The purpose of this letter is to clarify my reason for seeking a delay in the proposed bylaw which would restrict the freedom of three hundred plus Almonte property owners to make architectural changes to their property until the Heritage Conservation District bylaw is implemented next Spring.
I can understand people wondering why I am seeking the delay, as I am well known in our community as an outspoken promoter of the value of the architectural and natural character of our community. In fact, I believe it is our key asset for future growth and I have been consistent with this vision over twenty years. I have had the good fortune to have chaired two Official Plans. Both were long and consensus building processes with the primary benefit being the transformation of “Official Plans” into “Community Official Plans”.
Through careful and respectful consultations this process gave voice to the many views valuing the physical attractiveness of the community. It was all done in a consultative and respectful manner which included business real estate interests, environmental interests and social interests. During many stages of the process, interests appeared far apart . Careful listening and consensus building during the process created common purpose. This involved groups engaging in many difficult dialogues. Through this process the business/real estate interests accepted the physical and natural characteristics of our community as key to our quality of life and development opportunities. The win-win scenario was achieved.
Furthermore, having laid this foundation, I was the councillor who initiated the need to have a heritage district study done. This was done in June 2013, in part, in response to the Enerdu project and most importantly, because I strongly believed a heritage conservation district was needed to bring tremendous value to Almonte for generations.
For me, the problem with the current motion is the lack of process. Never, in my experience, has the municipality enacted such a restriction without open consultation. (It should be noted the Planning Act would require pre-consultation) The best and strongest foundations of our community are built upon respect, discussion, consultation and collaboration. A restrictive law with no consultation leads to enmity, anger and frustration and is counter to the principles of democracy whether it be at the federal, provincial or municipal level.
To be truthful, the proposed bylaw is aimed at only one project, the Enerdu micro-hydro installation. I share with many people a deep concern over what the impact will be on the downtown river environment. I am also well aware of the popular belief the developer has ignored local community groups. I cannot answer for the developer on this matter. The fact is, there has been no request to the developer by Council to discuss the project and now Council is apparently intent to restrict its development before even offering the common courtesy of a meeting.
The only request I have for Council is that before we enact punitive and restrictive measures against the Enerdu project or any other business or residential project, that the municipality sit down and discuss our differences in the hopes of finding common purpose. Every neighbour in our community deserves this respect, even the prickly ones. The true test of our values of community, neighbourliness and collaboration is when disagreements must be solved.
Enacting a Heritage Conservation District is something I have patiently and quietly worked toward for fifteen years. To survive the test of time, a designated Heritage District must be based on mutual respect and working together. What would we profit as a community, if we preserve a streetscape, a building or a view but abandon our respect for each other and our neighbourly respect for one another?
At this time when emotions are running high, we need step back from the brink and value the interrelationships of people and neighbours in the making of our community. This must include the difficult conversations where differences appear insurmountable.
The Municipality cannot abandon process and needs to honour the values of discussion and consensus-building as the first step. Ultimately, a process of discussion and collaboration by the Municipality with the Enerdu developer may fail. In this case, the Municipality needs to act in the larger interest as identified in the Community Official Plan and the proposed Heritage District. However, as a Municipality we cannot take a shortcut and bypass the first step.
I hope this has helped you to understand more fully my position.