• Protecting Water and Farmland in Simcoe County

Fulford questions Ramara planner’s Strawberry Island concessions

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In Council Watch
Sep 2nd, 2015
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Strawberry Island

Should Simcoe County planning staff take over local development applications?

Letter from Pamela Fulford

To Ramara Mayor, Council, Clerk, Manager of Planning and County of Simcoe: Please include this letter on Ramara’s next Council agenda. I am requesting an answer from the Manager of Planning to my questions below. I am also sending a copy of this letter to Whitesell & Co to be included in the current Ramara Township Organization and Service Delivery Review.

As you all know, Official Plan Amendment 18 (OPA 18) for Strawberry Island was written by Mark Dorfman, contract planner for Ramara, and approved by Ramara Council on July 27, 2015. In my 25 years as a professional biologist working for MNR and municipalities, I have never seen a planning document reverse environmental gains made through a year of negotiations and at the same time advance habitat destruction as OPA 18 has done.

OPA 18 gave the developer more than they requested, for a development that should be designed in the most conservative way under the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan (LSPP) and Act (LSPA).

The purpose of this letter is to address unjustified and last minute revisions to the development application subject to OPA 18 and to ask why these changes to the proposal were made without public knowledge on the day of the unofficial vote at the Committee of the Whole, July 20, 2015. Significant resident concerns were ignored in OPA 18 after a petition was signed by over 1700 people to keep the zoning rural. These valid concerns, regarding woodland and shoal destruction, increased phosphorus loading, docking, traffic and parking congestion remain unresolved. We were told by Whitesell & Co as part of the current township review, that Township staff needs to be accountable for their actions.

Consequently, my questions are:

1. Why did OPA 18 decrease the applicant’s Vegetation Protection Zone width from 40 metres as shown in their 2015 FSP (pg. 31) to 30 m, increasing the development footprint by 1.3 hectares? 2. Why did OPA 18 increase the building height from originally requested, use Brechin as a comparable density rather than Grape Island (same size, 10 ha) and set the housing density comparable to a town for this ecologically sensitive, “non-settlement”, forested island?

2.Why did OPA 18 increase the building height from originally requested, use Brechin as a comparable density rather than Grape Island (same size, 10 ha) and set the housing density comparable to a town for this ecologically sensitive, “non-settlement”, forested island?

3. Did Mark Dorfman advise Council that the original proposal specified 80 units, as clearly shown in the Sept 25, 2014 Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA) letter?

4. Why did OPA 18 omit reference to correspondence received in June from the County of Simcoe and LSRCA and in April, from Ramara’s own peer reviewer, CC Tatham & Assoc., indicating that many questions remained unresolved and a decision would be premature?

5. How can Mark Dorfman, a professional planner, ignore the Technical Definitions and Criteria for the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, a report that clearly proves that the 8 hectare woodland is Significant and requires complete protection with additional buffers?

6. Why did Mark Dorfman tell me in June that LSRCA was “entitled to their own opinion” implying that LSRCA could be ignored? Is it the opinion of the Manager of Planning and Ramara Council that LSRCA can be ignored in their interpretation of the LSPP?

7. The developer made significant last minute changes in their Natural Heritage Report received by Ramara on July 20, 2015. Specifically, the docks were showed in their original southern locations and the protection zone was decreased by 1.3 hectares. There was no time for the public or Council to review these revisions. How is it that the developer is allowed to make significant last minute changes that offer no time for proper review?

8. Who sent the “Notice of Complete Application” on July 14, 2014 to the developer when the Functional Servicing Plan, Hydrogeological Report and Archaeological Assessment had not been completed or received by that date by Ramara Planning Department? In fact, the hydrogeology measurements were still ongoing during this spring of 2015, the final FSP was received in Jan 2015 and the final Archaeology report was not in the township file by July 27, 2015 when Ramara Council officially voted on OPA 18. Under the Provincial Planning Act, the Provincial requirements for Complete Applications include Servicing Options (FSP), Hydrogeological and Archaeology Reports. Who made this decision that started the “clock ticking” for the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) deadline of 180 days and the pressure on Council for a decision?

9. In his OPA 18 Planning Report (p 11), Mark Dorfman claims the applicant’s phosphorus loading estimates based on a 1986 sewage system are valid to establish correct phosphorus loading targets and 94 housing units. Why is Mark Dorfman not supporting the clean water quality around the island today as a baseline, not an antiquated sewage system, unused for 10 years? Why doesn’t he wait for MOECC to make this decision in their proper review of this application, as is their responsibility?

The municipal planning process is undeniably flawed, as the Strawberry Island application has clearly demonstrated. The threat of any developer taking Ramara to an OMB hearing, putting us further into debt for fighting for provincial legislation such as the LSPA, will continue to happen over and over again. The Provincial government must step forward to take responsibility for its LSPA, the only environmental law passed in Canada for one lake. Until this process is corrected, perhaps Ramara Council would be wise to hand over all development applications involving the LSPA directly to Simcoe County, by way of an OPA that is silent on specific densities within the 180 day deadline so that the developer cannot take us to the OMB. It is a waste of time and taxpayer’s money if Ramara is not able to properly interpret the LSPP, as is likely the case for many of the townships in the watershed. Simcoe County and Provincial staff, properly trained in the LSPA and with the essential natural heritage expertise can then protect Lake Simcoe with Ramara as a participant. I still believe that as long as proper public and truly expert consultation is guaranteed in the planning process, the right thing will be done. In our efforts to avoid the OMB, we are sacrificing a very good law and destroying Lake Simcoe in the balance. And that is just plain wrong.

Sincerely, Pamela Fulford

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