Why Have an Official Plan?
There is no doubt that what is happening throughout Saugeen Shores has one driving force and that's money.
Where development is concerned, it would appear that esthetics, nature or the wants of the citizens are no longer being considered in most instances. There have been concerned groups who have stood and voiced opinions that, for the most part, seem to be falling on deaf ears.
There is a phrase in the French language, fait accompli, or a "done deal", and this certainly seems to be the case in many situations. Under the Provincial Planning Act, the public is not only allowed to voice concerns but a Town Council is mandated by law to hold public forums for input. That's all well and good except when the decision has already been made.
Every five years, municipalities are now required to review and renew their Official Plans but what good is an Official Plan when it is continually being adjusted, amended and altered to suit those who seek to increase development?
Plans are put in place to achieve goals. Plans that are constantly changed gradually become watered down to the point where they are non-existent except in name. In Saugeen Shores, this seems to be happening more and more.
First, everyone knows of the contentious hearing to stop a major big-box retail development spearheaded by Wal-Mart (a.k.a. Shoreline Shopping Centres Inc.). Not only has that situation divided the community, it also resulted in the vilifying of some citizens who felt they were doing the right thing by standing up to the behemoth development.
Then, there is the condo development on the Port Elgin harbour. Here again, a major development was approved even though a waterfront master plan has been asked for time and again by citizens.
Next, there was the recent Tim Horton's in Southampton and the traffic issues that evolve from almost every Tim Horton's everywhere -- but, again, no-one listened.
Now, we have another situation developing where the bottom line seems to be all that matters. This time it's a 50-suite apartment building to be built on High Street in Southampton.
We all know that Saugeen Shores is short on rental space but is this going to be real rental space or yet another high-priced development to attract those who can easily afford such accommodation.
This particular development, by the way, exceeds almost every by-law in the Official Plan:
Not to worry however, as Saugeen Shores Town Council seems to make a re-zoning amendment, adjustment and alteration when there are conditions outside the norm.
This development is also to have underground parking access from High St. The building itself will be built as closely as possible to the sidewalk on a street which is not only a main thoroughfare, but is also the ambulance route for the Southampton Hospital located on the opposite side of the street at the top of the hill.
In addition, the rear of the proposed building and a proposed parking lot backs onto a laneway, Scott Lane. Coincidentally, this laneway also runs alongside the property of the local Fire Station.
For those familiar with Southampton, there are other considerations. The proposed development will loom over Fairy Lake, which is not only an historic site, it is a centre of entertainment during the summer peak tourist season.
During this time, concerts are held on the Lake in a specially constructed summer band shell. Also, during this time, the Southampton Summer Music Camp attracts music students from across North America and outdoor music classes are held at each corner of High Street (in each of the churches), in addition to concerts at the Lake. Immediately around the corner from the proposed development is the Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre and a public school, G.C. Huston.
All of these events and facilities are on what is a major walking route, High Street. Both the summer concerts and Music Camp create inestimable foot and vehicle traffic. To add more traffic congestion to this sensitive area seems ludicrous to say the least!
While these are all issues that should raise concerns with citizens and Town officials, there is also the most important issue of setting a precedent. Allowing a development such as this in this location, opens the door to similar future developments. It is anticipated that the Southampton Resident Association (SRA) will make its position clear regarding this and other expected developments.
Under the Strong Communities Act of 2004 (Bill 26), the public has been placed first, environmental protection has been boosted and better protection for public interest has been put in place. This Act is the first step in planning reform. It also includes: "measures that ensure the application of provincial planning policies ... setting out the province's priorities for how communities grow and how municipal governments protect the environment."
When we talk of protecting the environment in this instance, we must consider the formation of Fairy Lake as an ice-age, glacial repository. This has resulted in a special geographically historical area that few other communities have.
In addition, given the proximity to Fairy Lake and the underground springs that run throughout the area into Lake Huron, has consideration been given to water quality? Has there been an environmental assessment completed?
The Planning Advisory Committee (PAC) was established by the Town to: "act as the public body to advise Council on Official Plan and Zoning By-law amendments, to act as the decision making body for Minor Variances and to provide comments to the County for Plans of Subdivisions."
While each committee is required to have a Council representative and one alternate, PAC, in fact, has two representatives in addition to an alternate. In other words, it has considerable authority.
However, Town Council and PAC owe it to the electorate to give far more consideration to this proposed development - other than the bottom line