2/22/14

Opening Rural Wards to More Development

Updated July 2014
People in Ramsay ward should prepare themselves for more severances in their neighborhood or even a small subdivision in their back yard. The majority of Council has chosen to ignore our Town planner’s advice and now want to expand residential development in the rural wards.

On several occasions over the past four months, Council has debated changing rural development rules to encourage more residential growth in the two rural wards. The pro-development faction, lead by the mayor, wants to see a significant increase in severance possibilities and the introduction of rural estate lot subdivisions.

Currently our community official plan (COP) does not allow new rural subdivisions, like Greystone Estates. The COP allows any property that existed in July 1, 1973, to have two severances. That was designed to keep density low and housing spread out. It is not perfect but it helps to maintain rural character and to avoid the rural sprawl you see in the northern parts of Beckwith.

As part of the five-year review of the COP, our planner, Stephen Sterling, studied land availability in Ramsay and Pakenham wards and concluded that nothing needs to change. Existing vacant properties and potential severances—a total of 699—can provide growth for 35 years. (People complain that there is no where to build in Ramsay—this is because people are not selling. We can’t make them sell.)

Provincial policy discourages rural subdivisions. Our planner’s advice follows that direction. While Council usually heeds the advice of staff, the majority chose to disregard it. The reasons are political. Developers want to build small subdivisions. Some vocal residents want additional severances

At present only three councillors accept our planner’s advice: me, Val Wilkinson and John Edwards. The other eight want more—ranging from a bit more to much more.

While I can accept some loosening of the current restrictions, we must not lose sight of the goals: maintain rural character, protect key habitat, and never compromise the farming economy.

What Val, John and I have in common and the others lack is experience building two community official plans; the first in Ramsay in the 1990s, and the second early after amalgamation. We also know that Ramsay will bear the brunt of new growth based on past growth patterns. And we remember that no one in Ramsay supported estate lot subdivisions during previous official plan meetings.

Chain of Events

At a Council meeting in November 2013, we met to discuss minor extensions to the severance policy. Mayor Levi jumped in early with a motion that, if accepted, would have added thousands of new severances. The discussion had barely started. The majority voted against the premature motion due to it lack of restrictions.

At our first meeting in February, our planner presented further options. Once again, the Mayor barged in with a motion—this one to permit estate lot subdivisions without restrictions. Again, his motion was defeated. (Both motions nearly won—the defeat came on a 5-5 tie. Had Rickie Minnille been present, his past voting record suggests both motions would have passed.)

The cumulative effect of both defeated motions was to shut down discussions on COP changes. Our procedural rules prevent reintroducing previous motions or similar motions. On February 8, the Mayor, through his staunch supporter, Denzil Ferguson, moved a motion to suspend the rules and restart discussions on rural development. Suspension is the nuclear bomb of motions. It sets back the clock. Once moved, no debate is permitted. It motion requires a two-thirds majority to pass—it did. The effect was to set aside previous negative votes and hand the mayor and his supporters a blank sheet.

One of the odd angles in this debate is the enthusiasm shown by Almonte councillors for growth in the rural wards. At least two complain that Almonte is growing too fast and may max out sewage treatment capacity sooner than expected. This notion, which is not supported by data, according to the planner, verges on bizarre. The town built the sewage plant so that is could grow. Three of the four sitting Almonte reps voted for that growth. And now they want to meddle in Ramsay after accelerating growth in their own ward.

A public meeting on June 10, 2014, to discuss rural development, proved inadequate. I know from the two official plan efforts I experienced that one meeting on such a complex topic is never enough. We will receive feedback from the meeting in August.


2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I, for one, do not support changes that go against our official plan. A lot of thought went into defining the document and it should be respected as a device to guide us in future development, not something that can be circumvented on a developer’s whim.

Arthur Clarke
Ramsay Ward

Anonymous said...

Why not strip-mining and nuclear waste recycling too? I don't think we should limit our imaginations on thinking of new ways to blight our rural character.