Approximately twenty-five people attended a meeting of the North Renfrew United Landowners (NRUL) on Wednesday, August 30, 2017 in the Deep River Legion.
Frank Burke, president of the NRUL, welcomed everyone and introduced Craig Kelley Director of Planning, Charles Cheesman Manager of Planning, and Bruce Howarth Senior Planner from the Department of Development and Property for Renfrew County. They answered questions updating the audience on the status of the 5-Year Review of the Official Plan.
Cheesman explained that the Official Plan sets out a Council’s policies for the development of a community. It set out the landscape, both built and natural environment, and manages the physical growth of a community. It is required by law to have an Official Plan, it must be updated every 5 years and must be consistent with the latest Provincial guidelines. Renfrew County’s last update was in 2003.
Question 1) What are the consequences of a County/Municipality not having an up-to-date Official Plan and 5-year Reviews being submitted late?
Cheesman replied that the province has been patient, so far, knowing that the County is working on it.
The Province has “sticks and carrots” to encourage timely updates to Official Plans.
One such stick is a $12,000 fee, which is prohibitive for most people, for Provincial approval to change an out of date Official Plan, for example, a change in zoning from rural to mineral aggregate.
The corresponding carrot is the County is exempt from Provincial approval with an approved Updated Plan, and therefore there is no $12,000 fee.
Another stick is Bill 139, an amendment to the Planning Act reforming the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), replacing the OMB with Local Planning Appeal Tribunals. As the legislation stands (received first reading May 2017), there will be no appeals to any modifications the Minister might make to an Official Plan. Renfrew County and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) are pushing for the right to appeal.
Another stick is the possibility that the Province could step in and modify the Official Plan or even remove the County’s approval of severances, subdivisions, local Official Plans and amendments.
Question 2) The Province frequently works on the “one size fits all” policy. Does the County “push back” or ignore those policies that clearly do not apply to Renfrew County?
The County has pushed back on certain issues such as severance policy, natural heritage and growth rates.
County Councillors feel that rural Ontario is “under fire” and the Province needs to understand local context and appreciate rural lifestyles. Not everyone wants to live in Toronto.
Question 3), At what stage do Municipalities provide input to the County when significant changes are made to the County Official Plan?
Municipalities provide input throughout the whole process.
At the beginning of the 5-year review process in 2011, letters were written to all municipalities directly covered by the Plan asking for comments. Eleven municipalities responded.
Planners attended and presented at council meetings of all 12 municipalities covered by the revised County Plan.
Mayors and Reeves of local Councils sit on the Development and Property Committee and on County Council.
County and local council members attended open houses and public meetings last summer.
Question 4) When changes to the classification or zoning of property are made or proposed, for example from rural/farming to wetland, how is the landowner informed of the proposed changes? How is his response received?
Newspaper ads were placed to inform the public of the 7 open houses and public meetings last summer.
Social media, county website, extensive media coverage on radio and over 20 newspaper articles were used during the two weeks of public meetings.
Landowner groups were very helpful in getting the message out and having people attend the meetings.
719 “opt out” form letters were submitted, 254 people signed in to the county’s public meetings and there were 146 municipal and public written and oral comments.
Question 5) If a Municipality does not wish to have their own Official Plan, can they take the County Official Plan but “not accept” certain sections?
12 of the 17 Municipalities use the County Official Plan. If they use the County Plan they must accept all of it, although they can add specific policies to suit their local needs.
Larger centres including Deep River and Petawawa have their own Official Plans.
Question 6) What is the definition of the zoning classification of “Wildfire Zone”?
The wildland fire policies are taken from a section of the Provincial Policy Statement that deals with protecting public health and safety.
No development shall be allowed in areas of hazardous forest types for wildland fires unless the risk is mitigated, using a firebreak for example.
Question 7) Is the County in favour of “Tiny Homes” with square footage less than the minimum 800 square feet that some current bylaws demand?
Tiny homes are not so much a planning obstacle but they raise building code issues.
Applications can be made for tiny home communities to raise the issue that there is demand for this type of housing.
Question 8) When will the revised Plan be available to the public?
The County is aiming for a special meeting of the public with County Council in Pembroke in November where the Plan will be presented for review and discussion. The draft report will be available two weeks before the meeting. Notice will be provided to all people who wrote, spoke at/or attended the public meetings.
The next step will be to approve the final version of the Official Plan at another meeting of County Council.
The Official Plan will then be sent to the Province for approval or further amendments.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the audience thanked the speakers for a well prepared presentation and thorough discussion of the issues.