The lengthy process to review Grey County’s Official Plan came to an end at last Tuesday’s regular meeting of county council.
County council passed a by-law officially adopting the reviewed plan at the meeting. Council’s approval of the new Official Plan means the local county review process has now been passed over to the provincial government for final approval.
The time consuming process to review the Official Plan has been ongoing for several years and Tuesday’s formal adoption of the results of that process did not come without some controversy.
Owen Sound county councillors Ruth Lovell-Stanners and Arlene Wright voted against the reviewed Official Plan due to Owen Sound’s objections over the plan’s approval of an expanded development area in Springmount – a highly developed, but unserviced area of the Township of Georgian Bluffs that is situated on the city’s border.
"Owen Sound has consistently not approved the expansion of Springmount because of a lack of services there," Wright said. "We’re very concerned about the water table and the problems that could ensue," said Wright, who objected to Springmount being given a "secondary" settlement designation in the Official Plan.
In responses to the comments from the Owen Sound councillors Georgian Bluffs Mayor Al Barfoot released an engineer’s report that he claimed proves development in Springmount is not hurting water resources in that area.
"The report says there is no contamination of the bay," said Barfoot.
Owen Sound Mayor Ruth Lovell-Stanners said the Springmount issue came up very late in the Official Plan process and needs more time to be studied.
"This came up very late in the game. We need more time. We have a legitimate concern about the watershed," said Lovell-Stanners.
The City of Owen Sound has always expressed concerns about development without full municipal services on its border. The Owen Sound representatives found little support for their position. Only Hanover Deputy Mayor Gerald Rogers voted with Lovell-Stanners and Wright in their quest to delay the approval of the Official Plan until the Springmount issue is decided.
Grey County Planning Director Jan McDonald expressed a common sentiment in the county council chambers about the Official Plan when she gave an overview of the final product.
"We’re tired. We’ve been at this a long time," said McDonald. The review process officially kicked off in 2005, with the bulk of the public meetings and open houses being held over the past couple years. "It has been a real team effort that I’m proud of," said McDonald.
Planning was once a major hot button issue in Grey County. The provincial government of Premier Bob Rae ordered Grey County to develop an Official Plan in the early 1990s due to concerns about the county’s wide spread approval of severances in rural and agricultural areas.
That provincial mandate resulted in the completion of the first County Official Plan at the end of the 1990s. The Plan received provincial approval – and became the planning document of record for the county – in 2000. The Official Plan is meant to have an approximate shelf life of 20 years with reviews mandated by provincial legislation every five years.
McDonald said the new version of the Official Plan balances policies to help economic development and diversification, environmental protection and the preservation of local heritage and culture.
"We believe we have found a balance," she said at the meeting. McDonald said the new version of the Official Plan contains 296 modifications to the original document. "Some are minor wording changes and others are entire sub-sections," she said.
McDonald the Official Plan will now be forwarded to the province for approval. She said that process could take up to a year.
The Blue Mountains Deputy Mayor and Planning and Community Development committee Chair Duncan McKinlay was pleased that the review process is complete.
"I’m hoping this draft is fairly acceptable to the Ministry. There are lots of people across Grey that still want to invest and develop and they depend on certainty in our planning process," said McKinlay, who noted that the provincial approval process will still allow time for Owen Sound’s concerns to be considered. "The process ahead will give the opportunity to resolve long standing differences of opinion on settlement areas," he said.