Land use planning for (no) development


 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.

Legal effect

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.

Robert Howe

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.

Anti-development policies

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.

Financial impact

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.


  1. Terry Newcombe

    Ouch, all this legal and political talk hurts my head trying to understand it. But if I get the gist of it all, our provincial government is trying to protect our environment with a new plan that is going to limit, and raise the cost of, development. From a personal point of view, I overlook tiny Drohan Lake, and when I see new construction across the lake I worry about getting too much development. So I agree with Dan that these limits and extra costs are worth it if we think of our economy in the long run. Our beautiful lakes and forests will only bring in tourist and retirement dollars if we keep them clean.

  2. I completely agree with what Robert Howe stated and thank him. Who controls is who owns in this life, and if you don’t own and control your property, then the county can dam well pay you rent money for controlling what is yours and forget about property taxes. Maybe we need to all get together with signs like they do south of here and stand up for our property rights. Hey! It worked with the Hydro because we had the guts to face them, and then they back down with their substantial electric fees. What is happening now is Government abuse, and we can get rid of it. I want elected leaders that go after the government agency s not surrender to their injury and authority. By the way, I want to thank the Mad Valley Current for being trustworthy and accurate in it’s reporting. Knowledge is power, and they give us insight for us to create a better community together.

  3. Dan Olshen

    It was of significant interest to read the commentary of Bob Howe on the Official Plan which came into effect in March 2020. I have the greatest respect for the professionalism and integrity of Mr. Howe but make the case that a certain number of his premises may not be entirely accurate. I would also like to add that I have not read the Plan in its entirety but from debriefs from the BLR Council, and what can be gleaned from the Current and Valley Gazette on its content.
    The demographic increase of around 3300 additional residents for the 3 municipalities seems low at about 30% but one must acknowledge that without additional economic development in these jurisdictions and the decreasing amount of waterfront available or close to saturation point, these forecasts may be more realistic that we hope for. There is a gentrification phenomenon occurring here but without employment opportunities – over 90% of the graduates from the MVDHS will leave for the “Big City”. Without this youth dynamic it is difficult to surmise how much growth will take place, and with the last tracts of waterfront being in scarce quantity this projection may be more realistic then we realize. When one equates the statistics with say the Township of Algonquin Highlands which is adjacent to the Algonquin Park and Haliburton/Muskoka areas, one finds that their population density is lower than here despite the fact they have a similar geography but a much more desirable proximity to major highways like Hwy 11 from Barrie to Huntsville, one would assume the growth potential there would be higher than here.
    One notes that the last budget of the MV Twp. Allocated a mere $100K to economic development (about 10% of the Police budget), so our priorities are not skewed towards planning/ economic development.
    Although I would be the first proponent of local governance of zoning by-laws, it is abundantly clear that our local municipalities do not have the capacity or dedicated staff to enact this zoning enforcement in a multitude of areas as is abundantly clear in the manner in which the 100 foot setback from the waterfront is being breached in most cases and the critical Riparian Zone scarified and damaged beyond rehabilitation. For amplification on this fact, one notes that the Chippawa Shores lot liquidator is applying to procure over a kilometer of the best riverfront in the MV, under the guise of maintaining it environmentally cohesive, whereas their application clearly indicates that all vegetation under 25 cm (or 6 inches) can be removed. Try this ruse in the Big Rideau Lakes or Haliburton Twps., and see how quickly this would be rejected but in all probality this SRA will be approved next week with all of its negative ramifications as highlighted by the Friends of the Madawaska Watershed who have over 100 petitioners against this so-called mode of development. During the 2 forums held to discuss this development, the Mayor acted as the 5-minute timekeeper for objections to the proposals but the proponents and their cronies were allowed limitless time to pursue their objectives and deliberations.
    One has to acknowledge that the local planning ordinances are not sufficient and new regulations have to be implemented. This is easy to verify by the number of Mineral Aggregate sites in the Twp. of MV. Just drive down any road and multiple pits are visible. Drive down Highway 118 from Bancroft to Gravenhurst and there is only one quarry visible in the 150 Km trajectory. What a contrast, and in the Haliburton area it is difficult to find any waterline boundaries being breached to the extent they are here locally. This route is designated as the Geo-Caching Capital of Ontario for good reason, because of their high regard for the environment and the long-term vision on the economic impacts of eco-tourism – the growth industry of the next decade.
    Regarding “Heritage Sites” as having special regulations seems appropriate as one can easily ascertain by going to Shrine Hill in Wilno and for nearly a kilometer one of the primary vistas in the MV is obscured by tree plantations – but a few owners have the privilege of the view for themselves because there are no regulations in place to mitigate such gestures. Due to a lack of Planning or foresight by previous Councils, another glaring example of a Heritage Artifact breach was the Railroad Line thru BB (with a genesis from the J.R. Booth era) which was sold to private interests in lieu of being an economic enabler for the area for 4 seasons recreation. The scarification of Babinski Road is another example of a lack of regulation and crony capitalism at play.
    Mr. Howe is well aware of the effort by developers to exploit the Niagara Escarpment with all its negative impacts, and how this development was curtailed since it was deemed a Natural Heritage site to the benefit of all residents of Ontario and not a handful of developers for their exploitation. I have visited the Marin County outside of San Francisco several times as I assume Mr. Howe has a well. Marin County (vis a vis adjacent Sonoma County) had some of the most environmentally friendly gestures in place since the 50s, and today the benefits and rewards are clearly evident. It is the most vaunted real estate in Central California and the price of entry is 10x Sonoma County because of the vision of the local munipal governments. I am not suggesting the MV become Marin County but merely trying to reinforce the value of foresight and planning and respect for the environment – and the dividends are sure to come.
    In conclusion: one prefers local governance to set and enforce regulations versus some large beurocracy but if one wants to envision a big picture then we must adopt the best practices from both modes of government, and minor variances such as wells and septics should not detract us from an economically and environmentally sustainable future in the three (3) municipalities we all share and enjoy.

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