Municipalities considering responses to draft version of new Official Plan

MANITOULIN—After almost two years of meetings and consultations, the draft Manitoulin Official Plan (OP) is nearing completion. Though many Island municipalities still have concerns they would like addressed or incorporated, Manitoulin Planning Board (PB) secretary-treasurer Elva Carter asserts that there is still time.

“We are working right now on incorporating all the individual and municipal comments,” explained Ms. Carter. “We are also still waiting on further comments from the Ministry of Nature Resources (MNR) and Ministry of Environment (MOE) (the PB) thinks it is important to get the document (OP) as correct as possible so we are really seeking everyone’s input.”

Ms. Carter further explained that in preparing the OP, up to this point, there has been a citizens’ advisory committee that was established in 2012 with committee members selected by location and interest in the attempt to create a committee representing the largest variety of interests and areas of Manitoulin.

“They have met with the OP consultants and expressed their concerns,” added Ms. Carter. “The consultants also held public meetings in 2012 and again this year.”

Ms. Carter told The Expositor that she hopes to have a new copy of the draft plan, incorporating the suggestions and changes up to this point, available early October for the public and municipalities to review prior to the late October meeting of the PB where the consultants will present their final draft.

“Following the presentation of the final draft, the PB will hold a public meeting, which we will advertise in advance, presenting the draft,” Ms. Carter said. “After the public meeting, each municipality will vote to adopt the OP.”

If a majority of the municipalities carry motions to adopt the OP, then the OP will be forwarded to the Ministry of Municipal Housing and Affairs (MMHA) for review, possible modifications and approval.

“At any point throughout the process we (PB) will still accept comments and either forward them to the consultants or the MMHA,” concluded Ms. Carter, “but in order to have them in the draft OP we need them as soon as possible. “The more input the better, because we want the best document in the end.”

One municipality that is still working on its comments for the OP is Central Manitoulin. Mayor Gerry Strong says that he and his council are still “going through the process” of reviewing the draft OP and will be submitting comments.

“It’s a big process, we don’t want to rush it,” said Mayor Strong. “One of our issues is that no severances are allowed on rights of way. We are concerned it will hinder future development.”

“We have gone through the first round of secondary mapping for our municipality (discussing the zoning areas and areas for future development), but we will be going through it further,” continued Mayor Strong. “We are also concerned with the areas identified as prime agricultural lands. In our opinion, all the lands identified as prime shouldn’t be, but we have expressed this point to the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) and the OP consultants and they will be revisiting it.”

Central Manitoulin’s concerns with the prime agricultural lands identified by the MOA is not the only ministry input which is leaving the municipalities confused, something that Vic Fedeli, Progressive Conservative critic on energy and finance, says is a problem.

In an interview with Mr. Fedeli regarding the newly launched ‘Paths to Prosperity’ white paper, The Expositor questioned the Nipissing MPP on ‘Path 15’ of the paper, ‘Give northerners more control over the use and management of their land and wildlife,’ as it pertains to Manitoulin’s draft Official Plan and some residents’ concerns.

“Unelected officials are having too much say,” he responded.

Similarly, the issue of restrictions on ministry identified sensitive lakes and rivers, with proposed setbacks policies for the OP, is a concern of many of the municipalities, especially considering that no sensitive lakes have been named yet.

“We aren’t on any sensitive lakes such as (Lake) Manitou,” Tehkummah Reeve Gary Brown explained to The Expositor, “but it is a concern. I don’t think the problem is new development on sensitive lakes or the setbacks, I think the problem is older properties with outdated septic systems. We need to find and fix those septic systems.”

Reeve Brown said that Tehkummah has been working closely with Ms. Carter and the consultants and has submitted its comments and has had “good sessions” with both Ms. Carter and the planners (consultants).

“All of Tehkummah was identified as a deer yard, which would hinder development, but we spoke with the MNR and planners and it’s been taken care of,” said Reeve Brown. “It was just strange because Gore Bay has a lot more deer per acre than Tehkummah and their entire municipality wasn’t a deer yard. We were also concerned with being identified as a settlement cluster. We wanted to be called a hamlet or village. To me a cluster is Blue Jay Creek, an area with four or five houses. As for the mapping, we have reviewed that as well and submitted our comments.”

The classification of settlement vs hamlet is something the Northeast Town struggled with also, requesting that Sheguiandah be identified as a hamlet, as opposed to a settlement cluster.

The Northeast Town has also met with PB secretary-treasurer Elva Carter and submitted comments, but will be sending more comments as it continues its OP discussions and further review mapping.

Another large concern of the Northeast Town was that future areas for residential expansion have not been identified.

The Northeast Town will be holding a special meeting on Thursday, September 26 to continue discussions, which will include the identification of aggregates, quarries and wetlands for planning purposes.

The Township of Billings had similar concerns as those of Tehkummah and the Northeast Town regarding the classifications of villages, hamlets and communities under settlement clusters, requesting that the draft OP be amended to refer to Kagawong and other similar communities as a ‘village.’

In Assiginack Township, council is still going through the mapping.

“Council hasn’t commented on the OP officially yet,” town clerk Alton Hobbs explained to The Expositor. “They are working on preparing their comments for the PB and consultants. In my own review, I am watching the shoreline residential restrictions on Lake Manitou and waiting to see how that is handled.”

Finally, on Cockburn Island, clerk Brent St, Denis told The Expositor that Cockburn Island council has no comments or concerns with the draft OP, as no elements have changed from the past OP.

Numerous Island municipalities will continue to review and discuss the draft OP as it reaches its final stages this fall. To review the Official Plan, visit www.manitoulinplanning.ca. To submit comments, contact the Manitoulin Planning Board at 705-282-2237 or visit the office at 46 Meredith Street, PO Box 240, 2nd Floor Post Office Building, Gore Bay Ontario, P0P 1H0.

Robin Burridge