 2017 with a 2% tax increase: possibly the lowest increase of all area municipalities. It is a fair budget and continues to improve services. It passed in a 4-3 vote. I, Councillors Revill and McDougall, and Mayor Vandewal voted in favour.
Councillors Barr and Sleeth wished to maintain the solid waste charge which would likely have both further increased taxes and provided fewer services. There was some concern that rolling the solid waste charge into general revenues meant Council wanted to end the bag tag system. There is strong community support for waste diversion and it is important to the future of our landfills and the health of the Township. No proposals have there been discussed to weaken the system and you will be getting your bag tags at the end of February.
Mark Segsworth, our Pubic Works Manager, sits on the provincial body establishing guidelines for the Waste Free Ontario Act and he will update Council on the Act in February. I hope this legislation will produce some significant improvements in waste reduction, reuse and recycling.
There is nothing special about a 0%, 2% or 4 % budget increase. It is important to have sufficient income to provide the services the community needs balanced against the ability of people to pay. The political nature of these financial decisions is one reason Council agreed to a more open budget process. I would encourage everyone to have their say next year. It will make a difference to the decision that Council makes.

Democracy Deficit?

Two facts this month point to some problems with our local democracy. First, we now have a Council where only 4 of the nine members were elected. Second, our largest District, Loughborough, has 34% more voters than our smallest, Bedford. This gap is likely to get bigger leading to a further lack of equal representation across the Township.
These facts are a starting point for a community discussion on how to improve the representativeness and accountability of our Council.

Up coming events

The Third Annual Perth Road Winter Olympics will be held at the Harris Hall Park, in Perth Road, on Saturday, February 11 from noon till 2:30. Come out and enjoy some outdoor family run and good chili. Everyone is welcome.
The Lakes and Trails Festival is planned for July 15 from 10-3 pm at the Point Park in Sydenham. The event is being organized by South Frontenac Rides, the Sydenham Canoe Club and a group of Sydenham residents. The festival will include a bike around Sydenham Lake, a historical-scavenger-hunt walk around Sydenham, a dragon boat, a paddling scavenger-hunt on the Lake and a community BBQ: more details to follow. It is hoped that the festival will become an annual event that brings the community together.
South Frontenac’s Canada 150 celebration will be held on August 26, in Centennial Park. Once again, more details to follow.

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Year End Surprises

Rather than being straightforward the last Council meeting of 2016 contained two surprises.

Budget Blocked

After two months of negotiation and compromise an agreement, supported by most Councillors, had been reached on the 2017 budget. The only step left was final approval.

Councillors Sleeth and Roberts withdrew their support just before the vote at the December 20 meeting. They questioned one of the first items all Councillors agreed to back in October: to roll the sanitation charge into the overall tax levy. The proposed budget lost on a tie vote: once again illustrating that ‘it is not over until it is over’.

Rolling the sanitation charge into the general tax levy would make the Municipal Taxes slightly fairer. 70% of township properties, the lower valued properties, would see slightly smaller increases in their taxes, the other 30% would see a slightly larger increase.

The sanitation charge has long since lost any relationship to the actual costs of recycling and waste management. Rolling those costs into the general levy, like any other service, puts greater pressure on waste management to be as effective as possible.

Rather than starting 2017 implementing the new budget, staff is now redrafting new proposals for consideration.

Councillors Clipped?

The other surprise was a motion to review our rules of procedure. We had just completed a review of this bylaw a year ago.

The motivation for the review raises a few questions. The intention seems to be to limit the issues that Councillors can discuss with constituents.

There are already some clear limits on this interaction. Councillors are prohibited from releasing information raised in a closed meeting. This restriction applies to a small number of issues set by provincial law. All other items must be discussed in public.

Similarly, Councillors, unless specifically designated to do so, are not permitted to negotiate on behalf of the Township; nor can they direct staff. Most of these restrictions make common sense and are already part of our legal framework.

Further restrictions limiting general discussions between residents and Councillors would be going against more openness and accountability. It may also be a violation of Canada’s charter rights.

One common, and accurate, criticism of our democracy is that staff and politicians make too many decisions without properly considering residents concerns. This undemocratic practice is based in an out-of-date way of doing Township business. It assumes that accountability simply involves voting. After the election, according to this opinion, Councillors and staff know best. They should just get on with making decisions: the less public interference the better.

Most residents want more accountability and involvement. This is what makes a vibrant democracy. This Council has made some progress with improvements in notice requirements and public involvement. But more needs to be done. New restrictions will not help.

Filling Councillor Robinson’s Seat

As many of you know Councillor Bill Robinson, from Portland District, passed away in December. On January 10, Council will consider how to fill the position. There are two main options. One is that Council can appoint a new Councillor. The other is to hold a by-election.

A by-election would be the most democratic. There are almost two years left in this term of Council and the residents should get to decide on who represents them. The arguments against holding a by-election are that the term is over half over and the cost is significant. I am interested in your comments, should we appoint or hold a by-election?

2017 is the 150th anniversary of our beloved Country. I hope you will be able to participate in the many celebrations.

I wish you, your family and friends a very happy new year. I look forward to working with you to make our part of Canada a better place. See you around the Township.

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