SDG nears end of five year appeal battle

·3 min read

CORNWALL – “It certainly does warm my heart to know the damage you can do with a marker, a map, and little-to-no local knowledge if you’re sitting at Queen’s Park,” acting-Warden Allan Armstrong stated at the July 18 SDG Counties Council meeting. Armstrong was reacting to the $480,000 in legal fees spent by the Counties to appeal changes made by the provincial government to the Official Plan.

“It’s absolutely insane. Perhaps [the Ontario government] could step outside the GTA the next time they want to take a map and a marker,” he added.

Council passed amendments to the Official Plan which settled most of the land use issues that SDG has been appealing for the past five years. Armstrong explained, the cost to SDG and the six lower-tier municipalities is not just the legal fees.

“I think you’re all actually being kind because you’re focusing on the $480K excluding staff time and municipalities,” he said. “In North Dundas, I’m not sure we haven’t paid our own planner over $500k, not just in this process but previous work he had done on it. Everyone else is sharing in the cost of it.”

In 2017, SDG approved its Official Plan document. About six months later, that document was approved by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing with modifications. Over 250 square kilometres of land were redesignated without consulting SDG staff or Council of the day.

Nearly 40 affected parties including the seven governments appealed the changes by the ministry. Most of the appeals dealt with changing land designation from Agricultural Resource to Rural, which restricts land use. The remaining appeals dealt with the aggregate use, settlement boundaries, or some site-specific issues.

One outstanding appeal remains for a property in South Stormont on Headline Road.

Costs from the appeal process against the provincial government by municipalities is rarely awarded. This means the fees and time involved will be paid through municipal taxation, a point Councillor Tony Fraser (North Dundas) was visibly upset about.

“It needs to be said and the taxpayers need to understand the absolute waste by the ministry,” he said. “It’s absolutely atrocious.”

Fraser pointed to issues with social housing, affordability, and reports from SDG staff of increased costs for road construction this year due to inflation.

“[The province] thinks nothing of it to spend $480K of our taxpayers money,” he said. “That’s where it went. It’s such a disgrace!”

Councillor Jim Wert (North Stormont) was more conciliatory suggesting recommendations should be made to the ministry on how to avoid this type of situation again.

“It ultimately comes down to communication,” Wert said. “I think we could have taken that money and invested it somewhere else to more benefit than what we’re seeing in this process.”

He added that the process could have been handled “with a sentiment of cooperation” to avoid most of the appeal issues in the first place.

SDG and lower-tier staff time handling over four years of work in the appeal process has not been calculated by the various local governments involved.

Counties Chief Administrative Officer Tim Simpson said the process highlighted the flaws in the land-use system.

“To me this is another example of how the provincial system is completely broken when it comes to land-use planning,” he told council. “It’s a provincially-controlled system and they make the rules and unilateral changes without consultation.”

Phillip Blancher, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Morrisburg Leader

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