Chet Greason, Gazette staff
Perth County council held a special meeting at the Sebringville Community Centre on April 18 to consult the public as to what changes, if any, need to be made to the county’s official plan.
“There will be no decisions or debate tonight,” clarified warden Vince Judge. “We want to listen to your thoughts.”
Senior planner Allan Rothwell explained how the county’s official plan sets out land-use policy and provides a “vision” for the area. It also lays out long-term goals, and lets the public know “how their land is going to be used.”
According to Rothwell, the first plan was adopted in 1997. As it stands, the document must be reviewed every five years.
“This is the first step in a five year process,” said Rothwell. “Following tonight, we’ll be meeting with provincial ministries and local municipal councils.”
The floor was then opened to hear concerns from the public, which brought a number of issues to the table.
Two individuals brought up the topic of industrial wind turbines.
“Agriculture is number one in this county,” said Paul Verkley, who added that plans regarding industrial wind turbines had not changed despite the size and scope of the turbines increasing.
Another speaker, Jack Hovius, emphasized the industrial nature of the turbines, and insisted they had no place in a agricultural-focussed area. He also mentioned the adverse health effects some claim are caused by the machines.
“We cannot afford an exodus of wind turbine refugees,” he said.
Bill Lindner said he hoped Council would consider re-zoning the north side of Lindner Court in Shakespeare for housing so the village could expand.
“You’ll want to do it before the (Ministry of Transportation) decides to draw a line through there,” he said, citing rumours that the expansion of Line 34 through the village will include a highway extension through the north half of the community. Another speaker later echoed Lindner’s hopes of Shakespeare expansion.
Ed Bennett spoke on behalf of Perth County’s “horse and buggy” community, asking that council allow for the leasing of land for schools, churches, and cemeteries.
Barry Mahon didn’t ask for any one thing in specific, just for council to keep local entrepreneurs in mind.
“I work 24/7,” he said. “The last thing I want to do is deal with bureaucracy.”
He suggested either getting rid of unnecessary red tape or, barring that, hiring someone to arrange all of the paperwork so entrepreneurs don’t have to waste time doing it themselves.
“I just want a building permit. I want to get going. I have work to do,” he said.
Cindy Moyer received a rousing applause when she brought forth concerns from her organization, the Ontario Landowners Association. She mentioned instances of county staff and councillors citing provincial interests in the matter at hand, but reminded council that it’s meant to represent private interests as well.
“Landowners in Perth County want a mechanism for dispute,” she said, noting too many landowners in Perth County have been directed by council to the Ontario Municipal Board to settle grievances, which is often a long and expensive process.
“The planning act is chock full of opportunities for councils to resolve conflicts between public and private interests.”
She also took issue with the public only having access to comment forms instead of objection forms when it came to disputing land use, saying landowners have a right to object to their land being used against their wishes.
“Official plans are a trojan horse,” she said. “They’re supposed to be the visions and goals of the people in the community, not of the planners. And not you,” she said, addressing council.
She also took issue with council’s lack of notice regarding land use changes, as well as its lack of public consultation and consent while drafting the plan.
Lastly, Moyer decried council for not including the Ontario Landowners Association in its list of community organizations that its plans to consult regarding the official plan.
Another subject brought up numerous times that night was the issue of surplus land severance. Perth South farm owner Merlin Leis said the current system is “archaic” and “out of date.”
“Gone are the days when a 100 acre farm could provide for one family,” he said. “The current policy restricts living in rural areas ... as rural populations are lost, so to are the services they provide, like schools or restaurants.”
Bill Jeffrey said he was alarmed by the power wielded by the conservation authorities.
“It’s ridiculous,” he said of the authorities’ power to declare sensitive areas, or demand setback from woodlots. “We need some common sense put back into the system,” he declared, amid cheers and whistles from the crowd.
After further questions were asked regarding setback distances for woodlots, director of planning and development Dave Hanly clarified that the issue would be revisited.
“It’s something planning staff has had problems and concerns with in the past,” he said.
Upon the completion of the public consultation session, Hanly thanked all those who contributed and promised to put the comments forward at County Council.
Judge reminded the audience that revisiting the official plan was “not a quick process.”
For more information regarding Perth County’s official plan, including maps that illustrate land use, transport, and cultural heritage, log onto Perth County’s website at www.perthcounty.ca.