There has been no development permit issued for a new subdivision in Fairview, P.E.I.'s minister of land confirmed Friday, even though photos tabled in the legislature show construction seems to be well underway.
The land under development is part of the new Rural Municipality of West River. But because that municipality's land use plan is still awaiting provincial approval, jurisdiction over permitting and development remains with the P.E.I. government.
In a letter addressed to three different cabinet ministers, the municipality's Mayor Helen Smith-MacPhail wrote "the Rural Municipality has significant concerns" that, while provincial planning staff are aware of construction on the property, "no approvals, preliminary or otherwise, have been provided for this 'proposed development.'"
Calling it a 'proposed development,' she went on, "seems an inappropriate term given that development is already well underway."
Opposition leader Peter Bevan-Baker tabled the mayor's letter in the legislature Friday and took up the municipality's case during question period.
"This development involves major changes in land use, including building a road through farmland," he said, speaking to the Minister of Agriculture and Land Darlene Compton.
"Has your department issued a development permit for this project, and critically, have you conducted the public consultations required for such a change in land use?"
"We have not issued any permits yet and there is still a lot of information we need before we do that," the minister responded.
'A blanket permit'
When Bevan-Baker asked the Minister of Environment Steven Myers about work that took place in the buffer zone along the West River, the minister replied no permit was necessary because the work was undertaken by a licensed contractor with "the ability to do it through a blanket permit because they have the training that we offer, and they only have to notify us."
A government spokesperson told CBC via email that contractors who are certified can conduct shoreline stabilization, landscaping in a buffer zone and operate machinery on a beach without requiring the usual permit. They must notify the province when they do so.
Similarly, landowners who use a licensed contractor do not require a permit for work conducted in a buffer zone.
"Here we have a situation where substantial work was done, either without the province knowing about it, or with the province … giving this sort of blanket, 'yeah carry on and we'll check it out afterwards,'" said Bevan-Baker, speaking to reporters after question period.
"Everything is backwards, as far as I'm concerned."
Bevan-Baker said West River engaged in a lengthy, in-depth consultation process to develop its land use plan, and what's happening in Fairview contradicts that plan.
Mayor concerned this may become the norm
In her letter to the province, Smith-MacPhail said by allowing the development to go ahead the province is setting "a very dangerous precedent" which could undermine the ability of all Island municipalities to govern land use within their boundaries.
"How will we and other similar municipalities be able to enforce our official plan and land use bylaws if the province does not discourage premature development activities and development decisions are rendered after the fact?" she wrote.
"What is to prevent this from becoming the norm for land use across the Island?"
Smith-MacPhail asked the province "to stop any further activity at this location pending further investigation and proper processes being followed."