| Aug 07, 2019

The South Frontenac Planning Department receives a steady stream of inquiries from individuals and developers who are looking to do business in South Frontenac.

Given the nature of land use planning, especially in a rural area where each piece of property brings unique challenges with it, some of these inquiries go nowhere, and others can seem like a rabbit hole, leading to a years’ long, expensive, detailed process that is sometimes mired in controversy and often results in delays and added costs.

The township has ramped up its planning department to deal with the influx of complex applications, and developed a closer working relationship with Frontenac Count’s planning department, since applications for plans of subdivision and plans of land use condominium, which are the most complex and quite often controversial planning applications, are subject to approval by Frontenac County.

On top of everything, the fact that much of the demand in the marketplace is for year-round homes on water within a short drive from the city of Kingston, pitting development pressures against environmental concerns in many cases.

And now the building permits sales data is starting to indicate that the planning boom in South Frontenac may be resulting in an increase in construction activity. For a number of years, permit sales have hovered around the $30 million mark annually in the township.

The second quarter (April to June) is the busiest each year, but this year it was the busiest quarter in at least 4 years. The construction value was $14.8 million over the 90 day period, $1.8 million more than last year, $2 million more than the same period in 2017, and $3 million more than 2016. The total is about the same, in one quarter, as the three other Frontenac Township combined permit values for most years.

And it is new construction of single-family dwellings that is the main driver of the construction boom in the township. Permits for 39 new homes were issued in the 2nd quarter of this year, an increase over 26 in 2018 and 32 in the 2nd quarter of 2017.

If the pattern from previous years holds, more new home permits will be sold in the second half of the year than in the first half and the total for 2019 could very well reach 85 to 90, well up from 66 in 2018, and 71 in each of 2017 and 2016.

It all sets up a pretty interesting context for the township to be conducting both a Strategic and an Official Review just as the Chief Administrative Officer, Neil Carbone, assumes his role. There is a short survey posted on the township website for the Strategic Plan, and public meetings are set for Sunbury, Sydenham and Verona this month, all aimed at creating a document that may be referred to by council and staff if they are seeking direction when making decisions over the next few years. But while a strategic plan may, at best, reflect the intentions of the council and residents of the township and one or two over-arching goals, it has not real teeth.

The Official Plan, however, can create new opportunities for residents and developers alike, and can close off opportunities as well, all within the confines of a set of provincially mandated standards as expressed in the provincial policy statement and codified in the provincial planning act.

Claire Dodds, the Director of Development Services for South Frontenac, outlined a process for updating the township Official in a presentation to a Public Meeting as part of the August meeting of Council on Tuesday night.

As she worked through the process in her report, she made reference to an issue that defines an area of tension both within the township and between the township and the planning policy directives coming from the Province of Ontario.

Under the heading of growth management, one of the bullets in the report says: “Province permits limited growth in rural areas and direct majority of growth to settlement areas”.

While this logic makes sense as a general rule, it does not easily fit the reality in Frontenac County. For one thing, the demand is greater for lots in the countryside, and particularly near water, than within the hamlets. Secondly, among the hamlets only Sydenham has a municipal water system and none of the hamlets have a municipal sewage system, more density in hamlet is not necessarily advisable since that involves crowding septic systems together as well as stressing the water table.

As part of its Official Plan review, South Frontenac may look at changing the boundaries of its hamlets to create more opportunities, and it may also look at the possibility of creating smaller scale, privately held water and sewer systems within individual developments. This is something that the Frontenac County Development department has been looking, and in Claire Dodds report to council she refers to proposes changes in provincial policy that might create “flexibility by clarifying perceived barriers to sewage and water treatment policies in rural settlement areas.

There is another factor that will certainly become apparent as the Official Plan process gets underway in South Frontenac. There are a significant number of people in any rural township, and certainly in one experience growth pressure such as South Frontenac is facing, who will see only a downside to significant growth.

Rural landowners do not necessarily want to live too close to their neighbours, in fact they often don’t want to see their neighbours at all. And just about every proposal for a waterfront development will be opposed by neighbours on the lake, for good environmental reasons and for self interested reasons as well.

These are just some of the tensions that will be expressed through the Official Plan process in the township.

Managing growth, creating business opportunities in the retail sector, and creating employment through growth, will be major factors throughout this process, which is projected to take over 2 years to complete.

While only a small percentage of residents will take an interest in the Official Plan, those that do will be taking a keen, active interest, and many who don’t will still find, eventually, that the plan that emerges from this effort will one day have an impact on their living situation or their financial situation.

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