Official Plan will not be amended for proposed affordable housing subdivision

Councillor John Hirsch. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

SARAH WILLIAMS

STAFF WRITER

A resolution put forth by Councillors John Hirsch and Brad Nieman seeking council support for an affordable housing project on Rousseau Road was rejected by council at their December 14th Regular Council Meeting.

The project, put forth by Steve Van Dusen of Tri-Canadian Energy, would require an amendment to the recently passed Official Plan. Without this resolution, and subsequent amendment to the Official Plan, the proposed subdivision would not be accepted by the municipal planning department.

Hirsch chimed in on his reasoning for the resolution.

“He (Van Dusen) has a plan. The difficulty is, we kept telling him he needed to go to planning and file a proper application. That’s not possible under our Official Plan we adopted on February 24th, because what he wants to propose would require an Official Plan amendment and has conflicts with certain concepts in that plan,” stated Hirsch. “So, the only way this can see the light of day is if council would agree to instruct our planning staff that they can accept an application and go through a formal process we recently approved for how a planning application should happen. That would mean the applicant would need to have the official meeting, get the list of requirements, which would undoubtedly include an environmental impact statement, hydrogeological reports…all the usual reports that go with a major subdivision before staff could recommend to be for or against the subject. This just seeks to open the door so it may be given consideration by the planning department.”

Brad Nieman. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

Councillor Bill Roberts spoke in staunch opposition to the resolution, citing the need to avoid making plans to the Official Plan lest that set a precedent for doing so.

“With respect to my two council colleagues, I still have ongoing concerns about this proposition. I don’t think it makes good public policy when a series of clear and consistent council decisions, plus a new Official Plan that took decades to get -which we signed off on with a two year moratorium on amends- that can be derailed by what has amounted to social media badgering. That badgering is asking for special treatment for a project we’ve all recognized as pretty dubious. It’s dubious because it flies in the face of good planning principles and municipal policy,” emphasized Roberts.

Roberts further expressed disbelief that council would consider using Section 22-which allows council to make amends to the Official Plan-for this project. He even went so far as to suggest considering such a move calls into question the credibility of council as a governing body.

“Are we actually sitting here about to make a decision about reneging on those council decisions and our new Official Plan, pretending this meets the test of Section 22 that, which our CAO shared with all of us here is a rare exception reserved for projects of considerable public interest. That calls into question the credibility of council as a governing body,” he said. “Yes, we have had two presentations from Van Dusen and questions were asked. But, the last time, numbers (for houses) were thrown out of $700,000 and $800,000. When asked about cost there was no evident awareness of affordability at all.”

The Sophiasburgh councillor also decried the lack of consultation with the PEC Affordable Housing Corporation.

Councillor Stewart Bailey also inquired as to the proponent’s definition of affordable to which Hirsch noted he was unsure.

Explaining the resolution is in no way a move to accept the proposition-merely an avenue through which the application can begin to move through the planning process-Councillor Brad Nieman explained after presentations from Van Dusen, he understood the proposed affordable subdivision on Rousseau Road would provide a housing opportunity for those who might be otherwise priced out of buying a home in the county.

“The way I’m looking at it is, as Hirsch has said, we’ve had two deputations on this and heard what his perception of affordable housing is and how to make it affordable for people to get started here in the county and stay in the county but we’ve never seen any plans or what it all entails,” commented Nieman. “As Hirsch has said, all this motion is allowing is to for Mr. Van Dusen the opportunity to submit the application to the planning committee so he knows the steps he has to go through and see if it is viable and let the planning department work with Mr. Van Dusen. It’s a process to try and see if its viable.”

Councillor Mike Harper, like Roberts, expressed that it is too soon to amend the Official Plan after having only adopted it earlier this year.

“I’m not sure this is a solution for the affordable housing we need,” said Harper. “I feel we put a lot of effort into the Official Plan and we made a correct decision in avoiding rural subdivisions in the future, so I cannot support this.”

Councillors Bolik, Maynard, Margetson and St.Jean also commented it was not the time to amend the Official Plan.

“I know how this is going to get portrayed in the media and by individuals in the community-that we are against affordable housing,” lamented St.Jean. “I’m not against affordable housing, but what I am against is bending our own rules because of the precedent this is going to set if it gets approved.”

Nieman interjected that implementing Section 22 is not violating the rules but exercising an important right of council.

“Section 22 is the right of council and any council can put this forward…nobody is bending the rules. This is exercising the right of council. The next point I want to make is you look at where that is and where the last subdivision that was just built. It is across from birdhouse city,” stated Nieman. “The distance there is not far. At the rate of development here, in 10 years that will probably reach to Rousseau Road because there’s no more land in Picton. If we’re all saying we want the urban centre to have a development then we’ll have to expand the urban centres.”

Ultimately, the proposed resolution did not gain traction with council, losing with only three votes.