Editor’s Note: Barry’s Bay lawyer Robert Howe provides this analysis of the implications stemming from the County’s new Official Plan.
Renfrew County mayors were united in their anger at the County Council meeting on May 27. The reason was the contents of Ontario’s amendment to the County’s Official Plan (OP). After a lengthy review process including much public consultation, the County had submitted its proposals to the Province. Its response proposed numerous modifications, many of which were robustly resisted by the County, but to no avail and as of March 26, 2020, the new Official Plan with those modifications came into effect.
Permitted population growth
As highlighted by the mayors, the new OP will significantly stifle development in the County, particularly in western Renfrew County. It will remain in effect until 2036, and is based on a projected population increase from 2011 (the base year adopted) to 2040 (twenty years from approval) of only about 21,000 persons. It allocates only 1.6 percent of this growth to the combined area of the Townships of Madawaska Valley, Killaloe Hagarty and Richards, and Brudenell, Lyndoch and Raglan, which works out to an increase of only 3,314 people over the next 20 years.
In contrast, 27.6 percent of the projected growth has been allocated to the Town of Petawawa where, experience shows, a change in government or defence spending can dramatically impact its population, in either direction.
Therefore, just when Madawaska Valley and its neighbours are becoming increasingly attractive as an area for a retirement home, recreational retreat or base for water-related activities, including commercial uses, the OP is likely to frustrate or at least discourage potentially desirable development.
In the 1980s, there was little new development in these municipalities because the cost of creating lots could not be recovered from the prices the lots would bring once they had been approved. That has changed dramatically in the last ten or so years, but the Plan may plunge us back into the 1980s.
Despite their resistance, now that the OP is approved and in effect, the County Planning Department must enforce adherence to its provisions when considering applications for approval of plans of subdivision and severances (controlled by County) and in reviewing proposed amendments to the zoning by-laws of local municipalities.
Municipal zoning by-laws ultimately control development in a particular municipality, and contain provisions enabling municipalities to enforce non-compliance, and even lay charges and impose fines. The Act (Section 27) requires municipalities to amend Zoning By-laws to conform to the Amended Official Plan, and if any municipality fails to do so within one year from the date the Plan comes into effect, the County has the authority to amend that municipality’s zoning by-law.
Not long ago, you could apply to the County Land Division Committee (and pay, $1,100 fee) to request a severance consent to create a lot for, say, a son or daughter. More recently you could submit a General Inquiry (free) to County planning staff who would review the proposal for compliance with planning documents. Under the amended Plan, “pre-consultation” becomes mandatory and you are likely to be required to submit with the Consent Application one or more of 25 different studies (listed in Section 17.17(2) of the amended Plan), such as a “tree preservation plan,” “vibration study” or a “visual impact assessment,” and you might be required to drill a well on the proposed lot to demonstrate that a supply of potable water is available and/or to provide a plan for sewage disposal.
The County is pleased that the basic land division policies of the previous Plan have been preserved in the Amended Plan, but a closer look reveals not only the requirement for pre-consultation and (probably) studies, but also policies which are likely to rule out specific development proposals. Your land may lie within, or too close to, what the Plan has identified as a mineral aggregate deposit, a cultural or archaeological resource, an “at capacity” lake, habitat of an endangered or threatened species, an area of natural and scientific interest, significant woodlands, or a “hazard,” such as a floodplain, unstable slope, karst (look it up), wildland fire or a human-made hazard such as a propane transfer facility, septage spreading location, aggregate pit or quarry, waste management site, etc. At best, you will need to engage one or more consultants to prepare a report, hopefully demonstrating that the development proposal will not adversely affect the particular feature or features identified.
Adding up the potential costs, you may decide that you cannot afford to make that gift of a lot to a son or daughter, after all. And they are probably in no better financial position to pick up the costs.
It is exponentially more challenging in terms of costs and risk of non-approval to develop multiple residential lots by plan of subdivision or do commercial development.
If the amended Plan renders it nearly impossible to create new residential lots, the question is how the County and local municipalities will get along without the investment and resultant economic growth that would have been injected by those urban dwellers looking for an alternative to their high-rise apartment or condominium in the city who may not be able to find what they are seeking in the County, at any price.
The natural heritage features in the OP, including wetlands, environmental protection areas, “at capacity” lakes, significant woodlands and deer wintering areas, collectively cover virtually all of the Township of Brudenell, Lyndoch and Raglan, and large areas of both Killaloe, Hagarty and Richards, and Madawaska Valley Townships.
The Plan puts protection of these features and wildlife ahead of the interests of the human beings now residing in or contemplating settling in the County who, if they wish to undertake development, will be permitted to do so only if they can demonstrate no significant adverse impacts upon these features and creatures.
Therefore, most development applications will require an expensive, professionally-prepared Environmental Impact Study (EIS) to assess and report the impacts of a proposed development, furnish an opinion as to whether the net impacts of the development are negative and whether it is consistent with the Provincial Policy Statement and the policies in the Plan.
The County is entitled to have an EIS or any of the other studies it requires “peer-reviewed,” which means that the County hires — but the applicant pays — a second consultant in the same field to review the report that the applicant for development has already provided.
Doubtless going forward anyone contemplating any type of development, even the creation of single lot, will need professional assistance from a range of “experts” in various disciplines, and quite possibly will need to engage a professional planner or possibly a lawyer to prepare and oversee the processing of development applications.
This is the “new normal” for land development in Renfrew County, whether those of us who are not professional consultants like it or not.