By James Matthews
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Haliburton County council will take some time before it decides the fate of a housing development on Grass Lake in Dysart.
Harburn Holdings wants to build 88 condominiums and a commercial property on Peninsula Road and County Road 21 on Grass Lake in Dysart et al. Space will also be set aside for affordable housing.
The lower tier municipality has already approved a land-use bylaw amendment of the property pending Haliburton County’s go-ahead. During its regular meeting Feb. 22, county council deferred its decision for a variety of reasons until March 22.
Stephen Stone, the county’s director of planning, told council that he recommended the amendment be approved. He said the county’s role in the process was to ensure Dysart adhered to provincial planning legislation and both the county’s and municipality’s Official Plans when evaluating the development.
“As it stands, the county is the approval authority,” he said. “The final action to allow this amendment to Dysart Official Plan to occur.”
Then, later: “What was of interest to us at the county level was ensuring that there was a fulsome review of provincial policy, county policy, as well as local Official Plan policy.”
Stone said the township met all those obligations and the various required expert reports have been properly peer reviewed. As such, there’s no reason for Haliburton County to stand in the way of Harburn Holdings’ plans.
So it’s a done deal, yeah?
Councillor Bob Carter, the mayor of Minden Hills, took umbrage with the limited time county councillors had to go through the provided information required to inform each of their votes.
Carter said he and his colleagues had to mine 486 pages of information to “separate the wheat from the chaff” mere days before the council meeting.
“I now know what the concentration of beryllium is in some of the wells, and I’m not really certain that’s important to making our decision,” he said.
Councillors received their agenda packages at noon on a Friday before a long weekend. He said that gives them less than a day to inform their decision.
“I’ll state categorically up front that I certainly won’t be voting on any motion today because there just hasn’t been enough time for me to absorb it,” he said.
Concern for the environment and housing drew Carter to municipal politics.
“Somehow this project seems to have pitted those two against one another,” he said.
He realizes his role at the county level is to vote on the issue. But, at the same time, he said, he has to weigh that against the concerns of his constituents in Minden Hills.
“Lots of my constituents have issues with this,” Carter said. “I’m just trying to get enough information to be able to say one or the other. I just don’t think I’m going to get it in the next 30 minutes or so.”
Coun. Jennifer Dailloux, Algonquin Highlands’ deputy mayor, shared Carter’s concern about the limited time to get educated on the issue.
“It is helpful to read it all,” she said. “It is difficult to sort of sort out what parts of it applies to the decision for this table versus the decision that was faced by the municipality.”
Dailloux wondered what information was included as background details and what information in the agenda package was actually necessary to inform a decision.
“If this is a decision we take on the basis of planning justification only, of which the ticks have already been filled in all the boxes, then that’s a very different story,” she said. “And perhaps I’d be prepared to proceed today with a vote.
“But if things like environmental protection, stormwater management fall to this table to consider, I have to say I’m alongside Coun. Carter that I believe I’d need some more time to digest some of those things.”
Coun. Cecil Ryall, the deputy mayor of Highlands East, said he understands the condos will be serviced by Dysart’s municipal sewer. But the proponent is to run a means of water provision as opposed to using municipal wells to provide water.
Ryall asked what would happen should the proponent no longer be involved in the property?
Stone said there would indeed be a private proponent-established on-site water system.
“Typically, what you’ll find is responsibility agreements are entered into at the municipal level,” Stone said.
Such agreements ensure total replacement of the privately maintained systems if the proponent walks away.
Warden Liz Danielsen, the mayor of Algonquin Highlands, suggested issues such as municipal stormwater management doesn’t fall under the county’s purview.
“Specific to the mandate of county council, our review at the staff level really focuses on consistency with provincial policy statement and then conformity with the policies within the county Official Plan,” Stone said.
He said all the attached documents in the more than 450 pages have been included for the edification of councillors. Simply, it’s to better illustrate how the proponent and Dysart have adhered to the necessary provincial, county, and municipal policies.
“The documentation that I’ve provided, I hope, would help support our analysis so that you had the comfort to make those decisions,” Stone said.
Ryall said there’s a need for housing in Haliburton County. It’s just non-negotiable, he said.
“Do you have a question, Coun. Ryall?” said Danielsen.
“The housing justifies itself. The economy justifies itself. The taxation justifies itself,” Ryall said. “But the over-400 pages doesn’t.”
He listed four documents in the myriad of information given to councillors as the points of issue that needs their attention.
“The rest are FYI,” he said. “Is there any way, shape, or form that we can get a consolidated report from you (Stone) indicating, as Coun. Dailloux said, the things that we are accountable for making decisions on as opposed to all this stuff, which is important but has absolutely nothing to do with our decision-making.”
Coun. Murray Fearrey, Dysart’s mayor, said issues like stormwater management isn’t part of the county council’s decision.
“There are a lot of concerns,” Fearrey said. “Councillors hear that. I hear it and I know there’s concerns.
“But, on the other hand, who are we to listen to? Are we going to listen to professionals or are we going to listen to people who don’t want the development?”
Tony Usher, a planning consultant on behalf of Harburn Holdings, said the Official Plan amendment represents good planning and is in the public interest. The county’s own staff has said the application is supported by work done by qualified professionals. And, except for an archeological study, that work has been independently peer reviewed.
“No contrary technical reports have been put forward,” Usher said.
Then later: “My client and I continue to remain ready to try to accommodate resident concerns and improve mutual understanding,” he said. “The door is always open.”
Danielsen said she’s very much in support of protecting wetlands and lakes.
“Of course we need housing, we need it badly, but I am a bit concerned about the fact that there is some commercial component to this particular development,” she said.
“I’m concerned that the lake is at capacity. And I’m really concerned and ticked off to no end to hear about the amount of work that’s been done to clearcut the property to change the water courses.”
By James Matthews