By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
The latest draft of Northumberland County’s proposed Official Plan amendment regarding its Natural Heritage System drew opposition and even ire at this week’s meeting of county council’s Economic Development, Tourism and Planning Standing Committee.
Following a discussion of the details by Nick Mcdonald of Meridian Planning, and the consultation and other process by which it was drafted, Northumberland Manager of Land Use Planning and Inspection Services Dwayne Campbell said everyone seems to acknowledge the importance of protecting significant natural features, though the draft has inspired the gamut of reactions – from those who say it doesn’t go far enough in its protections to those angered by the restrictions these new regulations impose on permitted land uses.
When the meeting was opened to public comment, almost all who spoke fell on the latter side.
Hamilton Township resident Sean Malby had sunk $20,000 into clearing and preparing the land on which he wants to build his dream home, and wondered if there is any compensation for him if this is no longer possible.
Hamilton Township resident Laura Toms worried about the prospects for property that had been in her family for generations – and also wondered if the matter could be deferred until after the pandemic, given that not everyone can access the internet or figure out Zoom meetings.
“This is a terrible, terrible time to be doing this to people,” Toms said.
Campbell noted that the time frame is legislated by the province, but she insisted a deferral should at least be requested.
“One of my biggest concerns is landowners, property owners, don’t know about this,” Hamilton Township resident Scott Milson said.
“I accidentally came across this last summer when I applied for a lot severance.
“I know they had a strategy for public consultation, but you can’t just expect everyone to come across a Facebook post, radio ad or paper thing.”
Milson also questioned the mapping technology used in the draft, and added a further concern.
“Once it’s done, it’s done. To me, that’s the failure in this. There’s no comeback, no appeal.
“I think if all the property owners knew about it and had input, we would be in a different spot.”
Former municipal and county councillor Rod McLean of Brighton had property concerns of his own, including whether compensation might be available for loss of land use.
“Do you know what it’s going to cost people to have an engineer or consultant and try to get this stuff lifted off their property? This is just absolutely theft of our property,” McLean stated.
“I am hoping council will pick this thing up and send it back to the bureaucrats to be revised so the people of this county don’t have their land and property rights stolen from them.
“Will this council consider resigning in protest?” he asked, issuing a challenge that went unanswered.
Commending the discussion as democracy in action, Campbellford resident Russ Christianson said, “I don’t think anyone is stealing anyone’s property.
“This is about looking at our longer-term protection of our natural heritage, our watercourses, our forests, the wildlife. We are part of nature as human beings. We need to take our responsibility as stewards of nature.”
Suzanne Atkinson – a reporter for Ontario Farmer – shared concerns over agricultural properties.
“How will this impact farmers’ ability to farm their land the way they see fit into the future?” Atkinson asked.
“When you say this is permanent, farmers don’t have options for adapting to new methods 50 years from now.”
For now, at any rate, she was assured farmers can continue to operate as they have been. Campbell assured her the agricultural community had been part of their consultations.
“We were very clear to make sure the policies and mapping being developed would not change normal farm practices as they occur today,” he said.
“Probably the scariest part of this whole affair is, we no longer have any rights to appeal,” McLean said.
“This is not what goes on in this country, but it was fully stated there will be no appeal process available to the public. That needs to be gotten rid of.”
Councillors had some questions and comments of their own.
“It’s my concern here that we are at the county level, and the province dictates,” Deputy Warden Mandy Martin stated.
It’s striking to her how few opportunities there have been to include a provincial representative in person during the process.
“I think they need to be accountable,” she declared.
“Why are we paying for all this palaver – it’s like an edict comes down and we are meant to deal with it all, and the people who are putting that policy in place are not answerable.”
She gave Mcdonald and Campbell credit for honourable motives, but called them “sacrificial lambs for these faceless minions.”
Committee chair Bob Sanderson asked if the county has any leeway, but Mcdonald said there was very little flexibility.
Councillor Gail Latchford asked how much more county land would become restricted in terms of potential development. Mcdonald did not have a number, but said, “I am certain most of the areas we have identified are protected one way or another, or at least recognized as significant. Much of what we are identifying has been on the landscape for many, many years so it should be much of a surprise.
“Much of that comes from the province, which we have no control over. The conservation authorities also have jurisdiction over a considerable part of the county, and they have policies that have been know for many years too.”
Warden Bob Crate noted that a regular meeting of county council is slated for April 21, at which time he predicts a full discussion of the issues raised.
This portion of the meeting had already wrapped up when Northumberland-Peterborough South MPP David Piccini joined in, saying he had just learned about the meeting on social media.
“I appreciate this dialogue for residents to have this input,” Piccini said.
“This important dialogue is important for me to do my job in advocating for my community.”
This initiative was introduced by the previous government, he noted.
“To their credit, it involved extensive consultations with upper- and lower-tier governments.”
Piccini reminded everyone he is always available to hear their concerns.
“You know where to find me,” he said.
“I represent a vast riding that is more than Northumberland County, and not all of the communities have such open public consultations.”