Wilma Kenny (with a file from Jeff Green) | Jun 05, 2019

Johnston Point: Gold Standards and Big Microscopes

In their responses to the developer’s request for a one-year extension of the three year old draft plan of approval for the Johnson Point plan of condominium, which is due to expire at the end of June, Council members made their unhappiness with the process very clear.

Although final decisions about plans of condominium rest with Frontenac County, the township’s recommendations on matters relating to condo and subdivision developments are forwarded to the county to become part of the decision-making process.

Developer Gavin Marshall of Magenta Waterfront Development, which assumed responsibility for the Johnson Point project in March, introduced himself as a person with strong local connections, having grown up in Prince Edward County and graduated from Queen’s. He spoke of the “unprecedented degree of scrutiny and analysis that has made this the gold standard for waterfront developments.” He said the condo corporation would have an environmental committee formed of residents who were totally committed to the environment and the area.

“Johnson Point will produce great economic benefits for the Township and will cement and elevate South Frontenac as a place with extremely high environmental standards,” he said: “Johnston Point is the gold standard future we all need to get to.” Marshall complimented Township staff for their help and commitment: “Our Corporation has the expertise and financial ability to help you bring this project to completion in the next few months.”

Marshall introduced Tracy Zander, planning consultant and project manager. “In spite of two extensions, I feel we are close to getting registration,” said Zander, “but to date, we have been unable to obtain a copy of the Benefit Agreement.”

This is the problem: a benefit permit from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Fisheries (MNRF) is required before the subdivision can be registered, and neither the Township nor the current developer has been able to obtain a copy of this document. The document delineates protective measures to be undertaken for the surrounding wetland habitat and identified species at risk at the site (including Blandings turtles, Black Rat snakes, and Whipporwills). The MNRF issued the Benefit Permit for the Johnston Point project on November 14, 2018, to the then proponent of the project (Gary Beach) and claims that it is unable to share the permit with township or county. To date Beach has refused to share the document, the County has been unable to get a copy, and has filed a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act request to obtain one that can be shared with the Township. Marshall is also in the process of trying to obtain a copy of the benefit permit. Later in the meeting, Beach came as a delegate in reference to another subdivision, saying only that “there will be time to speak to other developments at another date.”

As Claire Dodds, Director of Development Services for South Frontenac Township, explained to the News earlier in the day in a telephone interview, the township cannot make a recommendation to the county until it sees the benefit agreement. The township needs to know that whatever is required under that agreement has been satisfied before it can recommend that the county give final approval for the plan of condominium.

“Without seeing the agreement, we are stuck,” she said.

The township has made a freedom of information request to try and force the MNRF to release the document, and Dodd’s recommended that council grant the one year extension to allow the benefit agreement and other issues enough time to play themselves out.

Deputy Mayor Sleeth led the response by some sharp questioning of the unavailability of the Benefit permit, asking why nothing seemed to have been done until now, even though Magenta had taken over the project more than two months ago. He went on to point out that neither council nor staff had been permitted to enter the Johnson point property until very recently, to see what was going on.

Councillor Sutherland said that although it was good to talk to the majority shareholder, in his opinion “Johnson Point is an inappropriate space (for development), no matter what the gold standard is.” He listed five issues that have come up in the past five years, including the “unconscionable” construction of a bridge without a building permit, and brush clearing along the shoreline.

Marshall responded that construction of the offending bridge had halted, and an engineer had been retained to draw up a design to accompany a building permit application. He added that although branches had been cut along the shoreline, no trees had been removed and this had been all right with their consulting biologist. Sutherland countered this by saying that regulations for the 30 metre setback stated that all vegetation should be retained and maintained; “It’s pretty clear that this means all vegetation. We have been working hard to protect our shorelines and don’t want to see niggling and picking away at branches and fallen trees, etc.”

“This is your issue, not ours,” said Councillor Ruttan when Marshall complained that Mr Beach had refused to release the Benefit Permit to him. “I question it is gold standard when a lot of work has been done without approval: seeking permission after the fact is hardly ‘gold standard’. Also, how do you plan to hold the new owners to a standard?”

Marshall replied, “We’re under a really big microscope here. No way could we get away with cutting corners. It can be tough to legislate human nature, but the residents will have a commonality of interest - they will be interested in conservation.” Ruttan responded that the big magnifying glass didn’t seem to have worked so far.

“The municipality has put in hundreds of hours on this project, and it has cost us thousands of dollars,” said Sleeth, “with no benefit to the Township to date.”

Marshall responded that he, too, had a lot of money - ten million dollars -invested, and five pending sales, once the project had final approval: “We have high environmental standards. It is regrettable, deplorable and unfortunate that these standards have not been upheld. The microscope has been greatly expanded now that our company has taken over.”

Councillor Revill said he was disappointed Mr Beach was not more forthcoming, but at this point he could not support what appears to be a very last-minute request for an extension. “It feels like a very adversarial relationship between the developer and council.”

Council narrowly defeated an amendment that would have seen the matter referred to the development committee, which meets later this week, for recommendations to a special meeting of Council that could be called shortly afterward.

In a recorded vote, Council also turned down the recommendation that they approve the requested year’s extension of draft plan approval. (Only Mayhor Vandewal and Coucillor Leonard were in favour).

The minutes of the evening’s discussion and outcome will be forwarded to the County, who will make the final decision.

Two other requests for draft plan extensions: Cranberry Cove condominium and Ouellette subdivision, both in Storrington, were approved without discussion.

Cowboy Mounted Shooting Range

Council directed stuff to issue a letter of ‘no objection’ to the private shooting range proposed near Piccadilly for the purpose of Cowboy Mounted Shooting, subject to both Phillip Smith and Jamie Lloyd entering into an agreement with the Township as outlined in the report of May 29, 2019. Conditions limit the times of use, and stipulate that no live ammunition will be discharged on the range, as well as other details. This support will be granted on a trial basis of 6 months and will be subject to renewal upon evaluation. The range will also be governed by the Firearms Act and Regulations, as administered by the Chief Firearms Officer.

SF Official Plan Review

Council will hold a special meeting on August 6, to consider revisions to the Official Plan, and three public meetings will be scheduled, to gain public input on lakes and natural environment, rural lands and economy, settlement areas and community. These will be publicly advertised.

Premier’s letter to municipal councils

Premier Ford’s letter of May 23, which withdraws this year’s retroactive funding cuts for public health, paramedic series and child care, also asks municipalities to find new and better ways to cut costs.

This drew a tart response from council and staff.

Outgoing CAO Wayne Orr: “I do not believe for a moment that South Frontenac is wasteful or overstaffed. Rather we deliver exceptional services with the resources we have and have taken steps towards being self-sufficient rather than relying upon grants in order to meet expectations.

“I do acknowledge that there could be different processes, but caution that they may come at a cost to service delivery, access to services and programs or staff morale and retention. Efforts to identify potential efficiencies and / or savings are best focused on the big picture items rather than looking at how much is spent on office supplies, how many paint brushes we buy a year or how much we pay for rust proofing etc.”

Councillor Sutherland: “Council knows how to save and spend money: this is disrespectful.”

Deputy Mayor Sleeth: “I agree; we do a really good job of managing our finances.”

Mayor Vandewal: “There’s always room for improvement, but it doesn’t seem like the (recommended) exercise is worth it.”

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