Official plan gets TLTI’s OK
Contentious document gets approval in narrow vote
After 10 months of divisive and often bitter debate, the council of the Township of Leeds and the Thousand Islands narrowly passed a new official plan this week.
The official plan process has stirred political turmoil in the township for months as environmentalists, waterfront property owners, heritage activists, seasonal residents, conservationists, developers and farmers sparred to have their interests reflected in the plan.
Reflecting the divisions in the township, the official plan was approved in a 4-3 vote.
Coun. John Paul Jackson, who has been the most outspoken council opponent of the planning document, had dire predictions for the township’s future if the plan was passed.
New businesses would shy away from the township because of overregulation, leading to a growth in unemployment for youths, he said. Many youths and seniors would be forced to leave.
In the rural parts of the township, agriculture would be affected by rules limiting land use and the ability to subdivide farms, he predicted.
And the township’s rural way of life would be affected by the provincial government’s insistence that growth be steered to settlement areas, Jackson said. The province thinks the settlement areas are more efficient for policing, schools and other services. However, Jackson said, it’s the area outside of those villages that make the township special and unique.
Jackson said the official plan dances to the tune played by consultants, planners, Toronto politicians and bureaucrats while dismissing the views of residents.
The councillor repeated his contention that the public participation process was flawed because it failed to adequately consult the township’s 2,129 seasonal residents who were out of the township when much of the consultation took place.
Two councillors – Jeff Lackie and Brian Mabee – joined Jackson in opposing the official planners.
Lackie said there are still many questions on the official plan, and he urged that council defer it and take the time to answer the questions.
He said he would rather that the council be accused of being overcautious on the official plan than hasty.
Mabee was of a similar mind, asking “what’s the rush?”
He said the document is much improved from the initial drafts but there are still questions and council should take the time to get it right.
After the document is passed, it will be much harder to make changes, Mabee said.
Mayor Joe Baptista, who faces Jackson and two others for reelection in October, praised the plan for balancing the protection of the township’s natural environment with the need to attract “smart development.”
In a veiled jab at Jackson, Baptista said he was saddened by all the “fearmongering ” by opponents of the official plan.
He referred to the many revisions of the document, the public consultation process and the fact that the township gave careful consideration to any question it received from a resident.
Baptista said the official planning process is not a done deal. The next council will have to do a lot of heavy lifting in drafting zoning bylaws as part of the plan, he said.
Coun. Vicki Leakey, who supported the plan, also pointed to the next council’s work of drafting zoning bylaws. The official plan is “not the holy grail,” said Leakey, adding that it could be changed if problems are found.
Many residents who were most opposed to the plan, were objecting to provisions already in the existing plan, she said. And opponents were hard-pressed to come up with examples of how the plan would affect them personally, she added.
Coun. Gerry Last said her support of the plan wasn’t due to any preconceived notions – it was the result of many hours of reading and study.
Last, who is running for reelection in the ward that represents many waterfront property owners opposed to the plan, said she is upset that the plan might become an election issue.
She called the plan “balanced,” while recognizing that you can’t please everyone.
Coun. Liz Huff, who also voted yes to the plan, said she liked the fact it has a nice local feel to it.
There always will be a clash between private and commercial interests in planning but she said the majority of people seem satisfied with it.
Huff said the township could take another one or two years to debate the plan and still end up with one very much like the one that was approved this week. email@example.com
John Paul Jackson opposes the official plan.