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Apartments in outbuildings approval would be precedent setting

Council decided earlier this month that the illegal conversion of storage buildings into rental units on a rural residential property in Hallowell was an important contribution to the County’s affordable housing challenges.

Although the staff report from Engineering, Development and Works recommended denying the application because it did not conform with the County’s official plan, it was hard to understand that not one of the councillors in attendance saw any reason why the application should not be approved.

The committee also decided not to put any deadline on requiring the applicant to install an appropriate septic system, waiving the usual one year completion requirement which was also confusing and worrying.

The staff report pointed out that affordable housing is best directed to the settlement areas where infrastructure and public services are provided. One councillor argued that allowing new residential units on rural properties would actually save the County money in infrastructure costs since the costs of water and septic services would be carried by the property owner. He completely ignored existing affordable housing policies to concentrate affordable housing in higher density areas such as Picton and Wellington where not only water and sewer services are already in place, but where access to services such as medical and dental and shopping are available.

Since we live beside the illegally converted units we made a submission and a deputation  outlining our concerns about the environmental impact of the development and about the dangerous precedent of permitting conversion of out buildings to residential units on rural properties.

The applicant for re-zoning had personal financial reasons for illegally converting storage space on the property to residential space. She told her story and showed ppictures of the tenants currently living in the units. They seemed very moved by her story. However, we didn’t understand why an individual’s personal circumstances should be grounds for setting a precedent that could see anyone with outbuildings and the desire to make money going ahead with conversion of the buildings and telling council after the fact that their desire was to create affordable housing.

The final decision on this application will be made at the August 27th council meeting.  If you share our concern about how this precedent will affect future development in rural areas of Prince Edward County please call or write your councillor or register to make a deputation at the August Council meeting.

Mary MacDonald and John Chenery
RR2 Bloomfield

Filed Under: Letters and OpinionNews from Everywhere Else

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  1. wevil says:

    I have a large garage on my property.does this mean I can turn it into an apartment without getting a permit.sounds like this is what has taken place on the property along the road to wellington.i can give council a good story as to why I should turn my garage into an aoartment

  2. John Thompson says:

    Although all of the land in the vicinity of the traffic circle is prime agricultural, the east side towards Picton has been designated urban growth for some time so is available for development. If land beyond the circle is chosen for a fire hall, Council has been given the heads up to expect an OMB appeal. They should expect an appeal in this outbuildings to apartments case as well.

  3. Chris Keen says:

    @ Mark – Council and Staff are responsible for the Official Plan.

    Do check out this website – it provides a lot of information over and above what I posted yesterday.

  4. Mark says:

    If there is anarchy it is not the result of Councils decision but the Official Plan. The Official Plan lays out land uses in a perfect world. Thus the confused state. The world is not perfect by any means and I am certain the beauracrats at the Ministry that approved the plan did not take into consideration the unavailable or non affordable housing in the urban areas. It is highly unlikely that any consideration was given to the fact that water & sewer rates in PEC are at the highest levels in the Country driving residents from those areas. So is Council to stand by a plan when they are fully aware that it does not meet the needs of struggling low income residents? To give consideration and realize that there is an issue is positive. These are existing out buildings not new construction taking away farmland. How many small mansions are built on farmland by the wealthy? How many box stores, police stations,fire halls and expanding accomodation units can be built on farmland? Is Council to say that is ok but too bad for the plight of the poor?

  5. Chris Keen says:

    @Sam – the Official Plan has to be updated every five years that’s when rural rentals could be discussed and added to the plan if Council decides it is a good thing. I beleive that the County is doing this right now.

    In this case, Council has effectively said “if you break exisiting land use rules and we hear about it, and you’re called on the carpet for it, and you can tell a compelling enough story, we’ll grant an you an exception”. That’s not flexibilty – that’s anarchy.

  6. Sam says:

    A system (in this case out municipal government government) without flexibility is likely to crack and crumble when stressed. PEC has shown much inflexibility over the past several years. It is good to see that they can review a proposal that is outside of the narrow scope of the official plan and take into consideration the situation of the less affluent of the area. Not everybody in PEC can afford $200k or more for a home on municipal water and sewer.

  7. Chris Keen says:

    It is pretty clear that this recent approval while “legal” for the moment would be struck down at an OMB hearing since this land use is not part of the Official Plan. MacDonald & Chenery would be forced to bear the cost of the appeal if the Council sticks to its decision and we (taxpayers) would be forced to pay for its defence.

    If, in fact, Home Hardware and the new fire hall are/will be on prime agriculatural land, contrary to the Official Plan, and nobody goes to the OMB, I guess it just slides by!

    I still maintain that this decision was ill-advised without consultation with the community at large – particularly those who farm.

    The folllowing is taken from the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing website:

    “What is an official plan?

    An official plan describes your upper, lower or single–tier municipal council’s policies on how land in your community should be used. It is prepared with input from you and others in your community and helps to ensure that future planning and development will meet the specific needs of your community.

    An official plan deals mainly with issues such as:

    . where new housing, industry, offices and shops will be located
    . what services like roads, watermains, sewers, parks and schools will be needed
    . when, and in what order, parts of your community will grow
    . community improvement initiatives.

    Why do you need an official plan?

    Your municipality’s official plan:

    . lets the public know what the municipality’s general land use planning policies are
    . makes sure that growth is coordinated and meets your community’s needs
    . helps all members of your community understand how their land may be used now and in the future
    . helps decide where roads, watermains, sewers, garbage dumps, parks and other services will be built
    . provides a framework for establishing municipal zoning by-laws to set local regulations and standards, like the size of lots and height of buildings
    . provides a way to evaluate and settle conflicting land uses while meeting local, regional and provincial interests
    . shows council’s commitment to the future growth of your community.”

  8. Mark says:

    I may be sticking my neck out here but I believe Council did just make it legal at least at committee. The Official Plan isn’t always adhered to. Putting a new fire hall and an existing hardware store on prime agricultural land at the Warings traffic circle would be against the plan would it not?

  9. Chris Keen says:

    Providing affordable housing, for the reasons Mark outlines, is laudable BUT it must be done legally. Council made this decision on the spur of the moment with no thought to the precedent it was setting and the repercussions that may arise from it. Their decision goes against the Official Plan.

    If Council wants affordable rural housing then it should instruct staff to come up with a way to make it work that does not interfere with neighbouring farmers’ rights and meets acceptable environmental standards and revise the Official Plan accordingly.

    This is how Council is supposed to work – not by agreeing to “special exceptions”.

  10. Mark says:

    It would seem Council is looking at the bigger picture with some reasoning. There is a low to middle income housing shortage. This is further exasperated by the unsustainable water & sewer charges in Picton & Wellington. Minimum wage earners wouldn’t be able to pay the extreme water bills, rent and put food on the table. So the alternate use of existing rural buildings for accomodation lends itself to a common sense solution. Staff are making recommendations on existing planning direction as opposed to taking into account the economic circumsatnces that have drastically changed for so many. The owner has also committed to providing the adequate septic system. Council in this case are making the tough decision they were elected to make by looking at the underlying issues. If they simply always took staffs direction there would be no need for a council.

  11. Chris Keen says:

    This decision by Council simply defies logic. What were they thinking?

    The conversion was illegal. It does not conform to the County’s Official Plan. The property apparently has inadequate septic facilities to support the conversions.

    Any right-thinking Council would not have approved this conversion for any one of the three preceding reasons – never mind allof them together. Why do we have laws and by-laws and staff to provide advice only to have Council ingnore it?

    Unless Council changes its decision, we will end up needlessly spending tax payer dollars as this decision is bound to be fought at the OMB.

  12. fed up says:

    I am not familiar with this particular case, however if the land is not designated for farm use, I’m not sure there is a case to be made.
    Yes, it is much preferable to locate housing in established residential areas. There have been many mistakes made in the past; the importance of arable land has been disregarded, for example. However, if one lives on or near a rural property that is not, or perhaps never has been farmland, then repurposing otherwise useless outbuildings seems innocuous.
    Caveat: If the present housing encroaches on neighbouring farms, that is a red flag issue.

    If you just don’t want more people in your neighbourhood, on an area already designated residential, then you won’t have much recourse, nor should you.

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