One of the issues that the Georgian Bay Preservation Alliance first followed and commented on was the Township of Georgian Bay’s Official Plan and By-law Review.
To review, in 2010 the Township of Georgian Bay went through a branding and visioning exercise to develop a community strategic plan. As part of that exercise the Township placed a priority on the idea of a “balanced approach to growth.” As an objective, the Township wants to “foster innovative yet thoughtful growth” for the region. More specifically, the visioning exercise speaks of, “striking the delicate balance between preserving the natural environment and developing the available land in the Township.” We couldn’t agree more with these objectives.
Following the development of the strategic plan, the Township of Georgian Bay then embarked on a review of its Official Plan with the objective of bringing that Plan into compliance with the Province’s 2005 Growth Plan. The Township’s new Official Plan lays out the blueprint for the protection of the environment and sustainable growth for the next twenty years. As such, this review process had a significant impact on the community and the environment in the Township.
When the Official Plan Review was complete, the Township reviewed the Zoning By-laws.
In both instances, some stakeholder groups adopted what we believe to be overly restrictive positions on planning for the Township. In some cases stakeholder groups put forward proposals opposed to any form of development in the area, while others pushed the boundaries when it comes to developing properties.
Georgian Bay Preservation Alliance’s Involvement
The GBPA followed the Official Plan review and Zoning By-law review processes for the Township very closely and found some of the changes both promising and in some cases troubling.
Since these documents form the foundation of planning for the region for decades, it was critical that the right balance be struck between protecting the natural heritage for the future and managing responsible growth. As such, we organized ourselves to provide the Township with comments, observations and specific recommendations on each of the draft documents.
We sought the advice of planning professionals, long time cottagers, residents and experts on the environment to provide the Township of Georgian Bay with the best advice we could obtain on how to not only preserve the Georgian Bay watershed for future generations, but to improve and enhance its natural heritage so that residents and cottagers might continue to enjoy its unique beauty. By promoting a balance between policies that protect the region’s unique natural heritage and reasonable development we hoped that the final OP and Zoning By-laws would meet the collective objectives of the community.
Official Plan Recommendations
When the Official Plan review was completed, we submitted the following recommendations.
Community Plans: The GBPA urged the Township to officially review Community Plans as part of this planning process. Many community plans were established over 5 years ago, and under the Municipal Act (Part 3, 26 (1)) there is a requirement to review plans “not less frequently than every five years”. There has been a tremendous amount of good work that has gone into the development of these Community Plans but, like all plans, they are continuous works in progress and we believe that there are opportunities available to improve some aspects of the plans to better reflect the interests of all cottagers.
Water Quality: We believe water quantity and water quality should be the single most important consideration for the preservation of the bay. Eliminating phosphorus seepage from septic tanks must be a goal for the community. We believe the current regulations in the Official Plan only enforce septic location without strong and clear policies around inspection or system standards. We do not support the grandfathering of old septic systems.
Recommendation #1: We believe the Township should establish a certification system through the Official Plan, so that it is a requirement as opposed to a voluntary program, which requires mandatory inspection of all septic systems based on a rigorous set of criteria. Those systems that do not meet the criteria must be repaired or replaced and all new systems must meet the highest standards, including tertiary treatment systems. A cost recovery fee to avoid any economic impact on the Township could easily support the certification system.
Responsible Planning: We believe the unique character of Georgian Bay can be best maintained by responsibly managing dock configuration and building height, and by protecting “green space”. We believe that rock blasting should be allowed under certain conditions to lower building profiles and respect the shoreline vistas.
Recommendation #2: We believe blasting should be limited to the footprint of the building.
Lot Size: We believe that the unique character of the Georgian Bay shoreline can be best maintained by responsibly managing dock configurations and building height, and by protecting “green space”. However, it is our position that maximum dwelling sizes should be determined based on the characteristics of the property to avoid depressing property owners’ land values.
Recommendation #3: We believe that the Township should adopt a lot coverage formula for establishing dwelling sizes. This is common practice throughout Canada and an ideal way of ensuring that a dwelling is appropriately sized to fit a lot area. While city lots have a much higher coverage to maximize space, such as 60% in the city of Toronto, other cottage towns like Gravenhurst have a 13% coverage to minimize environmental impact on larger lots.
By adopting this approach along with limited blasting regulations to lower building profiles, the natural vistas of Georgian Bay would be protected by ensuring the appropriately sized building, large or small, does not protrude above the tree line and blends into the landscape.
By Law Review Recommendations
From the first draft, the GBPA identified our concerns with the changes being made to the definition of Gross Floor Area.
Specifically, it was suggested that the definition should be made more restrictive by essentially substituting “Gross Floor Area” with “Total Floor Area” which would dramatically reduce the amount of livable space on all dwellings.
Structures in the Township are already heavily regulated in terms of building height, lot coverage, and set backs so creating an overly inclusive GFA only serves to place unnecessary restrictions on an owner’s ability to enjoy their property and impairs land values while having no affect on the visual impact of the shoreline.
Because ample storage space is essential in waterfront and rural properties, including non-habitable areas like basements, lofts, crawl spaces, under eaves, and the recent addition of garages and carports, in the definition of GFA would greatly reduce effective living space to accommodate the unavoidable need for storage.
Given that a non-habitable floor in a building, such as a below grade basement, would have less visual impact on the shoreline than a detached storage shed or other storage alternative, this approach is counterproductive.
Alternatively, the GBPA believed that the Township should adopt a lot coverage formula for establishing dwelling sizes. This is common practice throughout Canada and an ideal way of ensuring that a dwelling is appropriately sized to fit a lot area. While city lots have a much higher coverage to maximize space, such as 60% in the city of Toronto, other cottage towns like Gravenhurst have a 13% coverage to minimize environmental impact on larger lots.
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