The Huron County Official Plan review is nearing approval
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
After years of work, the five-year review for the Huron County Official Plan has been completed by the Planning and Development Department and Planner Monica Walker-Bolton and will be up for final approval next month.
Walker-Bolton presented the proposed changes to Huron County Council at a special meeting of council on April 7. She outlined the changes being made and the process the department embarked upon to arrive where it did.
The process began in 2019 with a series of workshops, pop-up information tables at public events and presentations at lower-tier council meetings. In November of 2019, a draft copy of the update was sent to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing for review and comment, which came back to the county in March of 2020. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, further discussions were delayed several months as a result.
Final verbal comments on the proposed update were finally received in January of 2021, clearing the way for public consultation ahead of final approval.
Walker-Bolton told councillors that a public open house, held via Zoom, was held on March 30, which had over 15 members of the public present to discuss a range of topics.
The five-year review includes policies to address climate change, updated language regarding public consultation and consultation with Indigenous communities, the inclusion of Drinking Water Source Protection policies, updates to reflect Huron County’s economic development strategy, policy updates to the agriculture, natural environment, extractive resources, settlement patterns and community services sections of the plan as identified through the consultation process and policy additions to reflect changes to the Provincial Policy Statement. There are also a number of housing policies in the update, including defining the term “attainable housing” and recognition of community support for a wide variety of housing types and forms and permitting the reallocation of settlement area designations to respond to housing demand.
The process, Walker-Bolton said, represented the continuation of a process of planning in the county that has been ongoing since the 1970s when Huron County’s first Official Plan was developed. The county, she said, was one of the first regions in Ontario to have its own Official Plan at the time.
As part of the special council meeting, members of the public were invited to take part and have their say on any of the changes.
Joelle Lamport-Lewis of the United Way’s Social Research and Planning Council spoke first, praising the department for its foresight in including terms like attainable housing, saying it was an important step.
Chris Spaleta then commended the department for its changes to include infrastructure for electric vehicle charging, but then contended that the plan didn’t go far enough. He felt there should be a real push to install chargers throughout the county in the next five or 10 years.
Spaleta emphasized the installation of a charger specifically for Tesla vehicles, saying the county needed to express interest with the company to have one installed, and no one in Huron County had done so yet. He said the county should be the first to express interest, so one isn’t installed on private land, making it potentially more difficult for drivers.
Past-Warden Jim Ginn agreed with Spaleta wholeheartedly, saying he had been pushing for a greater electric vehicle charging infrastructure in Huron County for years. Councillor John Grace also agreed, saying some work to install chargers in Goderich was underway.
The final speaker was Tony McQuail, who said the plan update took some positive steps, but that it didn’t go far enough to address climate change.
He compared the existential threat of climate change to the current challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that while the virus threatens lives, climate change is threatening the very existence of the human race.
While the effects of climate change are being felt by humans at a relatively slow rate, McQuail said, it’s important to note that in terms of geological time, the effects are like an avalanche and time is quickly running out.
Councillor Dave Jewitt agreed with McQuail and talked about the need for Huron County to rethink its economics, which has been evidenced in the short-term by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The five-year review of the Huron County Official Plan will be up for approval at the May 5 meeting of Huron County Council.