Two big topics at new Council’s first Planning Meeting

For the new Saugeen Shores Council, its first Planning meeting was a long one covering many items.

Proposed Market Street development:

One of the most discussed was the proposed housing development in the Significant Woodlands below Nodwell Park in Port Elgin.

The developer brought in a fourth proposed design with changes that included eliminating one apartment building from four to three four-storeys thereby reducing the number of units from 150 to 129, increasing tree preservation from 33 per cent to 46 per cent, increas the size of the trail, stormwater and conservation land (Block 13) (from 1.07 hectares to 1.14 hectares) and a completion of additional technical studies for traffic and a hydrogeological review.

After a lengthy questioning period by Council to the Senior Planner, Daniel Kingsbury and Town Supervisor of Development, Jay Pausner, each member of Council then had the opportunity to offer a comment.

Councillor Cheryl Grace said that a four-storey apartment building was incompatible with the character and type of housing in the area.  She also added that the type of housing proposed would not meet the need for affordable housing and that the proximity to the beach would probably drive up the market costs for both ownership and rentals.  She also disagreed with the SVCA’s conclusion regarding the lands and that she wanted to see the 46 per cent tree preservation put into the By-law.  “I cannot support this application and vote no.”

Vice-deputy Mayor Mike Matt, who has been a strong proponent of affordable housing, said that when he had first learned of the apartment concept in the development he was “optimistic” but, in learning that a one-bedroom condo would cost $300,000 he, instead, became “skeptical”.  “There is also the question of walkability for those in a lower income bracket who may not have a vehicle and, therefore, going to the grocery store, the Plex or school becomes very difficult.”  He added that he was concerned with the amount of traffic that would be created.

In addition, he pointed out that a Significant Woodland policy had been created to protect the municipality’s natural heritage and that, under the policty, development was not allowed.  “I also disagree with the Saugeen Valley Conservation Authority’s (SVCA) stance that development could be constrained to minimize the impact on the environment.  With 54 per cent of the tree canopy to be removed, this is significant and too much of the forest is being removed. This is one of the last treed forests in Port Elgin.  There have also been too many conflicting stories, including wildlife, from nearby residents who have lived in the area for many years and decades.”  Like Grace, he was also concerned with the character of the neighbourhood and skeptical of how three four-storey buildings would fit in.  “I think this is a great development but it’s in the wrong place and I cannot support the scope and size of the development or the recommendation proposed.

New Councillor Rachel Stack questioned the term ‘affordability’ and what it really meant.  “For the sake of clarity, I think we have to determine what ‘affordable’ means.

Councillor Bud Halpin, although crediting the developer for bringing back the revised plan, said that he was concerned with the way woodlands are constantly being “chipped, chipped away”.  He said that the development was too large for the area and would result in removing too many trees.  He also pointed out there may be very few Indigenous artifacts. The early First Nations people were “smart and lived on the top of the hill not in the sinkhole where all the drainage was”. He added that he was also concerned about the hydrology of the area and the wildlife. “I live a couple of blocks from there and there is all kinds of wildlife, including  bear, deer, fox, coyotes, raccoons and skunks.  I cannot support this project as it stands.”

Mayor Luke Charbonneau said that Council has struck a balance on the property over the years identifying it as residential and that it should see some residential development, with Significant Woodlands that have to be protected.  “There is a contradiction in our planning documents but the contradiction is intended to guide us to try to do both well.  The question is, what is the right approach to doing it well?  Quite frankly, I don’t think this is it. i don’t like it because we’re left with what is essentially a useless hodgepodge of treed chunks running through the middle of this piece of property. You can’t expect that woodland to survive or serve much purpose … it’s not a contiguous force and it punctures the purpose of what a Significant Woodland is or supposed to be.  We need a block of residential and a block of contiguous woodland. Some development on Market Street and woodland to the north, I could get behind.  It don’t like these bit and pieces of trees.  It looks like a leftover and looks to me like it is being overdeveloped and the woodland undervalued.”

He also said that there ought to be space to have apartment blocks close to the water at an affordable rent.  “It doesn’t ruin the character of the neighbourhood. We should create opportunities in that part of town for rentals while preserving as much of that woodland as possible.  I won’t support this recommendation for this application as it doesn’t protect the Significant Woodland or support our need for affordable housing.”

It was a unanimous vote to oppose the recommendation to accept the application as presented.

Bill 23 under the Planning Act:

Jay Pausner, Supervisor of Development, presented an in-depth report on the proposed Provincial omnibus Bill 23, the More Homes Built Faster Act and the many changes that will impact communities.

The changes to the Act are not solely directed toward housing but many of them would affect all types of development – removal of landscaping requirements; developers determine parkland amount; inclusionary zoning is more restrictive; removal of public meeting requirements; removal of third party appeals; inclusionary zoning restrictions, no comments or peer review allowed with Conservation Authorities; changes to development charges; changes to the Heritage Act; changes to the Land Tribunal.

Vice-deputy Mayor Mike Myatt pointed out that Bill 23 has “a lot of flaws” and suggested the Mayor follow up with MPP Lisa Thompson.

Councillor Cheryl Grace pointed out that the proposed changes under Heritage will, in fact, “… obliterate the Heritage Registry.  Many hours are spent by staff and volunteers who do research and the registry is a valuable repository of information not only of the buildings but of the people who built the community.  This will not create any housing. If the registry is wiped out, the houses cannot be put back on for five years.  Also, when it comes. to the Saugeen Valley Conservation Authority (SVCA), the province constantly cuts back funding and is freezing fees. In the end, this will cost taxpayers more money.  These draconian changes will cost more money, take away autonomy and threaten our cultural and environmental heritage.”

Mayor Luke Charbonneau said that he has been concerned by the province’s recent acts and overall attitude that municipalities are the problem, that there needs to a ‘holus bolus’ reinvention of municipalities and that, in the case of Toronto and Ottawa, the mayors need to be made all powerful, that councils need to be marginalized, that the public needs to be pushed aside from municipal processes and that municipal autonomy needs to be restrained in several different ways.

“I think it’s important to step back and remember how we got here.  It’s not as though four or five years ago that the provincial government was jumping up and down screaming about affordable housing. They were nowhere on that file just like municipalities were not where we needed to be.  We all came to the revelation too late and at the same time.  The impression you might get from these pieces of legislation is that the municipalities have been intransigent and sitting here resisting change and ‘finally’ the province has to come down with the hammer and force us to change.  Well, that just isn’t how history actually played out. We all have come to this conclusion at the same time.

If all Councils around Ontario were petitioned, you would find the unanimous view of every municipal official in Ontario that housing is a crisis that has to be addressed.  This Council, and the previous one, have done as much as we possibly could and tried to turn ourselves inside out on housing. We talk about it virtually at every meeting.  So, what’s the answer?

The answer should not be: to limit our ability to contract with conservation authorities, to limit our flexibility to collect development charges, to limit our discretion to identify heritage properties, to limit our flexibility to acquire parkland. Instead, it should be to give us more autonomy, to give us more power for the ability to implement inclusionary zoning that we have been asking for to make it easier to implement community permits in the permit planning system; to offer municipalities the ability to do more and to go further as we want to do that work but we are constrained in some way.

The municipalities and through AMO and ROMA, have been very helpful to the province in giving comments to the province.  Limiting our flexibility to do things will only limit our ability to create attainable and affordable housing. That will be the outcome.  We will have less as with less power we will be able to do less things.

My view is, whether it’s the heritage registry, the contract with the conservation authority or whatever it is, the decision should be made locally, by a local municipality in the region that they operate in.  Let’s remember, Ontario is a huge province with big cities, small towns and everything in between. A one paintbrush approach from Queen’s Park will not succeed. What works in one place may fail in another.  When it comes to development charges for instance, there isn’t even consistency when it comes to Bruce County.  Some say they are important and some say they are detrimental to development. That’s because they all have different needs.  What works in Walkerton doesn’t necessarily work in Saugeen Shores.”

In sending a letter to the province and MPP Lisa Thompson, Mayor Charbonneau suggested adding a statement about local autonomy and the need for local solutions to be implemented by municipalities to address the housing crisis; and a request to the province to respect local autonomy and to create more ability for municipalities to strike out in whatever direction they need to in their own territories to solve the housing crisis.  That’s how we’ll get it done.

Councillor Divinski also suggested inviting MPP Lisa Thompson to come before Council virtually to discuss Bill 23.


  • That Council endorses the comments contained herein and direct staff to forward them to the Province; and
  • That Council direct staff to submit comments to the Province on other related Environmental Bill of Rights postings where Council meetings cannot accommodate the comment deadlines.

More on omnibus Bill 23.