Official Plan Review 2017

Past President Brian Gray has been serving as a member of the Citizens' Working Group during this review, and offers this perspective on the process.


I suggest that whatever your views, what matters most is making yourself heard (and ideally your members) with the councillors. This can be at one of the meetings, via email, or via the comment form in the Town's letter. Individual citizens' voices DO MATTER to the councillors. Deputy Mayor Karen Terziano is particularly important. Even a five sentence email expressing your thoughts and one or two points can make a difference.


CONTEXT: Both the Town and District are updating their Plans. Huntsville's OP discussion has really been about what they need to do to comply with direction from higher levels of government: (a) the 2014 Provincial Policy Statement (PPS), and (b) the direction given by the draft District of Muskoka OP. I.e., it is has not been so much about "what should we do", but "what do we need to do / can we get away with". The Council and the Citizens' Working Group are both well-stocked with developers and real estate professionals. On the Working Group, developers include Ben Jardine, Larry Ross, and Steve Alcock. The last is one of three Alcock brothers in the local development business; their sister is Town & District Councillor Nancy Alcock, who is head of the Planning Committee.


Early public input encouraged (a) retaining the "small town" feel, and (b) environmental protection. I have tried to act as a (lone) voice for some environmental balance to necessary progress & development.


The developers would like to build more in rural areas, on septic and wells, away from (costly) municipal water & sewage services. They want to build condos, retirement homes, multi-unit rental properties, and small commercial establishments (B&Bs, art galleries, camping, marinas etc.). They have argued for reduced acreage per unit (this is unlikely to happen). The direction from the District actively encourages small commercial ventures in all areas, including lakefront. Conversely the provincial PPS directs the Town to focus development first in urban areas on municipal services (incl higher densities). This would avoid more "ribbon development" along every road and lakefront. The direction across Muskoka is for 70% of new development to be on Town services; for Huntsville this has been lowered to 60%, and some of the Councillors (Alcock) are publicly stating that this might be too restrictive an "arbitrary number". I have tried to argue that true planning should be done, with some areas designated for development, and others designated for less-intensive rural development (restrictions on number of severances, acreage per unit, lot coverage etc.). The developers prefer less true zonal planning, and more "everything is permitted everywhere on a case-specific basis, as long as I can justify it with some sort of report that says it won't harm the environment".


I won't try to summarize everything in the draft Plan. I encourage you to read it if you have time. Importantly, it is not all bad. A few points that seem important to me, and that I have argued as strongly as I can with the Town, are listed below:


1) DISTINGUISH BETWEEN URBAN AND RURAL: Focus development in the urban centre on Town services, and reduce rural/ribbon development. Follow the District direction for a minimum 60% in the urban area, with a minimum 25% increase in density. There is significant resistance to this idea from the developers, and it is under attack. (Note: the direction would also save road costs (a major part of Huntsville's budget).


2) WETLAND PROTECTION: see Environmental items # 24-28, esp as regards identifying wetland areas in the Plan. Wetlands have a high level of biomass and bio-diversity. In the LWRA context, I believe this could help protect parts of Waseosa (incl Clark Lake stream), Palette, and Jessop.


3) WATERFRONT PROTECTION: The draft OP explicitly encourages hotels & motels, seasonal tent & trailer parks, B&Bs up to 10 rooms, institutional camps and retreats, marinas, attractions, restaurants, conference centres, and  "other tourism-supporting uses". The District direction here specifically allows the Town to put practical zoning limits on these activities. I have argues strongly that the Town should heed the District's advice, and restrict these activities to the four big Huntsville lakes. The developers do not see the need for this. Personally I believe this is the major threat to the LWRA areas in the OP.


Again, the two public meetings are Sat Sept 9 (Waterloo Environment Centre) and Thurs Sept 28 (Port Sydney). Comments can be sent to the Councillors via email (Councillors contact info is available on this page) or to the Town via the comment form in this link: Official Plan Review .