Proposed Development Part 2: Neighbours band together against proposed development on Protected lands

Saugeen Shores Council Chambers was standing-room only as residents filled the room and overflowed out into the hallway at the March 18th Public Planning Meeting to consider two applications by developers for two separate locations in Southampton.

The first is located on the east side of Southampton, while the second is on Environmental Protected land near the shore of Lake Huron and it was the second that brought many residents out in protest.

The land is bounded by Bay, Albert, Summerhill and Huron Streets and has been designated Wetlands and Environmental Hazard (EH) under Environmental Protection (EP).
Many of those in the Chambers had also signed a Petition, which has almost 400 supporters, against the proposed development.
Bruce County Senior Planner, Daniel Kingsbury, presented the planning application and then, the applicant’s Planner, Ron Davidson, presented a brief deputation that confirmed housing types proposed were not presented with the application.  Instead, the applicant is requesting that the Environmental Hazard (EH) boundary be moved.  Kingsbury stated that the Saugeen Valley Conservation Authority (SVCA) found the property was predicated by wetlands, floodplain but analysed the significant woodland based on a supplemental study done in 2011, prior to the last Official Plan (OP). The SVCA also found the lands in question to be significant wildlife habitat and wetlands, a potential for endangered species.  The SVCA was not prepared to comment until a ‘site specific’ plan has been submitted.
Kingsbury said that several public comments had been received stating concerns around: loss of natural heritage, natural hazard impacts, traffic impacts, process concerns, loss of a trail, concerns with studies accompanying the application and the accuracy of information.
He said that if the amendment is approved development will be allowed on portions of the land subject to requirements of the Official Plan and an Environmental Impact Study (EIS).
    John Morton of AWS

Planning Consultant, Ron Davidson, said that he and John Morton from the company, Aquatic and Wildlife Services (AWS) had been retained by the developer and owners who retain five of the parcels of land in the protected area and who also want to acquire another nine parcels.

“The OP is part of a long process to possibly get some of the lands approved for

             Ron Davidson

development.  At the present time, the Town’s OP includes a policy for this particular area of Southampton that simply does not allow for any development being considered whatsoever,” said Davidson.  “This policy however, in this area of Southampton is unique and is the only area in Southampton with this policy.  It was also in the area north of the river until a few years ago and immediately south of the Southampton boundary until a few years ago.  In 2012/13, a study was done on two of the three sites and the woodland study resulted in changes to the Official Plan where the restrictive policy was removed.  This area, at that time, was not part of the study.”

According to Davidson, the policy is not reflected in the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) or the Bruce County Official Plan, but is  “… just a restrictive policy that you (the Town) has here.”  The PPS states that no design or site alterations will be permitted in a significant woodland or the adjacent lands, unless it can be demonstrated that such development or site alteration would not negatively impact the woodland or its surrounding function.  It does not state no development.”
Davidson said that the applicant is aware that some of the land will never be developed.  He said that Morton, had done an EIS for some of the lands and has determined that some of the EH lands are not correct and that the boundary should be re-delineated and SVCA would be involved.   “If the amendment is approved, the owners would then have an EIS done on the remainder of the lands, subject to the amendment.”  At that point, the EH boundaries would then be re-considered again by the Town and the SVCA.
“Once it is determined what lands are developable, then we would work with the Town and the County and the SVCA on the development proposal would require official approvals of the OP, a zoning By-law amendment, severances and/or planned sub-division and condominiums.  If we get that far, the neighbours would again be involved.  If approved, there would still be tree restoration and protection for fish habitat. It was suggested by Town Staff, that we sit down with the neighbours to discuss this matter.”
Following planners’ official statements, members of the public were then invited to speak to Council, with several taking the opportunity to raise concerns.
Brian Putman holds up the Petitions signed by residents

Brian Putman, the first speaker, brought a copy of the residents’ petition with some 395 signatures asking that Council reject the proposed applicant’s proposal.  “I am not against development overall,” said Putman, “I understand that Saugeen Shores is facing exceptional growth pressures  as a result of the multi-year refurbishment at Bruce Power combined with increased interest in the area by boomers retiring and moving to the Lake Huron shoreline. I understand this and recognize that, if handled properly,  smart development may occur in town to enrich all of our lives. We must approach development in a way that recognizes and maintains the unique quality of  Saugeen Shores and our individual communities.  While not against development, I am against development that is destructive to a neighbourhood and the community. Develoment within the subject area would, without doubt be very destructive to all properties, not only within the zone of influence, but to the community as a whole.”

He also said the Official Plan Amendment being requested by the developer does not need to be approved by the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS), “… as he would lead you to believe.
The Policy is to be read in its entirety and relevant policies applied to each situation. When more than one policy is relevant, decision makers should consider all the relevant policies to understand how they work together Policies (of the PPS) represent minimum standards … planning authorities and decision makers may go beyond these minimum standards to address matters of importance to a specific community unless doing so would conflict with any policy in the PPS. 
“Therefore, as a Municipal Council and planning authority you may maintain the policy restriction on the subject lands and still be consistent with the PPS and the Saugeen Shores Official Plan.  However, if you take the position that the PPS should direct your actions, I would point out the following under the PPS:
  • Strong, liveable and healthy communities promote and enhance human health and social well being are economically and environmentally sound and are resilient to climate change
  • The Province’s natural heritage resources and water resources including the Great Lakes, provide important environmental, economic and social benefits.  Wise use and management of these resources over the long term is of key provincial interest.  The Province must ensure that its resources are managed in a sustainable way to conserve bio-diversity, protect essential ecological processes and public health and safety, provide for the production of food and fire, minimize environmental and social impacts and meet long-term needs.

Therefore, the PPS stresses that “… it is equally important to protect the overall health and safety of the population.”  It directs development away from areas of natural and human-made hazards.

The PPS is actually restrictive about things that planning authorities must undertake.  “Planning authorities shall identify appropriate locations to promote opportunities for intensification and redevelopment where this can be accommodated taking into account existing stock or areas, including brown-filled sites and the suitability of existing or planned infrastructure at public facilities projected to accommodate projected needs.

Area in question … for larger views,CLICK on images

When it comes to areas of fish spawning, Putman quoted the PPS as stating, “… development and site alteration shall not be permitted in fish habitat except in accordance with Provincial and Federal requirements.”  He pointed out that the SVCA report makes no reference to the spawning of fish within the five streams across the subject area.

In addition, there can be no development in “… a floodway regardless of whether the area of inundation contains high points of land not subject to flooding.”  “The PPS is very clear about the need for planning authorities to prioritize future development in areas of redevelopment and intensification to preserve bio-diversity and restrict development in such areas.
Putman then asked members of Council if they were prepared to allow for consideration of development in the last protected significant wetland and woodland in Southampton and they wanted that to be their legacy.  “Once the decision is made to open the considered area to development, the thin edge of the wedge will be thrust into the subject area and the damage will be done and will be irreversible and permanent.  Council, as decision makers, should vote in rejection of this Amendment.  While we are hopeful that Council does the right thing, we are prepared.  We know that approval of this application will signal the beginning of a long challenge before us all, one that we as property owners, residents, taxpayers and visitors are determined to meet head on.”
Resident John Willetts, formerly of Brampton, explained that he had been co-chair of the Brampton Environmental Advisory Committee and was President of the NGO, the Claireville Environmental Group working with the City of Brampton and the Toronto Regional Conservation Authority (TRCA).
Willetts said that he saw Brampton go from the ‘Flower Town” to the 10th largest city in Canada.  “There were small developments on the edges of significant wetlands and significant forests.  Over time, those forests depleted and the wetlands perished. The TRCA was often caught without concrete data and development and roadways shifted the watershed with significant loss of wetlands.  All the while, being assured that there would be “no negative impact”.  He said that City Councilors felt forced to take unnecessary risks with development in order not to come up against the OMB.
    Watershed map depicts the many streams and rivulets in the area

“Saugeen Shores has a strong town-and-country balance with a strong connection to nature. The woodland study identifies that this is a high functioning habitat here with a lot of interconnections.  SVCA in its report talked about the area being a significant woodland, endangered, possibly high risk species.  Throughout the report it states how important the area is and then turns around and says the application is ok?” asked Willetts.

Willetts produced a provincial map that sets out the many streams and rivulets that run through the area and which are source water protection.  “This area operates like a small ‘oak ridges moraine’ where the water comes down from the tableland, is filtered through the wetlands and marshes and beach sand before emptying into Lake Huron.”
The TRCA is now trying to re-create wetlands.  “The world has lost 65 per cent of its wetlands,” said Willetts.  “Toronto is at 85 per cent and half of that was lost since 1970.  The Conservation Authority Act in Canada started in 1946 and we are still losing wetland.  Building beside wetlands and installing sump pumps drain it.”  He pointed out that places like Gravenhurst and Collingwood are now knows as ‘Mississauga north’.
“The Ministry of Parks opened up back-country hiking and, at the time, science said “no negative impact”, well a decade later they realize it’s having an impact,” he said.
Willetts suggested that Saugeen Shores should look at creating more parkland for tourism and to demonstrate leadership with protection.  “Development is inevitable but we don’t want to make the same mistakes that Brampton has.  Encroachment is death by a thousand cuts.  It opens the floodgates … if we do it for one we have to do it for others.  If we lose nature, we lose the character and integrity of our community.”
Following more deputations, it was Council’s turn to ask the questions.  Councilor Cheryl Grace raised the fact of questionable wording in the Planning Consultant’s letter where he stated that Town Staff had given he and the developer direction.  “Did the town direct you?”, she asked pointedly.  Jay Pausner of the town said that pre-consultations with developers often take place and “we give them their options”.
She also asked Morton what percentage of re-designs of Environmental Hazard boundaries were successful.  “I would say that 75 to 80 per cent of applications dealing with re-zoning are usually amended.
She also asked Pausner if there were regulatory methods in place when it cmes to tree cutting to which he replied there is no tree By-law.  “Once a developer received a permit what regulations do we then have in place to make sure that private land owners are in compliance?”  Pausner said that there could be a ‘restrictive convenant’ at time of land transfer.
Morton, principle of AWS, admitted that he had not done a ground-site EI study citing ‘private property restrictions’ but had instead performed a road-side and aerial-view analysis. He also stated that has completed approximately 85 per cent of Saugeen Shores Environmental Impact Studies.  He said that the significant woodland policies should be the same across Saugeen Shores.  He was “… very involved in the last Official Plan with a view to development on significant woodlands and that he was asking for a review of the significant woodlands in question for potential development.  The policy should be the same across Saugeen Shores.”
The policy for the area in question is unique and restrictive and was put in place as Environmental Protection (EP) due to its unique complexity of being a fish habitat, wetlands and significant woodland, where the PPS does not permit development.  It appears, given this is the last protected woodland and wetland in Southampton, that the planner and developer want the restriction removed as they have in the past.
Morton and Davidson indicated that a public open house is being scheduled for April 9th at the Plex.