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Public Meeting: Council Gauges Response to Plan to Rezone Cobden Properties for Growth

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Alexander Leach, Editor

COBDEN – Residents of Cobden and the surrounding area attended the June 22 Council Meeting for a public meeting regarding the rezoning of several areas as a response to the findings of a recent Growth Study, expressing concerns about plans to rezone farmland for future commercial use.

The public meeting, presented by Alex Benzie of the Planning Department of the County of Renfrew, represented three separate zoning amendments: one to the south of Cobden to be rezoned to agricultural land, and two to the east and west along the highway rezoned to commercial.

She said the next steps will be to reach out to public to discuss the applications, and then reach out to the applicant to discuss comments from the public regarding it.

No applicants were present to speak, so the public forum was opened.

“The Council of the Township of Whitewater Region receive comments from the public at the public meeting to consider the following:

         Official Plan Amendment 34 (OPA34).

         Plan of Subdivision (File 47T-21002: Bennett Meadows)

         Zoning By-law Amendment (File D-14-139)”

Alex Benzie from the Renfrew County Planning Department reported on three zoning bylaws involved in the motion.

The map of Cobden with the districts planned to be rezoned.

The three proposals require restructuring the Cobden settlement area, removing southern parcels of land and acquiring eastern ones, while also setting aside land along Highway 17 to the west and east of Cobden for commercial use.

The third was the Bennett Meadows plan of subdivision, proposed as row house dwellings and semi detached dwellings and requires rezoning the lands.

She said was found that “while there was sufficient land for residential growth, there was insufficient land for commercial growth.”

She said they had received several ‘letters of concern’ from affected land owners, as well as the peer reviewer providing comments on updating the environmental impact study, and County of Renfrew trails presenting concerns on the stormwater management and Algonquin trail.

She said the next steps will be to reach out to public to discuss the applications, and then reach out to the applicant to discuss comments from the public regarding it.

None of the applicants were present to speak, so the public forum was opened.

Resident Donna Burns asked about the property on both sides of the highway, asking if the lands had been dedicated to the municipality.

CAO Robert Tremblay clarified that “the lands are not municipally owned,” and told Burns to avoid addressing questions to the Councillors and Reeve directly, but to

“As you know, public meetings involve the public raising their concerns and providing members, and the Planners addressing concerns. This is not the Spanish Inquisition of Council Members.”

“I’m not trying to do that, but I would like to know what they know. That’s who we direct our questions to. That’s who we elect. Anyway, getting back to this, Id like to know then from the Planner if the Councillors don’t know the answer-”

“I just want to clarify that that’s not what I said.” CAO Tremblay said. “Just for the public record and for those viewing at home, I didn’t say that Council didn’t know who owns the land, I just was trying to be clear on process.”

“I wasn’t asking who owned the land.” Burns said. “I was asking if these lands were dedicated to the municipality or the county by the property owners.”

“I could answer that, no.” someone said from the public gallery.

Planner Ivan Burton clarified that “The properties that are shown as E4 and E5 on the map are privately held by residents of the Township. The Township of Whitewater and the County of Renfrew do not own these lands.”

Photos Taken or Submitted by Alexander Leach. Resident Donna Burns speaking at the Public Meeting.

“The properties are not dedicated by the owner and you are trying to plan land for employment use? The purpose of this is to redesignate lands for employment use?” Burns asked.

“Essentially what Alex has presented is that the Council has conducted a Growth study and the study twas intended to identify potential employment lands. The ones that are shown in red would comprise part of the village of Cobden and would comprise employment lands.” Burton said. “The planning horizon as provided by the Provincial planning statement is 25 years.”

“What I understand is that you’re planning for land that has not been provided or dedicated yet.” Burns said. “Is this what you call a ‘common-law dedication’. If the property owner does not respond, it is considered an implied dedication?”

“I’m not familiar with the common law dedication or the other.” Burton said.

Burns referred to a court case: Meaford v. Grist (2013)

Burns then asked what the village community designation entails.

Burton said that the Official Plan contains different designations for property designs to encourage and facilitate certain types of usage.

“The village community establishes policies inside that those designation to support certain types of usages.” Burton said. “whereas in the agricultural designation, it supports agricultural uses.”

“So the village community would have certain policies and bylaws where that property owner, if its dedicated for that designation would have restrictions on it that that property owner would not be able to use that property owner as he uses it.”

Burton said that land currently being used “would benefit from a non-confirming status. If the land is being cropped today, and the owner wants to keep using the land for crops, this will not prevent the land from being used as it’s being used for at the current date.”

Burns then asked if the property was held to the current designation if its sold, to which Burton said it would continue to apply.

“So that revalues the property?” Burns asked.

“I can’t speak to the valuation of the property.” Burton said. “I’m not a real estate agent or an appraisal person.”

“What I’m trying to get at is that holding land for up to 25 years requires an agreement, anything up to 21 years requires an agreement. I don’t think holding a public meeting where you can only accommodate thirty people at the most, you’re not being very transparent.” She said. “You aren’t explaining it very easily. You’re creating new language. “Village community’ is not a legislated term for a designation; It’s not in the Planning Act. These are things that I think are unfair to people in the community. You should be explaining it better in the community. You should be holding it at a more reasonable time, instead of a quarter to five at night, when people are working or eating dinner. And you should be holding it at a place that can hold a lot more people than this area.”

Someone in the gallery then interrupted to ask what would happen to the land outside of the dedicated area.

“If you are putting a designating a land without his consent, does it apply to the whole of his land?” Burns repeated.

Burton reminded Burn that nothing was set in stone yet, and this was merely a proposal. “Everything is in draft form, nothing has been approved at this point. Ultimately the County of Renfrew will have the decision to alter the land showing. What is showing in red is what being changed,

“So you are planning for something for something you do not own.” Burn said.

She sited Sections 10 and 11 of the Municipal act, claiming Township would have to acquire the land before ‘doing anything with it’.

Bruce Howard, manager of planning of the County of Renfrew, said he was “very familiar with Ms. Burns’ concerns.”

The county did receive a legal opinion that was provided to various members of the public” during our five year review, “which confirmed that not only the County’s ability but also it’s responsibility and their obligation under the Planning act. to have an official plan and to designate private lands within the County of Renfrew. The amendment the Council is considering and you have submitted to the County of Renfrew is under your jurisdiction under the Planning Act, and it’s the municipality’s responsibility to plan for future development within the Township. The application that you do have in front of you, it does affect private land and the Township does have the jurisdiction and the obligation to plan for future use – as Ivan said, for the next 25 years.”

“It doesn’t mean that lands are instantly acquired, it’s just a plan for a future, and is to allow the locals to have. If there are concerns with the County’s ability to make that decision, I’d be happy to have that discussion off line, but I think the meeting today is receive comments on the Amendment..”

“With respect for your legal opinion, that’s all it was, your legal opinion, you didn’t provide any proof of your legal opinion, we have provided proof for our opinion.”

“Thank you for that. If there is a problem we will plunk it in the County’s lap.” Mayor Moore said. “is there anyone else who would like to speak?”

Margaret McLeod spoke next: “What struck me first, is why did you change the 37 hectares from the bottom of the square to the other part, and how do you do that? I know Bruce said it was a plan for the next 25 years, but you cannot plan unless you ask those landowners whether they want you to plan the village to be there. You have to ask the landowners to do all this planning and do all this expense.”

Mark Briscoe, who ‘owned the property up the highway along the west side, said that they designated “three hundred feet of his land.” in the plan, said that the designation was designating multiple properties within the three hundred feet, and asked “how will that impact the taxes in the future. If you go in, doesn’t that give MPAC the chance to reassess.”

“This is a good time to find out. You should have had those answers before you planned this.” he said. “BEI can buy my land if they want, and do whatever they want with their land. But you can’t just change the land.

CAO Trembley said that MPAC assessed land ‘based on its usage’, and that was done regardless of the designation.

He also said that the farm operations that were existing and want to continue in the south parcel were being swapped due to the farmland owner’s intent to continue using it for farmland.

“That land swap is happening in support of ongoing farm operations.” he said.

He said the red sections in the east were owned by BEI and were part of a ‘commercial block’.

Mayor Moore reminded McLeod that this was an ‘informational’ meeting and would not be making a binding decision at this time.

Councillor Chris Olmstead pointed out that R 38 was changed so the current owner ‘could continue farming in perpetuity.”

“we can’t add any new lands for residential land for Cobden – ie, Cobden cannot grow – because we have enough residential land in the rest of the township.” CAO Tremblay said. Because the farm wants to be continued to be farmed and is in an inappropriate zone, Village, because it’s farmed forever and is continued to be farming, it makes sense to put that into rural and then use the allocation of land that we’re allowed in the urban boundary to be re-positioned behind the arena to allow urban growth to support the users of Cobden.”

“I’ll just speak to why we did a growth study. We have a new sewage plant and a water plant and the users of those facilities on the water and sewage sytems pay for those systems.”

“I pay that with my taxes.” McLeod said.

“No, you don’t. For water and wastewater, it’s paid for by users on the system.” Trembley replied.

“If we can double the number of users from close to 500 to more, the cost of the water plant will be borne by new users. We can’t add residential lands to – we can’t. The only way to do it is that there’s a farm that’s designated for urban growth that’s been used for farming and wants to be used for farming, so it makes some sense to accommodate new residential growth behind the arena, and recognize that the farm has been farmed forever and will continue to be farmed. There’s nothing more than the equation than that. It just allows us to accommodate some growth for the

“If he quits farming, and goes to sell the farm, he couldn’t sell it for houses?” McLeod asked.

“They could come in for a plan amendment.” Trembley said. “It applies for anyone along the highway. What we’re trying to say is that the growth study said that we don’t have enough lands in Whitewater region to accommodate growth. The study said that there’s insufficient land supply for growth from an industrial or commercial perspective. If it’s not on the outskirts of Cobden, then that’s fine. But what the study told us that we don’t have enough land for employment purposes. If the landowners have issues with that, the planners will take that back before they come before council with a recommendation for Council. That’s why we have the public meeting for this. We don’t have enough lands in the Township for jobs. We don’t have enough job-related lands. You have your right to comment on that and Council will consider it when the planners come back.”

“It might not be right to take part of my land, or all of our land actually and change it.” McLeod said. “I kinda disagree with that, and think it’s not right.”

“We don’t just let farmland go.” Dave Mackay said. “When that comes back, I’m not going to agree with that. We have to talk about it, we have to argue about it. We’re losing 175 acres of land a day. But e have seen the plans yet. We have no say in it yet, it’s not done yet.”

Councillor McLaughlin asked for clarification: “Whoever owns that property now, be it changed or be it not, they are still allowed to do as they wish on that property, and the taxes will be assessed by MPAC.”

“I think the planners are more versed to discussed legal non-conforming, but yes, MPAC will assess the properties based on their use, and that is their call.” CAO Tremblay said. “it’s the Municipal Property, Assessment Corporation that determines the use and the assessed value.”

Doug Olson asked to hear from the planner on the ‘legal non-conforming’.

Ivan Burton responded: “if the designation was to change, that use can continue to exist forever and a day in its current state. You can continue to crop your land, you can continue to live in their house.”

“What happens when it’s sold?” he asked.

Burton said that the non-conforming use would continue to exist, and they would have the opportunity to convert it to the designated use.

“What authority gives the Council that act?” Olson said, claiming that Bruce’s statement of the Council’s authority applied to a ‘Provincial act’. “The CAO, those people behind you, they’re not responsible. You Council members, you’re responsible, you’re paid by the taxpayers.”

Councillor Olmstead asked if the E4 and E5 lands can be purchased without the current owners approval.

Bruce Howard said the designation means that “any future uses of those lands would have to be commercial. It does not expropriate the land from the owner; it is not going to cause any increase to assessment or to taxes. What it does do is that if anyone wants to start a commercial business that’s allowed in the Official plan, it would allow that landowner to come forward with a proposal.. It’s actually increasing that property owner’s options, and provides future opportunities for commercial growth in those regions. It does not expropriate those lands or restrict usage of lands, but provides opportunities for those lands to be used for commercial purposes within those 25 year timeframe.”

Councillor Mackay asked if there was a barn in the commercial zone, if the minimum distance of 250 feet between a barn and a house changes with that new distance.

“An NDS [minimum distance separation between a dwelling and a barn” according to Burton] would apply for a barn that exists, for land in a rural or agricultural designation, for lands in a township designation, the NDS doesn’t apply, but the township can establish minimum setbacks.”

“So you’re saying that once they change the zoning on that, the barn has to go?” Mackay said.

“No, I would say that it continues to exist, if it exists today, so I would say if the barn has livestock, it continues to exist because it already exists.” Burton said.

Heather McLeod. Who said she spoke on behave of McLeod’s family farm. “It’s nice to see encouragement and positivity for growth, I’m all for seeing more people for taxes to pay, I think growth is good.”

“We would love to keep it and expect to keep it as agricultural.” she said. “If someday McDonalds wants to come and purchase some land for commercial, we’ll talk then, but for now I want to keep it rural.”

Mark Briscoe asked for Bruce Howard’s statement ‘in writing’.

“Certainly the plan here is to go back to the drawing board and address these concerns.” Planner Burton said.

Councillor Nicholson asked Benzie if the future twinning of Highways 17 was incorporated into the plan.

“As far as a I know, it is the ministry’s intention to move the Highway.” she said. “We’re not sure when they want to move it.”

“The MTO has identified the movement to be on the east side of Muskrat lake.” Burton said. “we have incorporated that into our proposal.”

Jim Monroe spoke from the public. Citing he was concerned with his farming operation being disrupted. For future generations. With a commercial designation

“We;ve passed that interest onto the next generation.” he said, saying his children were raising purebred sheep and chickens. “In this proposal, the strip designated commercial throws water on that. I’m not that concerned with the word commercial. What I’m concerned is with the bylaws associated with that. Those bylaws are going to kick in, regarding if I want to change the entrances. We should be considering the education potential of a small farm like this.It’s fascinating to see future generations learn about agricultural. I don’t any inclination to sell that property. I recognize that we need commercial areas, my dad was on the Westmeath council when they had to designate industrial areas.”

“I’m a bit selfish, I’d like to see a bit of development on my own farm. Man, I’m really frightened by zoning and bylaws.” he said. “Half the kids know where a jug of milk comes from. We want to know where that comes from.”

Jerry Paxton, who said he lived in Cobden for 25 years on behalf of the Cobden Pentecostal Church, said they ‘had plans for that property’, for developing residential uses around the church.

“I’m happy to see some vision being taken for the City of Cobden.” he said. “I’ve been in the development game myself, designations like this only benefits the lands designating. As others have said, it does not affect.”

Donna Burns spoke again. “Government is really pushing affordable housing.” she aid. “Is this vision for affordable housing the plan all along for Cobden.”

Mayor Moore said “no, it is not.”

CAO Trembley added: “The township has no responsibility for running and owning housing.” and Alex Benzie confirmed that there were no other proposals for those lands than the three provided.

“The County of Renfrew is a housing provider and does own a number of buildings.” Tremblay said. “However, these lands are not owned by the county. We’re not responsible for affordable housing, we’re not a housing provider, we don’t have anything of that nature.”

Bill Kreuger spoke from the public: “I’m not against development, but a crystal ball we don’t have. We don’t know what the future is going to look like in 20-25 years. If we rezone the McLeod farm into commercial, we’re kinda pigeonholed into that frontage being commercial. We don’t know if we’re going to want it to be residential in the future. We’re gonna have farmland presently, but if it ever becomes residential and we have that commercial front,that’s going to be an issue. There seems to be no provision for that- it’s almost landlocking us in here.”

Councillor Mackay said he was “all against” the zoning commercial on the highway. “It slowly becomes McDonalds, and gas stations, so I’ll be voting against that. We brought in the Right to Farm legislation against that. I don’t like that”

Bill Kreuger: “I wonder if the County is trying to force this to justify some work that they put into it, and I don’t know what kind of dollar figure it took to do this, but that’s kinda what it feels like. I don’t know why we have to rezone it now. Why don’t you wait until someone decides to build a mall, or an aircraft plant to do it. I don’t know why we have to be pigeonholed with a three-hundred foot strip across the front.”

“I’d like to clarify just to defend the County: The County did not do the study, the Township did the study.” CAO Tremblay said. “People are upset about fees for water and wastewater, and there’s only 500 users, so we need to find ways to increase the number of users, and we want to make sure that jobs are found in Whitewater, so the Township paid for that study. Changes to a settlement bounty and for that to be supported by an Official Plan Amendment and in this case moving lands around have to be supported bt a study. The County was not involved in the study, the study was really to show where we were going to go. Today we’ve heard loud and clear that the lands outside of town is not appropriate. I’m sure the planners have taken care of that. The County did not do the study, the Township did the study because they heard loud and clear that water and sewer rates were unaffordable and we did the study to determine where the growth is going to go. The part of the process is to hear from the public “ok, not here, but here” and determine where that is going to go.”

“It looks like it’s growing residential, not commercial. Maybe when we get enough people, then the commercial will come to. We need people first, and if we get enough people to wind up with some jobs.” Kreuger said.

Laurie Briscoe spoke, saying she lived in the 300 to be zoned commercial which ‘cuts a strip’ across the lands.

“You said it won’t affect the taxes, but MPAC assesses that, so you aren’t going to know.” she said. “Maybe I’m going to be there until I die, but what about my kids? It’s going to be zoned half commercial and half whatever. Who’s going to want to buy it?”

In that letter that we said, if we did not respond before this meeting, it would be assumed that we were going to. It was said that Mr. Wasmund’s property was always farmland, but our farmland and our McLeod land was always farmland, and I think that

Janelle Hood, who said she lived in the old McLeod property, said that one of the reasons she bought her property was that it was ‘surrounded by farmland’ and expressed concerns about her children’s ability to have ‘a goat’ with surrounding commercial land.

Chris Monroe asked why the existing industrial lands were deemed inappropriate “What types of commercial that we would have considered in the industrial park, but is now considered to be placed next to residential areas?” he said.

“All of the industrial parks in the Township owned are now sold, even the non-potable water sources have been sold.” CAO Trembley said. “Employment lands will incorporate all of those those things. When we looked at where we could add lands, we couldn’t add lands abutting the industrial park.”

“If we’re talking about that land being useful for that activity, What could be possible to be a commercial venture to put there?” Monroe said.

“We really want people to stop. We want highway commercial, we want stores, we want people to spend their money.” Trembley said. “We want Valley Bio and we want the Tin-roof folks.”

“So why would that be any different than what we are proposing here?” Monroe asked

“If that land is nto appropriate, we’ve heard that loud and clear. The whole point is that we don’t have enough land for commercial use.”

“Again, my question stands, what kind of commercial uses are we looking at for those places?” Monroe asked again.

Benzie said that the noted that there were “not many essential services, doctors, professional services, a lot of people are traveling to Renfrew and Arnprior for those kinds of services.”

“Are there practitioners looking for those spaces?” Monroe asked

“She was using that as an example. Right now no-one is looking because there is no commercial property.” Mayor Moore said. “That was just an example on her part.”

“We do not nearly have the commerce we had going on on main street, and if we want to build Cobden, that’s where we should start.” Monroe said, before leaving the floor.

Briscoe returned and brought up “BEI having so much trouble gaining access to the highway. Our land is commercial land, how do they get access?”

“Right now, every property on Highway 17 has an access point.” Mayor Moore said. “If they want to increase that, that’s where the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario comes in. You’d have to go to MTO. That becomes someone else’s problems, not ours..”

“But now it’s our problem because it’s commercial.” Briscoe said.

“The MTO comments are just going to be part of the planned subdivision.” CAO Trembley asked Benzie.

She said they would be meeting with the Ministry of Transportation to discuss options for the plan as ‘a next step’.

There were no further questions, and the motion to receive the report and public comments was carried.