County Official Plan back to committee level to deal with designations and boundary definitions

·8 min read

Pembroke – It’s back to the drawing board for the County of Renfrew Official Plan(OP) with a few changes still needed at the committee level and then back to Renfrew County Council before more distribution to municipalities and an eventual public meeting.

“I’m not prepared to have this endorsed to commenting agencies until the council of the County of Renfrew is satisfied,” said Admaston/Bromley Mayor Michael Donohue last Wednesday at a virtual county council meeting after pointing out some of the changes councillors were told were made were either vague or not outlined in the document.

One issue was the OP amendment councillors had received as part of their packet had undergone additional tweaking by staff. While some areas of concern were eliminated others were being studied on a case-by-case basis and Mayor Donohue said one concern was the document needed to be clearer before it was passed on to municipalities and other agencies for comment.

“Agricultural land is deserving of protection or it is not,” he noted.

The result is this Official Plan amendment, which is very much a living document, will not be approved very quickly. The most contentious issues appear to be the agricultural designation of some properties as well as the deer yards in Killaloe, Hagarty and Richards, but many of the other areas which had created concern and angst in the community have been resolved. These include the one kilometre development buffer around urban communities and some of the mapping which is now just being used as a guide instead of triggering an automatic study.

Mayor Donohue’s resolution to send it back to the Community Development committee and then return to county council was overwhelmingly endorsed by the mayors and reeves. This is despite the fact county staff, including CAO Paul Moreau, re-iterated the intent had never been to approve the document but rather to keep the commenting process ongoing.

“This is a resolution that keeps the process moving forward,” the CAO said of the original resolution to send the draft amendment out to commenting groups.

Director of Development and Property, Craig Kelley, had the task of outlining the changes made to the Official Plan amendment, including several which were not in the document councillors had before him. He stressed the intent by county staff was to help the county grow.

“We are development friendly, but it is just a matter of working within the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS),” he said.

Some of the changes he highlighted included secondary dwelling units being allowed on properties.

“We’ve heard of many folks who want to bring additional family members to the area,” he said. “It does allow an additional housing unit outside the primary dwelling.”

This could keep a family on the farm for example in a separate home. This will all be subject to local zoning by-laws by lower-tier municipalities, he added.

The fringe development issue, where the county had recommended any development within a kilometre of urban centres be restricted to allow for the possible expansion of water/sewer services, has all but been removed. While the councillors had the information in the packet it would be narrowed down to 500 metres outside an urban limit, Mr. Kelley said staff now recommended the removal of this policy.

“We talked about one kilometre or 500 metres,” he said. “We understand the tone against. At this time, we’d like to remove this proposal.”

However, he said this is an issue which still needs to be considered.

“When it comes to development in the fringe, we will work with the proponent and the municipality to see if it is the best fit,” he said.

A growth friendly change was small housing developments on private roads which would also be for small housing groupings on private roads, he said.

As well, the aggregate layer is now considered information only and does not constrain development.

One issue of ongoing contention is the designation of new agricultural land in Horton Township. Mr. Kelley said staff needs direction on this.

“We have to strike a balance between the PPS and what county council would like us to do,” he stressed. “We are seeing rural growth. We get it.”

The planning department is receiving between two and three inquiries a day and is quite busy, he added.

Warden Debbie Robinson said it is important not to focus on a confrontational environment with the Official Plan amendment.

“It is not council against staff,” she said. “We are trying to work together.”

Renfrew Reeve Peter Emon said residents need to recognize the county has to work within constraints set out by the province.

“The County of Renfrew cannot just rip up the Provincial Policy Statement nor can they ignore the Planning Act,” he said. “We are bound by that.”

He said the changes made to the plan made it “a pretty positive day. We managed to whittle down a number of contentious issues. I am a lot more hopeful today than I was six weeks ago.”

Constraints on Development

Horton Mayor David Bennett said while he was glad to see some things removed from the plan, like the buffer around rural areas for development, he still had major concerns about the designation of agricultural land in his township. He said his municipality has hired a consultant to study the agriculture designation. He pointed out there is no supporting documentation showing why this land was designated as prime agriculture.

“It is very difficult to drive across Horton and say this is number one land,” he said. “There is no justification for a lot of that.”

If the land remains designated as agriculture it will be impossible to do development there, he said.

“We see this as the future for Horton,” he said. “The highway was our economic growth. When you look at the mapping, agriculture has put a rope around growth.”

Understanding why some properties were designated as agriculture is baffling to him, he said.

“The government flew over on a 747 and saw a piece of green land and decided it was agricultural,” he said.

Killaloe, Hagarty and Richards Mayor Janice Tiedje was also outspoken in her concerns. Agreeing with Mayor Bennett, she said she was happy to see some changes to the plan including the removal of the development barrier outside urban centres.

“I’m very happy to hear by the stroke of a pen you removed the one kilometre buffer from the village,” she said.

Her issue continues to be the map which shows most of her municipality designated as a deer yard. This covers about 80 per cent of the township, she said.

“You took a little bit away,” she admitted. “But I have to show objection to that habitat in my township. I cannot justify to anybody the need for that.”

North Algona Wilberforce Mayor James Brose said he also has an issue with mapping. He pointed out there were areas identified as agriculture which should not be classified as such.

“My concern is it further restricts our opportunity for development in our municipality,” he said. “We are looking to create opportunities for developers.

“If we restrict further it hinders our opportunity for development and to keep our taxes at a reasonable level,” he said.

Council then proceeded to vote on the move by Mayor Donohue to have the document sent back to the committee level. Mayor Tiedje asked for a recorded vote. While the vast majority of council agreed to send it back, some argued for continuing the process by having the document distributed for more comments now.

“This is not a perfect document,” Reeve Emon admitted, saying it was important to get the information out and then focus on the irritants.

“Part of our struggle is it has been so prolonged,” he said. “I’d like to keep moving if we can because we have had some successes.”

In the end, council agreed to send it back to the committee level. Warden Robinson told the Leader later there had been some widespread concern because the document shown in the packet to the councillors was not what was presented on Wednesday.

“So, staff were asked to clean it up a bit and go to committee and back to county,” she said.

As well, there might be the opportunity to already hear from the consultant hired by Horton looking into the agricultural lands.

Warden Robinson said council wants to have a workable document.

“We are taking this seriously,” she said. “Once we have a reasonable draft, we will send it out, but it has to go to the province for comments.”

While the county has been given some discretion, this is not a carte blanche to do whatever it wants, she stressed.

“We still have a Provincial Policy Statement we must adhere to,” she said. “We need to use working which allows some flexibility to grow. We don’t have the ultimate authority to scrap the Provincial Policy Statement.”

Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader