Northeast Town calls on partners on planning board to reconsider appeal to Municipal Board

LITTLE CURRENT—A decision made by the Manitoulin Planning Board to file a formal appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) regarding a zoning bylaw amendment made by the Northeast Town council has prompted the council to carry a motion directing town staff to explore options of leaving the Manitoulin Planning Board. The decision has also left Northeast Town Mayor Al MacNevin reaching out to other municipal leaders, looking for support in having the board withdraw its motion to appeal the zoning decision with the OMB.

Though the discussion regarding the motion was carried out in camera at last Tuesday’s council meeting, Mayor MacNevin explained to The Expositor the reason behind the motion.

“We want staff to look at different options from leaving the planning board to perhaps changing the representation on the board,” Mayor MacNevin commented, adding that the board is currently composed of 11 representative from each of the nine municipalities on the Island and two from the unincorporated townships. “Each individual on the board gets one vote regardless of size or population. We just want to see what other options we have because we are not happy with this appeal.”

“It is not proper for a board that is supposed to just deal with severances and consent to make zoning decisions,” continued Mayor MacNevin. “Zoning decisions have always been by municipalities, it is not right for the board to try and be convening through a back door. I will also be in contact with the different Island mayors and reeves, looking for support in having the planning board withdraw their appeal.”

The Expositor previously reported that the Northeast Town council carried a motion on August 6, approving a zoning bylaw amendment to allow for four residential units on the second floor of the building that houses the Turner’s Home Store located on Vankoughnet Street East, in an industrial zone.

An industrial building is permitted one apartment for a caretaker or owner per business. Since the building houses three businesses, there were three apartments, however Kilganan Group owner Jib Turner wanted to add an additional apartment and allow the apartments to be available for rent to the community.

Mr. Turner told council that due to the housing shortage in Little Current he wanted to assist the community.

Council carried the motion, despite the mixing of residential in an industrial zone because of the need for housing in Little Current.

The Manitoulin Planning Board sent a letter to the Northeast Town on Wednesday, August 28 informing the town that the board would be appealing the council’s decision to the OMB.

“The Manitoulin Planning Board states that with the approval of this bylaw it is considered there will be major noise and safety issues due to the heavy truck traffic at all hours and no sidewalks for pedestrians and the close proximity to extensive fuel storage in this area that are not compatible with residential uses that would be permitted by this bylaw,” states the motion from the planning board, contained in its letter to the town.

“The main issue here is that the planning board is challenging a motion council made in good faith,” continued Mayor MacNevin. “It doesn’t make any sense. The planning board’s role is to process and give recommendations, after that it’s our job to make decisions. The stuff about no sidewalks, for example, is ridiculous—90 percent of our municipality doesn’t have sidewalks, but that’s not even the issue here, the issue is that it’s not their decision and they are stepping out of their role.”

Under the Planning Act, filing an appeal with the OMB is an option available to any individual or group, and Mayor MacNevin said that he and his council find it difficult “when an organization that we pay a third of to operate (each Manitoulin municipality pays a percentage of the planning board, with the Northeast Town contributing 32.76 percent) is taking us to court on a decision that was ours to make,” added Mayor MacNevin. “We are essentially paying them to take us to court, as well as pay for our own municipal lawyer. I am trying to speak to the other municipal leaders because I don’t want this to set a precedence. Municipalities should remain in charge of their own zoning decisions.”

“We are already incurring costs as a direct result of the appeal,” said CAO David Williamson. Mr. Williamson also confirmed that the cost of a municipal lawyer is $380 per hour (a cost stated in a past council report).

While Mayor MacNevin said that “as far as I know, this is the first time I have heard of something like this happening,” it is not the first time the Northeast Town has considered leaving the planning board.

Last December, due to an increase in the Manitoulin Planning Board’s budget, the Northeast Town council directed staff to “review the costs associated with continued involvement with the planning board and ascertain whether or not economies or efficiencies could be released by moving the planning activity in-house.”

Staff presented its findings at the January 22, 2013 meeting, recommending council continue its membership in the Manitoulin Planning Board due to the “risks and costs associated with establishing an alternative planning service.”

When asked about this recommendation, Mr. Williamson explained that some factors listed in the January report had changed and that staff would be working on developing a new report, as directed by council last week.

Mayor McNevin said that he will continue to have conversations with municipal leaders moving forward and hopes to make a presentation to the Manitoulin Planning Board in the near future, with the intention of settling the issue outside of court. A date has yet to be set.

Robin Burridge