Northeast Town council meets with planners to develop own Official Plan

LITTLE CURRENT— The Northeast Town council met with Sarah Vereault, a planner with J.R. Richards and Associates Limited,  to review the process and discussions around creating the municipality’s own Official Plan.

The Northeast Town decided it wanted to create its own Official Plan (OP) after feeling that its concerns with the draft Manitoulin OP were not being addressed by the Manitoulin Planning Board (MPB). The Northeast Town has also been pursuing leaving the MPB to establish its own planning authority, however is still in negotiations with the Ministry of Municipal Housing and Affairs (MMHA) on this subject.

Ms. Vereault reviewed with the Northeast Town council concern that it and J.R. Richards had when council hired the firm to review the draft Manitoulin OP, noting that the concerns and priorities identified would be used when developing the municipality’s own OP.

“An OP is enabled by the Planning Act and is a policy document providing general direction for future development patterns,” said Ms. Vereault during her presentation. “It provides a framework for implementing tools (i.e. zoning bylaws, community improving plans etc.).”

She also noted that OPs divide the planning area into land use designations and help decide where roads, water/sewer, garbage dumps and parks and other services will be built.

“It is adopted by a town council, and then must be approved by the province,” explained Ms. Vereault.

In reviewing the Northeast Town OP process, Ms. Vereault identified three stages: Stage 1 (May to July 2015), background review, core-team meeting, special meeting of council (last week’s meeting) and growth projections and land needs; Stage 2 (July to September), identify preferred direction, undertake draft text and schedule, public consultation (August 20 tentative date) and consider input and prepare final draft OP; and Stage 3 (October to December), finalize text and schedule changes, statutory public meeting and council adoption, submission to the MMAH for final approval.”

Ms. Vereault said she will be incorporating town documents into the Northeast Town OP including the Sustainable Community Plan, Asset Management Plan, Strategic Plan, Sheguiandah Community Development report and Age Friendly Community Plan.

“JLR is preparing a background report to review population projections and land needs in the municipality,” said Ms. Vereault. “This will form the basis for the land use designations and settlement area boundaries proposed in the new OP.”

Ms. Vereault distributed handouts to council including J.L. Richards’ previous comments regarding the draft Manitoulin OP and council’s key concerns with the OP.

“Based on meeting with the town and provincial ministries, issues to address in the new Northeast Town OP include: settlement area boundaries and limited rural development, private roads and water access, waterfront development, agricultural uses, lakeshore capacity and community improvement plans.”

Councillor Paul Skippen stressed that keeping development around the municipal lakes was important in the new OP.

Councillor Laurie Cook was concerned about development on Islands and wanted to restrict future development.

“I’m not keen on a blanket ban,” said Councillor Michael Erskine. “I don’t like shutting down development in any area of the municipality and there are restrictions currently.”

Town CAO Dave Williamson recommended that generally council would want to create an OP that was broad and unrestrictive, but still met the provincial policy regulations. “That way it leaves the decisions in the hands of council, without having to go to through the process of an OP amendment,” said Mr. Williamson, giving the example of not listing ‘at capacity’ lakes. “It locks in lakes as ‘at capacity’ even if the ministry changes their status.”

“Council needs to find a balance so that we can make our own decisions,” added Mayor Al MacNevin.

Ms. Vereault said she will be incorporating council’s concerns into the draft OP and that the next step would be a public open house in late August where all ratepayers in the municipality would be invited to contribute their input into the draft OP for the Northeast Town.