Divorcing from the Manitoulin Planning Board

Northeast council awaits minister’s nod on town’s Official Plan

LITTLE CURRENT—The Northeast Town has begun its transition plan for a separation from the Manitoulin Planning Board (MPB) to become its own planning authority.

“We will be meeting with the MMAH (Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing) on September 16 to discuss our transition plan for leaving the planning board,” explained Northeast Town CAO Dave Williamson to council last week. “It should be fairly straightforward—we just need to organize the transfer of files, we will need the current GIS (geographic information system) and a plan for what will happen to applications during the transition. It shouldn’t be complicated.”

“The MPB has already met with the MMAH and my understanding is that the planning board is nervous about giving us access to files, but we will discuss that with the MMAH at our meeting,” said Northeast Town Mayor Al MacNevin.

Mayor MacNevin explained that the last piece of the puzzle before the Northeast Town can become its own planning authority is having the municipality’s Official Plan approved by the MMAH, but that it has already been forwarded on from the regional office to the minister’s office.

Wendy Kaufman and Matt Alexander, representatives from the MMAH, attended the August 30 meeting of the MPB to discuss the transition of the Northeast Town leaving the planning board.

“Ms. Kaufman provided a summary review of the considerations given to the request from the Northeast Town to be granted planning authority, which has resulted in the letter from the minister advising he will reluctantly consider redefining the planning area to exclude the town,” state the August 30 MPB minutes. “It was noted that the ministry support was due to issues remaining irreconcilable.”

“The (MPB) secretary-treasurer (Elva Carter) expressed concern that the only known issues (between the Northeast Town and the MPB) were the difference in opinion regarding conformity to the Official Plan, i.e. residential uses in an industrial designation,” continue the MPB minutes. “There has been continual reference to the issues, which the board feel have never been disclosed for discussion or mediation.”

“Ms. Kaufman also responded to questions regarding examples of other planning boards and that there was a variance in the make up of all boards,” the minutes note. “There was discussion regarding transition, including transferring of file information/history, continuing maintenance of the geographic information system, monitoring planning decisions and the effects on the neighbouring planning authority and the associated costs.  Ms. Kaufman and Mr. Alexander advised that the ministry would continue to monitor for conformity to provincial policies. The (MPB) chair expressed his concerns regarding past experiences when the province relied on the planning board to assure conformity, which required the appeal process with the Ontario Municipal Board. Ms. Kaufman confirmed that the ministry is meeting with the Northeast Town in September to discuss the transition process.

The Northeast Town and planning board dispute dates back to 2013 when the MPB filed an appeal with the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) opposing a zoning bylaw amendment by the Northeast Town that would allow residential units in a building owned by Kilganan Group Ltd. developer Jib Turner in an industrial zone in Little Current.

An industrial building is permitted one apartment for a caretaker or owner per business. Since the building housed three businesses, there were three apartments, however Mr. Turner wanted to add an additional apartment and allow the apartments to be available for rent to the community. Despite concerns from the MPB, the Northeast Town council carried a motion on August 6, 2013, approving a zoning bylaw amendment to allow for four residential units on the second floor of the building that housed the Turner’s Home Store on Vankoughnet Street East, in an industrial zone. The MPB responded to the bylaw amendment by carrying a motion to appeal council’s decision to the OMB.

Mr. Turner withdrew his application because he felt the MPB’s appeal to the OMB was going to be costly to the taxpayers of Manitoulin’s municipalities and specifically to the Northeast Town taxpayers.

“I’ve said it 100 times, municipal zoning matters and municipal zoning amendments are a municipal matter,” Mayor MacNevin told council at the time of the incident. “The planning board is there to provide administration, not enforcement on zoning matters passed by municipal councils.”

This incident with the MPB prompted council to consider leaving the MPB, but back in 2012, the council of the time also looked at separating from the planning board due to the Northeast Town’s municipal contribution to the board. “We are paying exorbitant amounts of money for them to screw stuff up,” said then Northeast Town mayor Joe Chapman.

During the development of the draft Manitoulin OP in 2013, the Northeast Town council stated concerns with the draft OP were not being addressed and applied to the OP by the MPB. This, coupled with the MPB zoning appeal to the OMB and concerns over the Northeast Town’s municipal contribution and representation on the board, led the Northeast Town to pass a motion in September 2013 requesting staff to explore options of leaving the MPB. Council also expressed concerns in 2013 with the MPB’s committees making consent decisions without applications being voted on by a full quorum of the board, however, this issue was corrected by the board.

Later in the fall of 2013, the Northeast Town made an official request to the MMAH to leave the planning board. The MPB sent a letter of non-support for a second planning authority within the Manitoulin planning area to the MMAH in rebuttal.

In December 2013, the Northeast Town received a letter from the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Linda Jeffrey in response to their request, encouraging the municipality to work with the MPB to come to a “fair and effective resolution.”

According to a report prepared by Northeast Town staff at the time, the Northeast Town paid the largest municipal share of the MPB operating costs (which is still the case) at 32.74 percent. Based on the municipal shares in 2013, the Northeast Town leaving the board will result in Township of Assiginack’s share, 11.05 percent (in 2013), to increase to 16.43 percent, while Gore Bay’s will increase from 4.86 percent (in 2013) to 7.22 percent. Meanwhile, Billing Township and Allan East would jump from 10.54 percent (2013) to 15.68 percent (2013); Burpee and Mills from 4.33 (2013) percent to 6.44 percent; Central Manitoulin from 22.94 percent (2013) to 34.10 percent; Cockburn Island from .92 percent (2013) to 1.37 percent; Gordon/Barrie Island from 7.96 percent (2013) to 11.83 percent; and Tehkummah Township from 4.66 percent (2013) to 6.93 percent.

In February of 2014, the Northeast Town council agreed to look at alternative solutions to leaving the MPB.

Various options from the board’s makeup (of representatives and currently, each municipality that is a part of the MPB has one representative) to weighted vote models were explored by the Northeast Town and the MPB.

A motion was eventually carried by the MPB to amend the MPB procedural bylaw to allow for a weighted vote, but it was different from what the Northeast Town had proposed, leaving the municipality to go back to the MMAH to once again request permission to leave the board.

In the spring of 2015, the Northeast Town asked the MPB to reconsider the originally proposed weighted vote model and when they didn’t, the municipality requested that the board carry a motion supporting the Northeast Town leaving the MPB. The MPB defeated the motion, which was put on the table by the Northeast Town representative on the board Councillor Melissa Peters.

Last year, the Northeast Town also started the process of developing its own OP as part of its plan to leave the MPB.

In July 2016, the Northeast Town received a letter from the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Bill Mauro, granting the Northeast Town permission to leave the MPB and establish its own planning authority.

The Northeast Town will stay as part of the MPB until its OP is approved, but Mayor MacNevin will be meeting with the MMAH later this week to discuss the transition of the municipality withdrawing from the MPB.