PERTH COUNTY – County councillors raised several concerns when Planning Services Manager Sally McMullen provided councillors with an overview of the process being used to develop the new Official Plan on June 17.
Even though the first draft of Perth County’s new official plan may still as much as a year away from completion, county council will begin a public consultation process this summer on the impacts of the new natural-heritage-systems land designation on local landowners.
Several councillors raised concerns about the possible impacts of the new land designation and growth projections used to determine where the four lower-tier municipalities can expand over the next 25 years.
“The Official Plan is our document,” said McMullen. “It is a document that speaks to how the community will develop over time. It really, I think, should be accessible to as many people as possible and so from a reader’s perspective that means plain language so that is one of the lenses that staff are working on right now.”
She said part of the process right now is taking the text components and making sure they reflect the personality of Perth County.
“All the placeholders are there, the base language is there but we do need to sort of tweak it here and there to make sure it reflects how we want our community to grow here,” said McMullen.
She said the bulk of the mapping work involved in preparing the plan is complete.
“We have rebuilt all of the layers, all the data sets and recorded each step along the way,” said McMullen. “So there is a lot of integrity built into that data.”
Growth-planning workshops are taking place for the lower-tier municipalities.
“The idea of the workshop is to give everyone the same sort of education, the same information about how growth planning fundamentally unfolds,” she said.
“You know how a sense of urgency there is about the Official Plan coming from North Perth of course,” said Coun. Todd Kasenberg. “I want to ask the awkward question – you indicated sort of an optimistic timeline or projections, what do you think of the worst-case scenario and projections for the delivery of the next official plan?”
McMullen said she tends not to think about that and just keeps driving towards her goal of finishing the plan this year. If the natural heritage piece can be achieved in the summer she feels there will be a good chance it will be completed this year, but the worst-case scenario is that the winter is when public consultation is completed, leaving the plan to be complete by early spring.
“I think we know from experience of other jurisdictions that this can be a highly controversial matter, and probably the time for public consultation cannot be excessively shortened or limited,” said Kasenberg. “We have to give ample time for people to have their say and be able to evaluate the impacts on their plots so I guess I sort of asking about that in terms of that timeline again.”
McMullen said Kasenberg was making a good point and that staff is pulling together information and examples to help residents understand the potential impact of the map.
“So a lot of concern comes from not being able to continue your business, carry on farming on a parcel you’ve been farming for ages,” she said. “It’s important to understand… what does the map actually means to you and your daily practices, but also projects you might have planned for your farm over the next… decade.”
While McMullen noted this new designation won’t impact area farmers too much, several councillors disagreed.
“I think the natural heritage designations are probably… going to be the most controversial part of the whole operation,” said Coun. Walter McKenzie.
He suggested that when the county has finished its research a few smaller meetings should be scheduled across the county to engage the public.
McMullen agreed that meeting with smaller groups, either in person or virtually, will be best provided it does not overload staff workloads.
“As a farmer who was affected in the past by having a designation changed on their farm without me really being told, and it does really affect us,” said Deputy Warden Rhonda Ehgoetz. “You commented that it doesn’t affect us a lot – it does. It’s the driest piece on our farm and yet it’s designated as a wetland, so it impedes us from building… there is a whole lot of things it is going to impede on my farm.”
She then raised concerns with the growth projections and industrial land in Perth East being designated around under-serviced hamlets and villages. The projections made by planning consultants Watson and Associates for the lower tiers are used in the new Official Plan to select specific land for future industrial, residential and other development over the next 25 years.
“I’m not happy (Watson and Associates) used data from 2011 and 2016,” Ehgoetz said. “The data’s 10 years old before we start. The last year we’ve had tremendous growth in all our municipalities and I think we need to go back and have a look at that. Whether it’s staff that does it – I’m very leery of having (Watson and Associates) brought back in again – that is going to be a huge financial thing to look at but the data they have used doesn’t include what has happened in our last year to 18 months. Like I say we’ve had tremendous growth in houses. We have businesses popping up all over Perth East and we’ve never had that before.”
Based on the data which the consultant used it was determined North Perth and Perth East both need additional serviceable land to meet their needs, while West Perth and Perth South have enough to meet growth projections.
Ehgoetz and Coun. Robert Wilhelm noted that several Perth East landowners were disappointed after designations changed on their properties without notice when the Official Plan was updated 24 years ago.
“I don’t think that’s right,” said Wilhelm. “I believe if you are going to change someone’s property you should notify them and I don’t believe our planning staff probably has the time or the capabilities of going through every piece of property to see if a revised heritage is going to change on all the properties in Perth County.”
McMullen explained that Watson and Associates originally finished its study in 2019. Council asked them to update it using building permit data.
“What I am hearing is that there is interest… to update that study once more to reflect the growth of these municipalities over the past year and a half,” she said.
Council voted to have Watson and Associates review more recent growth data to determine if more land needs to be designated for future growth throughout the county.
Colin Burrowes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner