A forced marriage?
Many residents in rural areas concerned about new zoning impacts on lands, homes
Many Islanders have a stake in events that are unfolding right now in and around the rural area adjacent the “Capital of Kings County.” I would like to explain, as best I can, what is happening. At 7 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 14, in the Dundarave Room at Rodd’s Brudenell Resort, the first ever public gathering of residents of the unincorporated area known as ‘Georgetown Royalty and Burnt Point’ will take place. The general public is welcome to attend.
The meeting is to offer all area property owners an opportunity to ask questions, exchange information and discuss a proposed amalgamation of the Georgetown Royalty and Burnt Point rural district with seven incorporated Kings County municipalities and three other unincorporated (rural) areas.
The working title for this proposed municipality is ‘Three Rivers’ and is the combined initiative of the incorporated communities of Brudenell, Cardigan, Georgetown, Lorne Valley, Lower Montague, Montague and Valleyfield. Once amalgamated the new entity will be P.E.I.’s fourth largest town.
The individual councils had agreed to investigate together the merits of creating a new regional municipality, and for nearly two years the Three Rivers Steering Committee met regularly to formulate a plan for amalgamation. In late 2016 meetings were held in four adjoining, unincorporated areas (defined by fire district boundaries) to bring them into the ongoing process. Those meetings were ineffectively marketed and poorly attended, and because they were held in late fall neither snowbird nor summer resident property owners were able to participate. It was then that four representatives from the four unincorporated areas were invited to sit at the Steering Committee table.
By this time the group of incorporated areas was advocating the formation of an amalgamation that would include the rural unincorporated areas; however, the residents of those unincorporated areas had never been consulted about whether or not they desired to join such a municipality.
Further, only one model of amalgamation was offered. Then, when sub-committees were working on the details and in discussions with consultants, hired accountants and the province, the “rural” reps were not included in the process. “You are only observers” an unincorporated rep was told at a recent meeting. It has become increasingly clear that the seven incorporated communities are going to make all the decisions about how the proposed marriage with the unincorporated rural areas would be structured.
That, despite the fact that those rural areas now face the almost certain prospect of new taxation. In other words, taxation without representation. The Three Rivers Steering Committee plans to share the information on the proposed amalgamation, ward structure, benefits etc and the tax rates that will have been negotiated with the provincial government in only one final public meeting. No plebiscite is planned.
The “rural” also has concerns other than new taxation. If the development of the new community is now dictated by the “urban” interests in the formative stage how can the “rural” areas feel comfortable about what a forced marriage may bring? Especially when initially there will be 12 wards in the new ‘Three Rivers Municipality’ of which eight will be representing the former incorporated municipalities. The deck appears to be stacked against the rural 4.
Naturally, many in the rural areas also have concerns about how new zoning may affect their lands and homes, and about new regulations and bylaws that could possibly be forced upon them in a new, urban dominated municipality. Many are in favour of planning and it’s benefits.
Historically there has been a strong rivalry between Montague residents and the folk living on the Georgetown peninsula. Many in Georgetown Royalty and Burnt Point find it difficult to believe there will be a sense of true co-operation and shared purpose since the two areas have been so different. It is difficult to trust going forward as ‘communities in common.’ The proposed “Three Rivers” municipality may serve as a template for future amalgamations across Prince Edward Island, so we need to get all the facts — pros and cons — on the table… now.
Let’s come up with procedures where “urban” and “rural” sit at the table as equals, and not those tainted by a pro-urban bias that is built right into the process.
And let’s make sure that all property owners, both Islanders or Come-from-Aways, have a say. We hope for a big turnout and an interesting discussion with our neighbours on Monday night.
Burnt Point resident John Walsh calls on neighbour Annabelle Crane of Georgetown Royalty to hand out a flyer urging residents to attend a public meeting on amalgamation next Monday.