Rezoning bylaw passed for severed Wagg’s Wood property by council

Central Manitoulin building official Raymond McPherson reads letters opposing the commercial rezoning of a parcel of land severed from Wagg’s Wood and sold to local business interests during an October 13 public meeting. photo by Michael Erskine

CENTRAL MANITOULIN—Proponents and opponents of the severance and rezoning of a parcel of land from the property known as Wagg’s Wood squared off in a public meeting in which the Central Manitoulin council was repeatedly questioned on its process. In the council meeting following the public meeting, a bylaw rezoning a large portion of the property as commercial passed unopposed.

The public meeting began with building official Raymond McPherson reading the recommendations of the Manitoulin Planning Board before reading the communications received by the municipality prior to the public meeting.

An email from Paul Shepherd, Grand Morraine Growers in Alma, Ontario, read “in a recent trip to Manitoulin Island, we were shocked and saddened to see that a portion of Wagg’s Woods in Mindemoya has been sold and is now under development. The impact of the encroachment into this woods will threaten plant species that are unique to the Island, such as leatherwood and Canada moonseed vine as well as other woodland species that are worth preserving.”

Mr. Shepherd went on to write that “we’ve been visiting Manitoulin Island for 30 years, primarily for the enjoyment of natural areas as Wagg’s Woods and believe the development of such a unique natural area will have a negative economic impact on the region. Also, habitat destruction of this sort will put into question the value of Manitoulin Island as a destination to visit by naturalists.”

A letter from lawyer Patricia Meehan “written in opposition to the proposed zoning amendment” noted that “had the applicant for re-zoning been requested before the land was severed from the remainder of the parts known as Wagg’s Woods and transferred by my client, Ms. Madeline Becks, one of the original owners of the land and in whose father’s name the land was dedicated as a park, would have opposed the re-zoning. Changing the land use from public park land to commercial use has serious consequences.”

Ms. Meehan went on to point out that the municipality had violated its own zoning bylaw by transferring the property and allowing one of the business owners to convert the land for commercial use prior to a re-zoning application.

The municipality had also created a property with more than one zone, noting that in such a case “the most restrictive or stringent requirement is to apply, but the municipality did not enforce its own zoning bylaw.” Ms. Meehan asserted that the new owner “should have been charged under s.4.6 of bylaw number 2002-07, as could members of the town council and the clerk. That ought to be unacceptable, particularly as it relates to a commercial enterprise.”

Ms. Meehan went on to allege that “the municipality now seeks to retroactively correct a violation it created or participated in creating and seeks its residents’ permission only after it is too late to stop the commercialization and transformation of the property.”

The lawyer’s letter went on to note that “no environmental studies or even consideration on felling all the trees, having debris clog the creek bed, raising the level of the land and paving it, which was all done very quickly by the new land owners, with the full knowledge of the municipality and no enforcement of breaches of its own zoning bylaw by the municipality.”

Ms. Meehan went on to list a number of conditions that should be applied to the zoning application being considered after the fact. Those included “the creation of a 20 foot wide buffer zone between the property and the designated trail entrance to the park or on all sides bordering the park; the planting of native trees and shrubs as a skyline view buffer between the subject property and the remaining park; and that damage done to the abutting parkland and floodplain and natural creek bed by the removal and felling of trees and the changing the level of the subject property be cleaned up at the new owner’s sole expense to the satisfaction of an organization other than the municipality, perhaps the Manitoulin Nature Club or similar organization.”

Ms. Meehan concluded her letter by noting “it has been suggested by the Nature Club and others that the funds from the sale be used by the municipality to maintain the park. My clients would support such a proposal as they would also support the establishment and maintaining of a permanent and adequate buffer zone. They would also support any conditions which preserve and protect the uniqueness of Wagg’s Woods and the flora and fauna for all the community and for generations to come.”

Central Manitoulin Mayor Richard Stephens then opened the meeting for questions and comments from the council.

“Were you aware of the recommendations of the Planning Board?” asked Councillor Alex Baran of Wayne Legge, one of the purchasers of the property for which rezoning was being requested. “Fully aware,” responded Mr. Legge.

Councillor Baran went on to note that there is a house in the centre of the property for which rezoning was not being sought, adding he found that puzzling.

Mr. Legge explained that due to Ministry of Transportation regulations, the cost of some of the work that would need to be done ranged from $20,000 to $30,000. “It’s a long term plan,” he said. “It is an expense I will deal with over time.”

There ensued some discussion of the exact location of the house and property designation for which the commercial zoning was being sought, led by Councillor Dale Scott.

Mr. Legge noted that his company has planted a significant number of cedar trees around the circumference of the property to provide a buffer, adding that “all you will see” from the trail in the park “is the top of the building” a situation that largely prevailed before the sale of the property.

“We stayed 20-feet back from the natural creek bed,” he noted, but added that there were a number of trees that had fallen across the course of the stream. Mr. Legge added that “the town drives a bulldozer down that creek bed every spring” making concerns of disturbing the watercourse somewhat specious. “It is not even a waterway according to the Ministry of the Environment,” he asserted.

Councillor Scott noted that reason for the purchase of the property had come out during research into its history. “The property was originally bought from the Waggs so we could control flooding,” he said. A purpose that subsequent events has rendered somewhat moot in regard to the parcel being discussed.

Mr. Legge noted that a full storm water study had been completed on a similar plot of land adjacent to the stream bed further downstream, but that in any event the parking lot was not higher than the original and surrounding property. “If there is high water we will probably have six inches of water in the parking lot, Ted’s property is the same height,” he said.

Island resident Lynda Lee spoke up as a member of the public to challenge whether any site-based planning had been conducted on the land.

“Not to my knowledge,” replied Mayor Stephens.

“Isn’t that the norm?” she asked.

“There was already a commercial site there,” responded Mayor Stephens.

“That’s where a site-based plan would come into play,” responded Ms. Lee. “If you put in a water line along the lake where I live, they would be there.”

“The Planning Board would have flagged that if it had been a requirement,” interjected Councillor Alex Baran. “If it had been a requirement we wouldn’t be sitting here. We can only assume that it was not required.”

Mr. Legge noted that the property falls under the purview of the Ministry of Transportation because it lies within a certain distance from a highway and that the Ministry of Environment was aware of the storm water impact. As to both the MOT and the MOE “they had no problem with it.”

“I realize that but this is a big commercial effort,” noted Ms. Lee.

Mr. Legge noted that in the case of water lines, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans comes into play, reiterating that both the MOT and MOE were okay with the plan.

Marcel Benoit of the Manitoulin Nature Club asked if retroactive zoning changes were the normal practice, to which Mayor Stephens noted that it was indeed normal.

Councillor Patricia McDonald clarified that land developers often begin work before the rezoning process was completed, due to the time involved in the process. “If zoning changes are denied the developer would have to return the land to the way it was before.”

“At the direction of council,” said Mayor Stephens.

“From the Nature Club point of view, we don’t expect that the property be returned to the original state,” said club president Marcel Benoit.

Councillor McDonald noted that the controversy that has arisen over the severance and sale of the property has a silver lining. “Before this nobody in the community really paid any attention to Wagg’s Wood,” she said. “We had that impact, in that way I think the are positive consequences, that we are now paying attention.” Councillor McDonald went on to point out that the land in question was a very small portion of the property known as Wagg’s Wood.

“Will there be another opportunity for the public to have input?” asked Ms. Lee.

Mayor Stephens noted that this was the opportunity as part of the normal process. “It is in the paper.”

“I am an avid reader of The Expositor,” noted Ms. Lee.

“Don’t forget the Recorder,” rejoined Mayor Stephens. “Plus there is a letter sent to the adjacent property owners.”

Ms. Lee reiterated that she felt there should be a greater opportunity for the public to weigh in on the rezoning. “I saw nothing like that in the paper,” said Ms. Lee. “I don’t know where the people from Mindemoya are.” It was also noted that there was no sign of the orange signs that are often placed on properties that whose zonings are being considered for change.

Ms. Lee was in fact correct, there was no notice of the public meeting on the rezoning placed in either of the papers.

Mr. Legge went on to note that he had used the park as a child in school and that after the work his company was doing “the park will not be harmed.”

The business owner noted that there will be a considerable benefit to the community from this development. “There are the tax dollars that will be flowing into the community, we have hired five new staff and we are bringing new people to Manitoulin,” he said. “I am not saying the environment has to take a back seat, but this has benefited not only our business. We take from nature and we will be more than happy to give back.”

“That is the consideration that council took,” noted Mayor Stephens, adding that council had discussed the matter in depth prior to taking action. “We are working together for a better community.”

In a motion moved by Councillor Baran and seconded by Councillor Derek Stephens the three reading of the rezoning motion passed without opposition.