Stone Mills keeps tools to protect waterfront from resort development

Adam Bramburger
Beaver Staff

Stone Mills Township will ease restrictions on commercial resort developments in its official plan, while still safeguarding protections on waterfront properties.

In January, the township had a public meeting as part of its five-year review of the plan. At that time, council considered a proposed amendment that would allow small-scale, seasonal parks with less than 30 sites and operations not requiring servicing for over 4,500 L of effluent per day without an amendment to the official plan.

Planner Mark Touw, of the IBI Group, reported Monday that feedback from councillors and the public suggested the proposed policy was still to restrictive and that council’s primary concerns were commercial resort development in waterfront locations, developments with permanent buildings for accommodations or otherwise large-scale developments.

Touw came before council with three options for consideration. Option 1 would require an official plan amendment if a property abuts or provides access to a lake or river and includes permanent buildings for overnight accommodations, developments including a campground of 40 or more campsites with the number of guests regulated by the zoning bylaw, or if private water and sewage services generating over 4,500 L of effluent daily supported the development. Under that option, all commercial resort development not on the waterfront would not require an official plan amendment.

Option 2 would require an official plan amendment for a commercial resort development on any property abutting or providing access to water. It would also trigger the amendment for any other area in the township based on the building, campsites, and servicing requirements in Option 1.

The third option would remove servicing as a trigger for an amendment.

Touw told councillors they had five paths they could consider. One was the status quo, which is the most restrictive requiring an official plan amendment for any new resort commercial use. A second path was the least restrictive option to remove the requirement in all areas. That path, Touw said, would limit  council’s ability to control the nature of a development.

“The risk is that is if somebody proposes a larger-scale waterfront commercial development, it’s harder to say no. They have a right to go there, even if there’s a lot of concern from the community,” he said.

The other paths were the three options placed before councillors Monday.

Touw said the challenge was in creating a policy that’s achievable, but captures a range of scenarios. He told councillors they could ease restrictions and still require studies regarding traffic, groundwater, and noise to be completed through zoning applications and site planning, but the requirement for an official plan amendment gives a tool for council to decide whether they like a proposed use.

The planner said council’s decision on policy directions would be dependent on its desire to control waterfront development and the scale of resort commercial development within its borders.

Deputy reeve John Wise liked Option 2 and moved council go forward with it.

“I think the first thing I want to consider is impact on the waterfront,” he said. “From that standpoint I like that Option 2 is going to require an (amendment) regardless of scale of development.”

Councillor Kevin Richmond disagreed, however.

“I’m opposed to that. We don’t want to restrict ourselves and the community from ever building. This can possibly do that. We can set the rules like we have in Option 1 for developments with 15 units or above and 40 sites. I think that gives us a good starter. With zoning applications, they have to go through the Ministry of Environment, Public Health, and all of that anyway. I hate to see us shut down the community. Some people look at that and decide they’ll not bother.”

Doug Davison said he was confused about what was driving the discussion as he wasn’t aware of any developments planned on waterfront and he noted the township’s lakes are already largely developed. He also said there really haven’t been any campgrounds of 40 sites or more proposed. Davison also questioned the effectiveness of limiting people present through the zoning bylaw.

Touw said that consideration is important because 40 campsites could be open to interpretation whether they’re sites for two people or large groups. Definition, he said, is necessary to determine impacts. Touw also said enforcement could be complaint driven.

Davison indicated he still wasn’t comfortable about developments of that size and was particularly concerned about sewage impacts.

Wise said he understood that concern, but said with any commercial enterprise being established, council can’t guarantee when granting a zoning that they’re going to be good environmental citizens.

“You generally expect if people are going to try to operate businesses, they’ll want to continue it, attract customers and get along with everybody. I think nine times out of 10 that’s the case. When there is a bad actor, having zoning and other regulatory tools is something we can always fall back on,” he said, adding he’d like to see the potential for more tourism development.

“What does Stone Mills have to offer? Lots of things, but one of the things we can easily promote is we have a beautiful place here and we can invite people to enjoy it. That’s the whole reason behind our promotion as a tourist area.”

Addressing Richmond’s concern of impeding development, Wise said agrees but he’s just interested in waterfront protection. He said anyone able to run a profitable commercial venture is likely going to be able to afford an official plan amendment.

Richmond still wasn’t convinced.

“I don’t think we need to put more obstacles in front of potential investors trying to get something up and started. We could find it’s a big cost. I personally think you’re going to turn some people away.”

In a 5-2 recorded vote, council picked Option 2 with Davison and Richmond opposing.

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