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More time given as draft Official Plan concerns voiced by public and council

By Sharon Harrison
More time will be given to council, staff and the public for revisions to be considered for Prince Edward County’s draft Official Plan.

At a Special Committee of the Whole meeting, the public was given further opportunity to voice concerns, provide comments and ask questions about revisions to the County’s Official Plan, prior to it being approved by council.

The timeline to formalize the draft was noted as rushed by some members of council, and the public, especially given the upcoming holiday. CAO Marcia Wallace suggested having the document ready for council’s review for Feb. 8 (changed from Jan. 13) to allow further timely public input and to allow ample time for review. She suggested the plan be ready mid-January so people have three weeks to digest the document.

The live-streamed meeting heard four deputations and 10 comments from members of the public. At the request of Ameliasburgh councillor Janice Maynard, the usual three-minute format for public comments was deemed insufficient, with a motion granted to extend comments to five minutes in each case.

Chair of the PEC Environmental Advisory Committee Jane Lesslie addressed a number of points in her deputation regarding development, and interaction with the environment, including flood plains and drought mitigation, a vulnerable water table, shoreland designation and green infrastructure among them.

While she noted numerous positive changes to the draft Official Plan pertaining to the environment and climate change, she added, “The existing Official Plan is dated and frankly incoherent.”

“We have been concerned about the amount cherry picking, which, combined with the incoherence of the plan, has created enormous confusion among people participating in the planning process in the community as to what takes precedence over what,” Lesslie said.

“We are concerned that the draft notes that where the Official Plan and Secondary Plans disagree, that the latter will prevail and we are concerned about that perpetuating the problem of incoherence.”

She expressed concern about the impact of environmental impact studies.

“All major projects should be required to have a peer reviewed environmental impact study and no application should be declared complete until peer review is satisfied,” Lesslie added.

She said wetlands are critical to absorbing the effects of climate change.

“We request that all undervaluated wetlands be assumed to be significant until verified otherwise.”

Other recommendations noted that large residential, large-scale commercial and industrial development should not be permitted in natural core areas or natural core linkages.

Lesslie also said that deep water ports were inconsistent with the vision of the County.

“A container port and a large number of container ships and cruise ships are inconsistent with key attributes and should not be permitted.”

She added that all unevaluated wetlands should be independently assessed for significance.

“The County should not permit development of wetlands, at least until their status has been documented. Large residential developments, as well as major commercial and industrial developments, should not be permitted in natural core areas or natural core area linkages.”

Picton councillor Kate MacNaughton stated “I support this wholeheartedly.”

The second deputant, Rosalind Adams, said the draft Official Plan must be rejected.

Adams’ concerns centred on environment, climate change, emissions and the climate crisis among them.

“If we want a livable future, our Official Plan must be about how we are going to make deep cuts,” Adams said.

She wanted to know how the Official Plan deals with the County’s main sources of emissions.

“For the year of 2018, the cement plant reported 533,128 tonnes of CO2 emissions: it contributes more to the County carbon footprint than all our other high-emissions activities put together.”

She said transportation emissions were probably the second largest contributor to the carbon footprint.

“The County Official Plan just doesn’t grasp the reality of the emissions cuts we need to make,” Adams said. “One consequence of bringing our transportation emissions within the realm of sustainability is the end of tourism, well before 2030.”

“I share many of your concerns,” said councillor MacNaughton, noting the municipality is very limited through the province and their legislation of what can be done as far as restricting development and influencing private businesses.

Councillor Maynard asked if the tourist economy is incompatible with the stated climate emergency.

“Yes, everything about tourism is non-essential,” answered Adams.

Treat Hull shared three main issues in his deputation on the draft Official Plan, including affordability, the price of housing, and sustainability.

He noted a staggering and rapid increase in the price of housing in the County which has accelerated in the last 12 months.

“I support the measures in the Official Plan which I would categorize as ambitious, but realistic. The plan, if implemented, will slow the decline in affordable housing.”

“The goals that are in the various Secondary Plans for Picton, Rossmore and Wellington, which call for 33 per cent of new housing to be affordable, is extremely ambitious,” Hull said.

He said action is very urgent.

“With the current pace of development, we are at risk of running out of developable lands in our build up areas that could be part of this 33 per cent,” he said.

He spoke to ‘rural gentrification’ and rapidly increasing house prices which are increasing most in the countryside by a significant degree.

“Over time, it will have the effect of displacing long-established residents and the rural way of life they are accustomed to,” he said.

Environmental issues and sustainability are major issues with the declaration of a climate emergency, Hull noted.

He said rural drinking water is a critical issue in terms of sustainability.

“There is no substantive attention in the Official Plan to the issue of most of the residents in the County who depend on wells.”

“We are flying blind with little visibility as to the ability of the aquifer to sustain current or future levels of development in the context of climate change.”

And while Hull wanted to discuss internet issues, he was unable to get his point across due to a breakdown in technology – something that was not lost on those in the room.

The final deputation was made by Colin Léger of Garrod Pickfield LLP, as well as Mark Dorfman, representing the Waring’s Creek Improvement Association. Cheryl O’Brien also provided separate comments.

“Overall, the Association is supportive of the work staff has done with the draft Official Plan,” said Léger.

“The Official Plan should ensure that any land use changes in the headwaters of the watershed creek do not contaminate and deplete the significant groundwater recharge area and the aquifer,“ said Dorfman.

“The new Official Plan should not conflict with the intent of the Picton urban centres Secondary Plan and the Official Plan should take precedence where there is conflict,” he said. “We support the intent of the Official Plan.”

“The increased development that the County is experiencing is no doubt due in no small part to the environmental resources and scenic natural beauty it has to offer,” Dorfman added.

He said the Waring’s Creek Watershed is a critically important component of this unique natural heritage system.

“The increased development pressures however also open the County’s natural heritage system to potentially significant impacts which undermine the very features and values that are drawing residents, visitors and businesses to the County.“

Ten members of the public provided comments, including Prince Edward County Field Naturalists (PECFN) and the South Shore Joint Initiative (SSJI).

Chris Bolton addressed the content, the structure and the process of the document, noting, “The document is too long and has too much detail.” He also noted internet needs is a “real problem” and said that recreation committees were not included in the Official Plan and are central to it.

“The comments focus on the South Shore area,” said Cheryl Anderson of the SSJI. “The intention is they should be extrapolated to all 11 natural core areas and linkages.”

“The shoreland designations exist to provide improved public access to the water’s edge and expand and diversify tourism. They are in conflict with the philosophy of natural corridors and linkages which exist to maintain, restore and health the biodiversity of natural heritage features.”

“We are stewards of this rare and unique land and unnatural development risks losing this magical place forever.”

She said the SSJI suggests the shoreland designated areas are incompatible and should be removed in all cases from those areas.

Gerry Jenkison, Sheila Kuja and Amy Bodman with PECFN all shared thoughts.

“PECFN feels the term ‘major development’ will not adequately protect our natural core areas and linkages the draft Official Plan states,” said Bodman.

“Tourist commercial development, industrial development and other major developments have a greater potential for adverse impacts on the natural environment.”

She noted the current definition of ‘major development’ is ‘development with a proposed impervious area greater than 500 square metres.’

“With this definition, a development that has an impervious area of less than 500 square metres and would therefore be permitted in natural core areas and linkages could still cause extensive habitat destruction because it will allow development with a proposed pervious area of any size.”

Don Williams introduced himself as a seventh generation farmer at Wilhome Farms (with the ninth generation just born), saying he was extremely concerned about development on good farmland.

“I am concerned at using the good farmland to build the houses that are proposed on Waring’s and we really have to start preserving this land,” he said.

“Houses can be put up anywhere, but when we spread our seeds they have to go into a good seed bed with soil and moisture,” he said. “It is very important need to absolutely preserve our good farmland. Build housing where it is not as nice to dig.”

Councillor Maynard was concerned there hasn’t been more meaningful consultation on the larger items, such severance reduction and rural sub-divisions.

“The best farmland in the County is located between Picton and Wellington and that is what we are proposing to develop, yet we have marginal farmland in other parts of the County,” said Ameliasbrugh councillor Andreas Bolik.

Bloomfield/Hallowell councillor Phil Prinzen had concerns about timing.

“I’m scared to rush it and not have it done properly,” he said. “Could we have picked a worse time? It is Dec 15, and we want to put this through on Jan,13. This is the worst time to talk about it.”

Mayor Steve Ferguson also noted his concerns over timing.

“I think we have to be respectful of the possible need for more public input and consideration of their thoughts.”

Bloomfield/Hallowell councillor Brad Nieman asked for further clarification on the two-year moratorium on Official Plan Amendments. Michael Michaud , Manager of Planning said, “We are only stopping development that needs an Official Plan Amendment; if it doesn’t need an OPA it goes forward.”

Michaud noted that the proposed sub-division development will not all come at once.

“The 1,500 lots that are proposed within Wellington and Picton is years and years of development,” he said.

He noted that there were on average in the last five years about 140 units per year, some of which were in the rural area.

“If you are looking at only 100 units per year in the settlement areas, it takes up to 15-20 years of growth.”

A public meeting to discuss the latest changes in the Official Plan is planned for the week of Feb. 8. The document is expected to be available for public review about three weeks in advance of this date.

Once the wording of the Official Plan is finalized, it will be sent to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing for review and approval before coming into effect. Michaud expects the approval process to be a relatively quick one with final ministerial approval coming in April or May 2021.

A video of this meeting can be viewed at the County’s website.

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