How will Huntsville grow? Town wants your input on its draft OP

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It may not be the most riveting read, but if you care about how and where Huntsville grows, you may want to sit up and take notice.

Town staff, with input from community members, councillors and consultants, has been working for some time to dust off the 2006 Official Plan (OP) and come up with a new version that will hopefully better reflect the type of planning applications the municipality receives. They’ve tried to take out some of the previous OP’s ambiguity with an end-goal of improving Huntsville’s social, economic and environmental resiliency. Staff has also tried to make the document more user-friendly, according to Manager of Planning Services Kirstin Maxwell.

The new OP will not only have to comply with new provincial policies and the District’s OP, but sets out a road map for future development—one that staff and developers will turn to when planning disputes arise.

Some of the changes at a glance include a more comprehensive affordable housing policy, referred to as ‘smart value housing,’ in the revised OP. Highway 60 design guidelines are also set out, as well as active transportation, agricultural and aggregate policies, cultural heritage and climate change. Gone are the days when climate change was simply considered a hoax by some; Huntsville’s draft OP now includes a section on mitigating the effects of climate change as well as energy conservation and other environmental policies related to things like wildland fires and deer wintering areas. Other changes include policies regarding the protection of fish habitat. Where the type of fish habitat is not known, a developer will be required to pay for a fish habitat study in order for a planning application to proceed.

The revamped OP also stipulates what responsible growth looks like and sets out targets for directing growth, particularly in the urban serviced area. “A minimum target of 60 per cent of new permanent dwelling units will be directed to the Huntsville Urban Settlement Area and the remaining 40 per cent to the other land use designations,” it states.

Tests for compatible development and building heights have also been included.

Huntsville’s Planning Committee held a special meeting on July 25, giving members one more kick at the can before going out for public input. Among the points discussed was whether it’s fair to differentiate between seasonal and year-round residents. Huntsville Mayor Scott Aitchison didn’t think so. He said he knows of people who are considered permanent residents, yet they spend half of the year in Florida. Maxwell said staff would take a closer look at that.

Other issues raised included a statement in the OP which indicates that major employment, commercial and travel-intensive land uses will be directed to the urban settlement area of the town in order to minimize commuting. But Aitchison, who was the most vocal at the meeting, called the statement too broad.

“There are lots of major employment commercial uses in the rural area that would be completely inappropriate in the urban area,” he said. He also noted that there is language in the draft OP that would make one think that industry is not welcome. He said certain language makes it seem as though, “when they’re done, then we don’t want them (industry) there anymore. So where do you want them? The message to me says you don’t want them at all, and I don’t think that’s the case.”

Questions regarding the impact of commuting also arose. Aitchison said there are parts of the document that suggests driving is bad. “I don’t know if that’s entirely fair. I think (former Huntsville Mayor) Claude Doughty used to make a fairly compelling argument that as changes are made to how we travel and how we drive and what kind of technology we use to drive, that our modes of transportation are probably going to become more efficient and have a smaller carbon footprint than the way we move water and wastewater around this hilly territory—the number of pumping stations alone we have here, the energy costs… it’s obnoxious.”

Other discussions surrounded statements in the draft OP, such as: “Where development is proposed in close proximity to wetlands a technical report may be required.” Aitchison said statement like that, where something may or may not be required, are found throughout the document. “This is the thing that drives, I think, the average individual crazy. What’s the criteria for determining where it may or may not be required? These are the kinds of things that drive people nuts.”

Maxwell explained that although the new draft OP’s environmental policies are more restrictive, it does aim to incorporate some flexibility for potential developments “that really would have no impact if it’s within 30 metres of a wetland as compared to somebody putting in a rural industry, or something along those lines.”

Huntsville Councillor Jonathan Wiebe said he’s not against using the word “shall” in that instance.

“Maybe we want to,” responded Aitchison. “Because protecting the wetlands is actually a fairly important thing. We don’t have a cut and fill bylaw, which is a tool we could use to protect things like wetlands. I know growing up here in the old days people said, ‘ah that swamp, if only I could fill that in…’”

Deputy Mayor Karin Terziano said she prefers to be more restrictive and noted that an applicant can always make a case as to why such a report should not be required.

After further discussion, committee agreed to leave it as ‘may,’ noting that site inspections to confirm whether a technical report may be required, and other wording in the document, would help protect the integrity of such wetlands.

On another point, Aitchison urged those present that East Parry Sound be mentioned at every opportunity as an area that uses Huntsville as a regional centre, particularly as it pertains to the hospital. “I say that over and over and over again at the (hospital) task force meeting… because they love to talk about Muskoka, but they never mention East Parry Sound and 30 per cent of the visits to the hospital come from East Parry Sound and it serves our purposes to continue to insist upon the importance of Huntsville as a regional centre, not just to the north end of Muskoka but to the south end and west end of East Parry Sound.”

The Mayor also turned to the word “professional” when associated with the downtown.

I think one of the great things about our downtown core is that it tends to be more retail, you know cafés, restaurants, shops, that kind of thing, than it does professional offices like accounting, lawyers, all that kind of stuff. If you look down the main street of Bracebridge, I think you see an awful lot more legal offices, that kind of stuff and as a result of that at 5 o’clock you could shoot a cannon down the street and nobody notices. So I don’t think it is in fact the heart of our professional service and I don’t think we want to encourage that either.Huntsville Mayor Scott Aitchison

Aitchison said he thinks professional offices should be encouraged outside of the downtown core, “because I think that takes away from the vibrancy. Things like real estate offices are the thin edge of the wedge, I think… I just wonder about that language.”

Another item in the OP that caused concern was a statement that the municipality would provide Wi-Fi throughout the downtown. “We don’t do that,” said Deputy Mayor Karin Terziano.

“We can’t afford that,” said Huntsville Councillor Bob Stone.

Maxwell said that statement was identified by the Town’s strategic plan as something that should be encouraged and the municipality should try to provide. “That kind of ties into the social and caring Huntsville, sort of thing,” said Maxwell, adding that it was also meant as a way to encourage more businesses in the downtown.

Other lively discussions included the concept of downzoning tourist commercial properties in the waterfront. Committee chair Nancy Alcock said the District is looking at the issue. “I’m not sure how much time we should be spending correcting our language when we know there could be a significant change at the District.”

Aitchison, on the other hand, said any such reference should be removed. “How people choose to vacation here is up to them,” he said. “Why would we have a policy that says we’re going to protect every one of those little old traditional cottage resorts because that’s where it all began… if you want to do that, buy one and make a museum. I don’t think that land use planning policies are a way to try to predict how people are going to want to spend their time vacationing in Muskoka.” He added that if someone determines that it doesn’t make sense to invest in modernizing an old seasonal resort, and the owner would prefer to sever it up or turn it into lots, “have at ‘er. It’s their property. In fact that probably has less of an impact on the water overall, to have five or six private cottages or homes, than to have a little mini-resort that’s busy all the time.”

Alcock agreed. “If I think of the cases we’ve had before us, none of us have liked the concept of an owner having to come in and plead ‘this is a difficult financial situation for our family.’ That’s just nuts for us to be engaged in that discussion,” she said.

But Maxwell told committee members that there is also an employment component to consider. “My concern is if we don’t have a policy somehow similar to this somewhere, will we be in a situation where something like Deerhurst could decide they’re going strictly residential, you don’t have to do anything, and then there’s that major employment loss for the town. I mean there’s a line there that I recognize, that smaller resorts are a different situation, but there could be potential impacts,” she warned.

If Deerhurst is no longer viable and they have to change it to something that’s residential, the fact that we have a policy that says ‘you know, we want to protect those jobs,’ means nothing.Aitchison

Maxwell told committee that if they wanted to take that out it could be done provided that Huntsville’s OP conforms to the District’s OP, otherwise they would not approve it.

Although discussions continued, in the end committee approved the draft.

Two open houses will be held next week, which will last two hours each. One will be held at the community hall in Port Sydney on Thursday, Aug. 9 from 7 to 9 p.m. and the other will be held at the Huntsville Civic Centre at Partners Hall on Saturday, Aug. 11 from 9 to 11 a.m. You can find the draft OP here.

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6 Comments

  1. Richard Hogg on

    It appears to be premature to talk about Huntsville’s future, before finalizing on the Huntsville hospital. Without a separate hospital, Huntsville will never grow & in fact may shrink. With senior citizens being an intigral parent of the future, who will want to live without excellent healthcare near by. Also, until Huntsville resolves itself from the control by the district, others will be determining its future. It is comforting to know that our mayor realizes this.

  2. I have only a few comments at this time: After all, this was only a precis of the draft OP:
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    1) why was this work not completed in 2011 (as per the 5-year guidelines);
    .
    2) there was no mention of new requirements with respect to accessibility under the AODA, 2005;
    .
    3) “shall” should be used for provincially significant wetlands, and “may” for all other wetlands;
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    4) “commuting” is predicted to be the way of the future (driverless cars, electric scooters). Even major cities
    are considering paving over their subway systems; and
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    5) with due respect to the Mayor, as a real estate agent, he should have recused himself from commenting
    on any item with property implications.
    .
    The timing is also completely inappropriate: The final OP, at least, should be discussed and passed by the new Council.

  3. What is the point. The last and previous council will just exempt any developer who comes in with any cock- o- mainy idea anyway. I believe it will be another revise to let whatever they want they can have because they usualy say that it meets the intent of the OP and let it go.

  4. Tamara De La Vega: “…Gone are the days when climate change was simply considered a hoax by some; Huntsville’s draft OP now includes a section on mitigating the effects of climate change…”

    We all believe that “climate change” is occurring. BUT, a number of prominent scientists believe that it has nothing to do with human activity. At dispute is 1) whether or not it is man-caused and 2) whether we can (or should even desire to) do anything about it. All of the planets in our solar system are glowing much brighter in infrared photos as they cast off more heat than they receive from the sun. This would indicate internal planetary sources of heat that possibly may be influenced by forces far beyond our solar system.

    From a science website called, Resonance: “…It’s clear that Jupiter’s atmosphere is moving, and the Great Red Spot is evolving [8]. Also, observations are showing ice caps are melting…on Mars too [9]. In 2005 data from NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor and Odyssey missions revealed that the carbon dioxide “ice cap” near Mars’s south pole was diminishing for three summers in a row. And finally, on Venus, in June 2013, the most detailed record of cloud motion chronicled by ESA’s Venus Express has revealed that the planet’s winds have steadily been getting faster over the last six years [10].

    All these evidences of global warming in our Solar system during this last decade are really challenging to explain. Obviously, this is NOT linked to any human activity–on the contrary different studies are showing a link with solar activity and also with cosmic rad[iation]…”

    Scientists have also done recent studies which suggest that the contribution of CO2 to heat retention on earth has been overestimated by at least 50%. The whole “carbon footprint” is the part which is a hoax that the elites cooked up to further enrich themselves. (See the whole “oil-for-food” scam that enriched a lot of elites at the U.N.)

    • Patrick Flanagan on

      Your comments on climate change need to be challenged, lest someone mistake them for having any merit.

      First you claimed that “a number of prominent scientists believe that it has nothing to do with human activity”. What is that number, one might ask. An answer may be found at https://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/, which states: “Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities. In addition, most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.”

      If you go to http://www.opr.ca.gov/facts/list-of-scientific-organizations.html, you will find a list of over 200 worldwide scientific organizations that hold the position that climate change has been caused by human action.

      The reference to peer review above is significant. A critical feature of the scientific method is the use of an objective framework to test hypotheses. That is, after someone offers a possible explanation for some natural phenomenon, others can test and retest. If the explanation is proven wrong, the hypothesis is dropped and another explanation is sought. If the explanation is tested by multiple experts and not proven wrong, it becomes an accepted scientific theory.

      You also referred to and selectively quoted from “a scientific website called, Resonance”. While that reference is imprecise, it appears to be a reference to the website of the Resonance Science Foundation. That website is run by an amateur physicist, who takes scientific words and combines them in incomprehensible ways to form articles that he publishes on the website. His work is not peer-reviewed by independent experts, and no credible scientist endorses his gobbledy-gook. However, he has a significant following among those who like that sort of thing. Many of them even send money to support his “research”. It is a shame that some people would prefer his nonsense to real science.

  5. Patrick Flanagan: “…Your comments on climate change need to be challenged, lest someone mistake them for having any merit…”

    It is your OPINION that they don’t have any merit–but that opinion is based on government propaganda. NASA is the biggest purveyor of U.S. government propaganda (and has always been) since the days of the occultist, Jack Parsons, who created NASA. https://www.wired.co.uk/article/jpl-jack-parsons (By the way, WIRED magazine is hardly a “rightist conspiracy-theory” publication in case you would be thinking in that direction.) Parsons died in an explosion of mysterious origins.

    You need to dig a little further than to just accept propaganda promulgated by the IPCC. The reason why they can say that “97% or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree…” is because they are the only ones who are accepted for publication. Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is the current exclusive dogma of the scientific establishment (which depends on government grants to survive). AGW is a religion devoutly believed by those who gain their income from holding that belief. An old saw applies here: “It is difficult to get a man to believe that something is false when his livelihood depends on believing it to be true.” Here is an article from the London Telegraph which discusses the inventor of the man-caused global warming scam, Maurice Strong. He was also the inventor of the U.N. “oil-for-food” scam. It has been said that if Strong hadn’t fled to China, that he would have faced multiple indictments for fraud over that scam. Do you really believe that there is no corruption or fraud associated with the IPCC (only scientists who agreed with the foregone conclusion were accepted for inclusion in the IPCC) or AGW?

    Flanagan: “…The reference to peer review above is significant. A critical feature of the scientific method is the use of an objective framework to test hypotheses. That is, after someone offers a possible explanation for some natural phenomenon, others can test and retest. If the explanation is proven wrong, the hypothesis is dropped and another explanation is sought. If the explanation is tested by multiple experts and not proven wrong, it becomes an accepted scientific theory…”

    That is, if the scientific establishment has not been corrupted by political agendas. Much of science has been soiled in that way these days. Many scientists have been known to privately lament this fact (including several of my acquaintance). Fewer have the nerve to actually speak out about it.

    The writer at Resonance is careful to cite actual peer-reviewed scientific literature in his articles. What you have denigrated may be a lone voice crying out against the politicization of science. (Is there anything that remains un-politicized these days?) The problem with science in the service of political agendas is that it ceases to be science. When credible institutions have their reputations soiled by “scientists” (as in the whole debacle at East Anglia) can we believe them any longer? https://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/christopherbooker/6679082/Climate-change-this-is-the-worst-scientific-scandal-of-our-generation.html

    Those in government who stand to gain a great deal of power, prestige and money for their various programs were only too glad to embrace “man-caused climate change”–whether it is true or not (and there have been a number of studies which confound the “truth” of AGW). You don’t know what you think you do.

    Real science seeks nothing but the truth–wherever it leads.

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