Billings council raises concerns with ‘settlement cluster’ tag in draft OP

KAGAWONG—Billings Township council has raised concerns with the draft Manitoulin Official Plan, specifically with Kagawong being named as a ‘settlement cluster.’ Council says it feels that there has been a lack of consultation between the consultants and the municipalities most affected by the plan, and a number of restrictions being placed on municipalities, such as zoning changes.

Billings Councillor Tom Imrie, at a council meeting Monday, informed the other members of council that, “on August 7, Mayor Austin Hunt, clerk-treasurer Kathy McDonald and I attended the Manitoulin Planning Board public meeting in Gore Bay where we and a small group of interested people were presented the first draft of the Official Plan.”

“Discussion ensued, led by MMM group representative Chris Tyrrell as well as a poster display summarizing the process used to develop the draft Official Plan,” said Mr. Imrie. “At that time we were presented with information that did not meet our expectations in that some aspects of the draft plan did not appear to be acceptable, and some were a surprise.”

He explained the municipal representatives “were surprised at the amount of input the province was given in the plan when legislation is already in effect. This is the case for issues like MNR setbacks on private roads and the MOE septic systems—it is like a double layer of legislation.”

Mr. Imrie explained, “the classification of villages, hamlets and communities under the heading ‘settlement clusters’ remained in the report despite our objection to this term in May 2013. Kagawong, among other villages, was classified as a settlement cluster. While this term is harmless enough on its own, the connotation is a small group of houses at an intersection, not a village or a hamlet with significant history and cultural depth. It is certainly not consistent with our brand image or economic development goals, so we objected to the lack of response by the board or the consultants to our concerns. It is worth noting that the term settlement cluster was created by the consultants and is not a term used in urban planning. Their definition includes villages and hamlets. So we respectfully suggested that the draft be amended to refer to Kagawong and other similar communities as a village, and include the term settlement cluster in the definition of village. The suggestion was resisted.”

“The second issue is the apparent lack of consultation between the consultants and the municipalities most affected by the plan,” Mr. Imrie told council. “As we were advised, a small group of volunteer citizens, who may or may not have been elected representatives and who may or may not have had knowledge of the goals and objectives of an Official Plan, were consulted on this draft. To my knowledge there was no consultation between the affected municipal representatives and the consultant group.”

“The third issue is the inclusion in the draft plan—apparently directed by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing—and a number of what I deem to be restrictions on municipalities,” said Mr. Imrie. “We were told we could address these concerns through zoning changes. I don’t see how they supersede provincial legislation. Specifically, they relate to the apparent mandatory inclusion of affordable housing in any future residential development, a limitation on the use of ‘private roads,’ and the establishment of as-yet unidentified ‘sensitive lakes’ upon which future development will be stopped or severely restricted. While all of these goals may be worthwhile, adoption by municipalities when the Official Plan is approved could have significant impacts on future growth and economic development.”

Mr. Imrie pointed out, “we were not told which lakes are sensitive, what criteria are used to determine sensitivity, whether or not this decision was made as a result of pressure from the volunteer consultant group, or actual scientific research. We have until August 21 to respond to the draft plan. We can’t wait until our next meeting to address this issue.”

“I have put together a proposed draft resolution for your review,” Mr. Imrie told council. Council passed a resolution which states in part, “the council for the Township of Billings was not directly consulted prior to development of a draft Official Plan and council has identified a number of concerns within the draft Official Plan. And, whereas the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing has been afforded the opportunity to review and comment on the draft plan before the affected municipalities have reviewed or commented on it; and whereas the Town of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands has voiced their concerns with respect to some of the content of the draft plan and many of these concerns are shared by the township of Billings. The township of Billings has previously expressed its concerns in the form of a resolution regarding the use of the term settlement cluster to describe villages and hamlets and whereas neither the Manitoulin Planning Board nor the consultant company acknowledged or responded to this concern. Therefore be it now resolved that the Township of Billings supports the concerns of the Towns of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands identified in its resolution 210-07-13 and directs the clerk treasure to communicate our concerns in writing to the Manitoulin Planning Board, its consultant company, and other municipalities on the Island. And be it further resolved that this communication include directions to the Manitoulin Planning Board that an official response to our concerns from the board is expected before the public consultation meetings planned for the fall.”

Tom Sasvari