By Thomas Goyer
The District of Muskoka is making changes in how it communicates with residents.
An amendment was proposed to the Official Plan at the January 18 Community and Planning Services Committee to increase the variety of ways in which the District shares information and consults with residents.
Historically, the District used local print newspapers to provide notification to members of the public. This dynamic was enshrined in the Planning Act and has been the default option used. However, the collapse of local newspapers in September has meant that there are no Muskoka and area-wide print newspapers still in operation. This change has meant that the District must modernize its communication capabilities and strategy and amend its Official Plan to include more communication methods.
The new potential methods of communication include personal service or prepaid mail, email, public notice signs, surveys, neighbourhood open houses, public information centres, neighbourhood working groups, focus groups, information meetings, statutory public meetings, an electronically circulated newspaper, District website or internet engagement platforms. Options will be further examined by staff and committee before being narrowed down to recommendations which will be put before District of Muskoka Council.
In December a public meeting notice was mailed to residents which accidentally contained a draft plan notice template of a subdivision and key map. This plan notice made some residents wrongly believe that there was a development in their area that they had not been consulted on. A revised notice and correction was posted on the District website in the first week of January.
District planner Sarah Campbell made a presentation to committee about the potential options and how staff have been adapting to the new communications situation. Campbell stated that digital format newsletters were the favoured option that they had heard from residents, although rural and senior residents preferred direct mail. Campbell also stated that staff were aware of the difficulties digital options forced on rural and older residents and were considering that in any recommended options.
“They do prefer direct mail. But I think they’re open to receiving a newsletter or a phone call or something like that, if it’s a small radius,” Campbell said.
Campbell stated that few other municipalities or regions have done this amendment. As a result the District is at the forefront of this innovation according to Campbell.
The committee meeting included a public comment portion in which several different residents were able to speak about the issue and their thoughts on the potential options provided. Key points from residents including emphasis on clarity of language, lack of acronyms, improvement of the District website among other points.
The committee approved the application which will be debated and discussed further at the full District Council before final approval.
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