Manitoulin Official Plan too important to rush

The Manitoulin Planning Board hopes to have a new official plan (OP) for the Manitoulin District in place by early fall updating the original Official Plan that was adapted in the late 1970s.

Concerns have been expressed by at least two Island municipalities, Billings and the Northeast Town, on aspects of the draft plan.

The new OP will be an extremely important one for the economic future of Manitoulin, especially because the results of the last two census tracts have clearly indicated that any population growth Manitoulin municipalities have enjoyed comes as a result of people retiring to our small communities.

Couple this with the fact that the majority of building permits in these same small municipalities are issued for the construction of or improvements to shoreline residential properties and it’s clear that the pattern here is an obvious one: people are retiring to Manitoulin to enjoy at least a few years of full-time lakeside living.

It appears that, one way or another, the draft version of the OP makes it more difficult for people to locate on their bit of lakeside heaven.

Take private roads, developed across private property and maintained by those who use them to access their waterfront properties. Most of these are seasonal but more than a few people use them year-‘round in order to live by the lake, maintaining them at their own expense.

According to the draft plan, no new private roads would be allowed unless they were built to municipal standards. If these were being built by, say, a local farmer in order to give access to the two and maximum three shoreline lots that he might wish to sever and sell, such an undertaking would in all likelihood by untenable if the farmer is required to build a major road. Single lane cottage roads, maintained by the joint agreement of those who use them have served Manitoulin well for more than a century. Why is there a need to change this traditional lakeshore access for future small developments? Surely such a mandate will discourage lakeshore living and diminish the interest of some people in relocating to Manitoulin Island.

The portion of the draft OP that deals with “at-capacity or sensitive” lakes is also problematic but this presents a quandary as while no one will wish to harm a lake by inappropriate development, still construction on existing lots or on ones that may be created by severance or plan of subdivision is key to Manitoulin Island’s growth and security. There is the very real possibility, for example, that immediately prohibiting the use of fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides on older lakeshore properties that still have waterfront lawns could drastically reduce the phosphate load on our lakes. This would be a Ministry of the Environment regulation specifically for Manitoulin as a test case and should be demanded rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater through regressive OP designations.

We would suggest slowing down the process of bringing a new OP to completion and adding in a two or even three-month period where further consultation with the municipalities and other interested parties can take place.

There is much more to the plan than the lakeshore development issues previously referred to in this commentary but affordable lakeshore lots are precisely what has fueled much of the Manitoulin economy (retail, construction, population) for the past 40 years.

If there are areas for compromise where a new OP can be drafted that will minimally hinder whatever modest growth Manitoulin enjoys, they must be talked through and the OP must reflect them and the time frame to adapt a new OP is an important detail in the scheme of things considering all that may well be at stake.