Future SD&G land use doc, Official Plan, appealed to OMB

A geographic information system (GIS) map is shown to SD&G council Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. All the sections in dark red are land that has been changed by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing from rural to agriculture. The county is appealing the changes to the Ontario Municipal Board. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

SD&G – The county is appealing the Ontario government’s modifications to its Official Plan – the Bible for land and its future use within the United Counties over the next decade.

What it means is, hundreds of SD&G landowners and developers – with a stroke of a pen – could lose the ability to develop or sever a piece of their land.

SD&G council gave the go-ahead this morning (Tuesday) to appeal the modifications to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). The official appeal should be filed on Friday.

“We do have a fight on our hands,” SD&G Planner Alison McDonald told council. “It will cost us money…it will cost us time. Our legal counsel has advised (us) that we should appeal.”

McDonald said they were “completely shocked” when the Ministry of Municipal Affairs dropped the document on their desk on Feb. 7 with “major changes” to rural and agricultural land with no provincial notice to landowners. The county had 20 days from that date to appeal.

Assembling staff and working at a feverish pace last week, the county was able to send out roughly 2,000 letters to those affected. “Because these designations can affect people’s future use of their property, we felt it was imperative that we notify people.” The ministry had ignored the county’s request it send notices to affected property owners.

Over three days, the county received about 300 calls and 20 visits from the mail-outs, not including calls and visits to local municipal offices. “What we heard was a lot of concern, a lot of confusion,” McDonald said.

While the county will appeal several modifications to the Official Plan, such as minimum lot sizes, setbacks and land supply for affordable housing, the biggest bone of contention is changes to rural and agricultural designations.

McDonald highlighted some “strange, non-planning normal” cases where properties have had their designation split in half because the Trans-Canada Pipeline runs through it, to commercial golf courses which have had their land designated for agricultural use.

“The only thing that we, as a planning group came up with, was it does seem to correlate with the presence of trees. If it’s clear cut it went Ag, if it’s trees, it went Rural,” McDonald explained.

Other ministry modifications could put the brakes on development, such as changing the land in South Glengarry next to Sapphire Estates to agriculture, stopping development of that subdivision in its tracks.

McDonald said they were “always transparent and open” with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing and are “shocked with the result.”

Based on their own review and finding some problems with specific designations for some properties, county staff believe the ministry was “rushing” with its GIS mapping.

While rural and agricultural designations were massively changed, others were not touched, which McDonald found “shocking.”

“Six schedules were highly modified to the point they were almost unrecognizable. But the other 32, 35 schedules were not touched. Like, nothing. No changes. No edits. I can list…a couple of things that probably should have been flagged or caught, and weren’t.”

McDonald says it sets up the feeling that some things were not done well and others were not done at all.

“It’s absolutely unacceptable to make this level of change at the eleventh hour with zero rationale or explanation. When it affects this many people with a 20 day appeal period and no notice…absolutely unacceptable,” McDonald said.

The county has also filed an Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to seek its reasons for the modifications.