Official Plan back before Council on Feb. 10

(Gazette file photo)
OLIVIA TIMM

FOR THE GAZETTE

Thanks to a motion to extend the draft modification process as a result of council and public input, Prince Edward County Council will be deliberating and deciding on its next Official Plan Wednesday Feb. 10.

Any edits and changes in the plan will be rereleased 2-3 weeks prior to that scheduled special council meeting.

At a Special Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday evening, Prince Edward County Council heard from several planning experts and County residents on the 2021 Draft Official Plan.

The existing Official Plan (OP) has been in place for over two decades, which several individuals referred to as “outdated.”

The OP encompasses a two-year moratorium, which would allow the public as well as developers time to make proposals for amendments and gives council ultimate control of the OP if it is staff-initiated to do so. 

On Tuesday, a myriad of deputations took issue with what was before Council on issues of climate change, wetland and flood plain protections and affordable housing among others.

Nina-Marie Lister, member of the Canadian Institute of Planners and Director of the Graduate Planning Program at Ryerson University, called the 20-year-old document “a patchwork mess.” 

One of her main objectives in her deputation was to encourage council to approve the new OP because it is “a living document that speaks to our guidance and support for a sustainable future.”

“It is frankly an embarrassment to the County that the very first thing that comes up when you Google ‘Official Plan Prince Edward County’, the application to amend it comes up as though that were something we should expect. In fact, what we expect as citizens is a guiding document that helps take us to a sustainable future. That’s what this is really about,” Lister stated.

Jane Lesslie, Chair of the Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC), agreed that the existing OP is dated and added it is incoherent based on the EAC’s experience.

Lesslie stated that when the EAC began running earlier in 2020, 80 per cent of the deputations they’ve heard involved planning or planning related issues.

She commended planning staff on numerous positive changes to the draft Official Plan, which her presentation stated include forward thinking about the environment and climate change.

One of the main concerns of the EAC, Lesslie noted, is the existing discrepancies between the Official Plan and Secondary Plans. Lesslie said the EAC urges municipal staff to identify a date that the Secondary Plans will be reviewed to identify inconsistencies between them to ensure coherence moving forward.

Michael Michaud, Manager of Planning, stated there is an existing clause in the OP near the beginning of the document that could simply add the most relevant or restrictive policy of the two would be applied to the given scenario.

The other common theme that has been interwoven with planning, she said, is drainage and water table concerns.

Councillor Kate MacNaughton. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

After consultation with hydrologists and presentation by a Quinte Conservation representative on the committee, looking at the risks for climate change and an impact on the state of our water in the community as well for drought, Lesslie urged council to forbid further building on lands that were blooded in 2017 and 2019.

“We’re concerned that flooding is dismissed as a product of poor implementation,” she continued. “Virtually all climate change forecasts have flood waters rising and there is no reason to think we will be an exception to that,” she said. “There are potential costs to that – not only in the sense of potential law suits, but also the costs we are already absorbing by the County itself, by residents and by taxpayers.”

For major planning developments, Lesslie suggested adopting the Lower Trent Conservation Environmental Impact Studies’ (EIS) Terms of Reference model, following discussions with Quinte Conservation. 

“This will provide clarity, put all developers on a level playing field and provide better transparency to the community,” she stated. These EIS, she added, must be peer reviewed by qualified professionals. 

Lesslie also shared concern on behalf of the EAC with respect to lack of information and transparency.

“In some instances, reports have never been made available to the public, or if they are it is done with huge delays, which certainly does nothing to improve research and analysis, and in fact, undermines the credibility of planning staff themselves. We ask that all documentation regarding major planning proposals be made public within seven days of receipt to assist with that analysis and will build trust in the planning process,” she recommended.

Lesslie recommended under the Natural Heritage Systems Policies, wetlands should be independently assessed for significance and that the County should not permit development of wetlands – at least until their status has been documented, she stated. 

“Large residential development as well as major commercial and industrial developments should not be permitted in Natural Core Areas or Natural Core Area Linkages. The County’s actual wetlands – and the environmental protection they provide – are likely far smaller than the Official Plan assumes based on experience from the Lower Trent Conservation area. 

Rosalind Adams’ deputation spoke to the detrimental affect the County’s actions have in regard to the climate emergency.

“We are consuming resources five times faster than the Earth can replenish them; we are in an extinction crisis that is causing the web of life to unravel at the rate of a 150 species per day; we are in a climate crisis that is already having disastrous impacts on humanity, and that will get worse. We can’t wait twenty-five years to address these crises,” she began. 

Touching on how the OP deals with climate crisis, she said human-caused emissions must be reduced drastically, referencing the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change summary that states: “to save a livable climate, global anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions must be reduced by 50 per cent by 2030 – nine years from now – and to net zero by 2050.”

“If we want a livable future, our Official Plan must be about how we are going to make these deep cuts. I’d like to look at how the Official Plan deals with the County’s main sources of emissions. I’ll start with the largest, which is the cement plant. For the year 2018, the cement plant reported 533,128 tonnes of CO2 emissions. The plant contributes more to the County carbon footprint than all our other high-emissions activities put together,” she explained. 

Adams noted that though the cement industry has made reductions over the last few decades, and is aspiring to make more, meeting the necessary target on time by changing technology would be virtually impossible.
“Even if it weren’t, their approach to “sustainability” is not coherent with reality: it is taken with a vision to maintaining if not increasing the astronomical global demand for cement. Carbon emissions are not the only threat related to cement. The cement industry is hugely extractive and has a devastating ecological footprint,” she said. “This has huge repercussions for the County economy and beyond. But the repercussions of failing to make the cuts will be far greater. It’s going to take an almost unthinkable adjustment in the way we live, and in our vision of the future.”

Adams said one the reduction factors are taken into consideration; it becomes clear that we must reduce our overall fleet of vehicles by about 90 per cent by 2030. 

“Basically, this means we cannot have personal cars, and that the transportation emissions we make must be spent on essential uses only, such as distribution of food and emergency transportation. Even if we follow this, staying within our carbon budget here is going to require unprecedented social reorganization. Although it pays lip service to the ideas of people walking and biking more, the County Official Plan just doesn’t grasp the reality of the emissions cuts we need to make,” she explained. 

She noted several areas of the OP that do not work, such as recommending high standards for green building design – which she said would be “optional.”

“The Plan makes a vague reference to retrofits for older buildings. Here, small-scale energy-efficiency investments are affordable. But the deep retrofits needed to achieve even a 40 percent emission reduction are too expensive for most property owners and would require significant funding. This leaves us a long way from the 90 per cent reduction we need to make,” Adams continued. “It is going to require an unprecedented effort in public planning to even heat only essential County buildings while staying within the carbon budget. Not only does the proposed Official Plan completely ignore this responsibility, it lays the foundation to expand our climate destruction with more resorts and subdivisions. Reality tells us we cannot afford to expand the land area covered by buildings, period.”

Adams stated the draft OP must be rejected and that it is planning for a world that no longer exists, and is not coming back.
“We need a plan for facing reality with courage and solidarity. We share a common planet and we face a common future,” she said.

Coun. MacNaughton shared common concerns with Adams, noting there are some items within her deputation that MacNaughton thinks could be actionable. 

“It seems like the current stated fluctuations in temperature are actually very, very conservative and we’ve actually seen more warming than is being documented across the board, or at least there are some indications that it’s quite a bit worse than we seem to think,” she said. “We are very limited through the province and through legislation of what we’re able to do as far as restricting development and influencing private businesses. However, it is not lost that there are huge risks at play down the road and that we’re selling out the future for the present.”

Treat Hull, County realtor and resident, spoke to three items of concern: affordable housing, rural gentrification and sustainability.

Speaking as a private individual, not as member of the Affordable Housing Corporation Board, he touched on the rapid increase of housing prices in the County.

Cheryl Anderson of the South Shore Joint Initiative. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

“I think it’s important I support the measures in the Official Plan which I would categorize as ambitious, rather than lacking in ambition. Realistically in terms of setting expectations about where the implementation of this plan will take us, we need to realize that the plan will slow the decline in affordable housing but not reverse it,” Hull explained. 

He pointed out that achieving the goals in the OP will require immense boldness and courage on the part of councillors over the next several years when confronting development plans. 

Mark Dorfman, Registered Professional Planner, spoke on behalf of the Warings Creek Improvements Association (WCIA), stating the Warings Creek watershed is a “critically important component of this unique natural heritage system.”

“The increased development pressures, however, also open the County’s natural heritage system to potentially significant impacts which undermine the very features and values that are drawing residents, visitors and businesses to the County,” Dorfman explained. “For these reasons, the WCIA believes special attention needs to be given to establishing protective environmental policies which appropriately balance the need to accommodate growth with appropriate long-term protection of the County’s natural heritage system and its component features and functions.”

In a summary of proposed changes, Dorfman along with senior ecologist, Sarah Mainguy, asked that the draft OP identify the Warings Creek Watershed as a significant watercourse within the County and also signified the conflict between the Picton Secondary Plan and the draft OP. 

Cheryl Anderson, South Shore resident, noted the 11 natural core areas and linkages that should be included in the draft OP. From the objectives, she said, it is clear that the designation exists to provide improved public access to the water’s edge and expand and diversify tourism.

“While these are admirable goals and have become more important and necessary given the increase in tourist visits to the County over the past 10 years, they are in conflict with the philosophy of natural core areas and linkages,” she explained. “Natural core areas and linkages exist to maintain, restore and enhance the health and biodiversity of the County’s natural heritage features and their associated ecological functions and protect them from incompatible development.”

Anderson suggested that the shoreland designated areas are incompatible with lands designated as natural core areas and linkages and should be removed in all cases from those areas. 

“We are stewards of this rare and unique land. Unnatural development risks losing this magical place forever. The forests, wetlands, meadows and shores of the South Shore help to mitigate climate change and guard against loss of critical habitat,” she said.

Michael Michaud, Manager of Planning, took time to explain the process of finalizing the OP, noting staff will take comments to rework the document for updates to mapping issues, any rewording that’s necessary, and come forward on Jan. 13 with a new document for review. 

Council received the report of the Development Services Department for further information and deliberation and will provide clear direction requesting staff to prepare both a Cultural Heritage Master plan and conduct a review of the Shore Land designation. 

“When you prepare the OP, you typically have a number of leading documents that feed into it,” Michaud explained. 

“A lot of that forms the basis and backbone for the document. We are missing a lot of that information. What we’re asking for, is once we move forward or you approve this document, you give direction to staff so these studies can be done so we can update the document and make it more wholesome,” Michaud explained.

He said the original goal was to get the document out Jan. 4 so staff can digest questions and concerns prior to the Jan. 13 council meeting, however, several councillors motioned to postpone decisions for another two weeks.

CAO Wallace recommended giving ample review time, and to give two weeks of time for the public to review the draft OP and aim to have the plan itself ready for review mid-February.