Northeast Town reviews public input on its draft Official Plan

LITTLE CURRENT— The Northeast Town council met with planner Sarah Vereault last week to review the comments from the Northeast Town draft Official Plan (OP) open house and discuss the next steps with the OP moving forward.

Ms. Vereault, who works for J.L. Richards and Associates Limited (the company the Northeast Town council hired earlier this year to develop an OP specifically for the municipality), started the special meeting of council last Wednesday night by reviewing council’s comments and suggestions from the OP meeting in July.

“I’ve tried to capture all the input from the special meeting of council in July and take direction from the town’s strategic documents,” explained Ms. Vereault.

Ms. Vereault noted that a copy of the draft OP had been sent to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH) for review and that they had in turn sent it to other ministries for their review and input such as the Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

“We had over 30 people in attendance at the open house (on August 20) and have received other public feedback prior to and after the meeting,” Ms. Vereault told council, adding that the open house went well.

The comments from the public varied greatly in the OP report, but there were a number regarding the Bay of Islands.

Connie and Ed Ferguson provided comments prior to the public meeting expressing a desire to see continued growth along the Highway 6 corridor south of Little Current and that the “highway’s frontage should be designated for future development to permit for retail, wholesale stores, restaurants, car dealerships, light manufacturing and apartment and retirement housing.”

The couple also requested that the restriction be removed from Pike and Perch Lakes.

Mac Sinclair, on behalf of Alexander Centre Industries Limited, noted that he would like to see the recognition of existing industrial zoning for Fisher Harbour “so that it is picked up when the implementing zoning bylaw is enacted.”

John Manitowabi of Wikwemikong questioned during the open house how the OP would affect Wikwemikong’s future attainment of islands and what land use designations have been identified for islands within the land claim area?

Ms. Vereault clarified that Wikwemikong has a land claim in process and some of the islands within the land claim area are currently within the Northeast Town.

Jib Turner commented that he would like to develop multi-residential units at Park Street and Water Street which are currently listed in a residential zone (R1).

Another resident expressed concerns with fracking and inquired if fracking is permitted in the OP policies.

The remainder of the comments were specific to the Bay Of Islands and regarded a desire for the area to be designated something other than ‘shoreline’ and expressed a concern for future development and the impact to the environment.

Mike Bouffard commented that the “Bay of Islands must be viewed as wilderness area unsuitable for industrial development and that the Willisville quarry and Fisher Harbour facilities have brought major negative environmental impacts and minimal economic return.”

Bobette Jones stated that the proposed OP “does not constitute a plan and instead is a series of general statements and should not be approved as a planning document.”

“The (Bay of) Islands are mentioned only three times,” commented Ms. Jones, “and inappropriately combines the Islands with all other shoreline property.”

After reviewing the comments, Ward 1 (the Islands) Councillor Laurie Cook noted, “a number of the comments are from Bay of Island residents and the area needs to be treated as a special area and it needs to be designated as a natural heritage area, not just shoreline, because it is so pristine and special.”

“It is important to protect the environment, but we don’t want to impact development there and make it so that people can even improve on their current properties,” said Councillor Michael Erskine.

“I’m worried we could end up with a number of ‘special areas’,” said Mayor Al MacNevin. “Council has said that they support development in the area such as Ireson Island. There are already a number of processes in place outside of the OP that ensure the issues of concern are addressed such as septic and environmental, in fact, the Ireson Island development is undergoing an environmental assessment right now.”

“I see where Laurie is coming from, but we can’t block development just because people don’t want to see another boat in the area,” said Councillor Bill Koehler. “We have to be reasonable.”

Councillor directed Ms. Vereault to look at incorporating a statement into the OP regarding the historical/environmental importance of the Bay of Islands, but not a change in designation.

Mayor MacNevin also noted that a number of the comments at the open house regarded the Northeast Town developing its own planning board.

“There seems to be some confusion with the OP and us becoming our own planning authority,” said Mayor MacNevin. “Right now we are just working on developing our own OP. The town is trying to become our own planning authority, but the OP is separate.”

Town CAO Dave Williamson further explained that whether the Northeast Town becomes its own planning authority or not is still undecided, and that the development of the OP is a separate issue.

As the Northeast Town is still currently a part of the Manitoulin Planning Board (MPB), the MPB would refer to the Northeast Town OP for direction opposed to the Manitoulin OP once the Northeast Town OP is approved. Until the Northeast Town OP is approved the MPB will continue to refer to the Manitoulin OP for planning requests in the Northeast Town.

The Northeast Town has been pursuing leaving the MPB to establish its own planning authority, however is still in negotiations with the (MMHA) on this subject.

Ms. Vereault concluded the meeting discussing the next steps in the development of the municipality’s OP.

She said that she would be accepting public comments up until the public meeting of the draft OP, but ideally all comments would be received by the end of October to be considered for the document.

Ms. Vereault also noted that the MMAH and partner ministries are to have comments in by the end of October.

“Once I have all the input, I can make revisions and bring it back to council for approval,” she explained.

Ms. Vereault said she anticipates the next meeting, a public meeting in which council would review and possibly adopt the OP, in early December.

Once the OP is adopted it would be sent to the MMAH for final approval.