When Will They Ever Learn: The Mississippi Mills Council meeting on November 19, 2019

Theresa Peluso

My understanding of good governance is that our elected representatives work TOGETHER in a constructive, respectful, intelligent way to make decisions and spend our taxes in providing basic services to us, their constituents, and enhancing our quality of life.  It seems that, for the most part, there is an effort by our current Councillors to honour this mandate, but unfortunately, in this meeting there were a few uncalled-for criticisms.

But let’s begin at the beginning.

How we plan for growth

The Director of Planning, Niki Dwyer, gave an overview of municipal planning for increasing residential development, including the decision-making process involved.  She explained that numerous provincial documents govern this process, with the Planning Act (Section 2) being the primary document.  The Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) is a secondary document, as are several other related documents.

The municipality is obligated to identify enough land for 20 years’ growth, based on population forecasts provided by the Province and the County, with priority given to intensification and infill within existing settlement boundaries.  Once identification of land within existing boundaries is completed, if it is insufficient to accommodate the forecasted accommodation needed, then the municipality needs to define a Settlement Boundary, which involves identifying new land for development, and related services (water, wastewater, etc.).  The PPS states that first of all, urban areas (in our case, Almonte) must be looked at, followed by rural settlement areas (villages, hamlets, subdivisions), and lastly, other rural areas – with only limited residential development allowed in rural areas. As a last resort, prime agricultural land can be considered, provided it is not significant agricultural land.  The identification of new land requires a Comprehensive Review, which reflects the projections and allocations from the County, considers alternative directions for growth, and determines how best to accommodate this growth while protecting provincial interests.

The County’s role is to take the data regarding population forecasts and employment projections and distribute it equitably over the whole county.  The County’s Sustainable Communities Official Plan (SCOP) defines the boundaries in all the municipalities within its jurisdiction, and so our municipality must get the County’s prior approval before making any changes of its own.  According to the SCOP, the County anticipates a 3 percent per annum population growth over the next 20 years, and of that percentage, has allocated 21,122 people to our municipality, which is in line with our historic growth.  (It’s interesting that the number is so precise!)  Since 2016, our municipality’s population has increased by 7.2 percent, resulting in 962 people moving here.

The Mississippi Mills Community Official Plan (COP) now states that 70 percent of new development is to occur within Almonte, with municipal services, and 30 percent in rural settlement areas, with private services (well, septic, etc.).  Possible changes to Almonte’s housing density and severances are being considered.  At this time, 70 percent of dwellings in Almonte are low-density (including semi-detached, duplexes, and triplexes) and 30 percent are medium-density (including fourplexes, townhouses and three-storey apartments).   To support this new development, the municipality is obligated to provide infrastructure for water, wastewater, roads, and parks.  Developers are responsible only for the construction of service infrastructure in the immediate vicinity of their projects.

To plan ahead for this projected growth, the municipality needs to have in place various documents, including a servicing master plan, a long-term financial plan, a development charge plan, and a strategic plan. Since a number of these documents are not yet updated or in place, Council needs to take action soon on this task.  Another missing piece of the puzzle is the new PPS which hasn’t yet been issued by the Province.  Planner Dwyer estimated that these documents could be in place by the second quarter of the new year.

Following Planner Dwyer’s presentation, the questions asked seemed to be constructive and pertinent to the topic.  It is to be hoped that our municipality will avoid the destruction of farmland and woodlands that, over the last 30 years, has resulted in urban sprawl on the outskirts of Ottawa and elsewhere.  Urban sprawl has greatly contributed to the decrease in our food security and the alarming increase in species extinctions as a result of habitat loss and increased pollution.

Roads and Public Works Report

During the Committee of the Whole (COW) portion of the meeting that followed, in response to the Roads and Public Works (R&PW) wild parsnip report, Councillor Maydan put forward a motion that staff consult with Friends of Lanark County (FOLC) regarding the Integrated Vegetation Management Plan, prior to R&PW submitting a revised report. (FOLC is a not-for-profit advocacy group working towards improved health and environmental issues in Lanark County.) This motion later passed unanimously!  Deputy Mayor Rickey Minnille stated that it would be helpful to invite delegations to speak to Council on this issue.

Building and Planning Report

As part of the Building and Planning report, it was recommended that Council approve a zoning by-law amendment regarding Strathburn Street, wherein the owners of two different properties had applied to have their lots extended by severing land from a larger adjacent property, with the full approval of the owner of this larger property.  At the previous public meeting on this amendment, there had been only one objector, who seemed to have persuaded Councillor Guerard to rehash his prior objections at this Council meeting on his behalf. Despite repeated explanations from Planner Dwyer about how and why these objections were unfounded, Councillor Guerard persisted. Towards the end of the evening, when this motion was to be voted on, Councillor Guerard asked for a recorded vote, which resulted in 6 yeas and 1 nay, hers being the only dissension.

During discussion of the Land Sale Bylaw, which it was recommended to repeal and replace, Councillor Jan Maydan made a point of requesting that an amendment be added to prevent existing parkland from being used for future housing developments.  Both Planner Dwyer and CAO Ken Kelly asked for Councillor Maydan to clarify what she meant by “existing parkland”, which turned out to be understandably complicated, as we learned.  It was decided that Councillor Maydan should give the matter further study, and re-introduce this motion at the next Council meeting.

Administration and Finance Report

During this part of the meeting, there was good evidence of collaboration in discussing development of the Business Park Lands, and implementation of the Recreation and Cultural Service Delivery Review (SDR).  It was decided to have Novatech Engineering provide a tender package for the development of Phase 3.  It was agreed to have the recommendations of the SDR included in the upcoming strategic plan discussions.

County Council Report

The meeting proceeded fairly smoothly until shortly after Deputy Mayor Minnille proudly announced that he had been bestowed with a fancy silver chain as part of Lanark County’s award of first place this year in the Silver Chain Challenge, which is a friendly competition among counties in Eastern Ontario to inspire and promote more active and healthier communities through cycling. Within our County, Mississippi Mills residents had recorded over 23,000 km out of the County total of just over 50,000 km; hence Deputy Mayor Minnille’s shining moment.

Then the excrement hit the rotating blades, so to speak.  Out of the blue, apropos of nothing, and nowhere on the agenda of this evening’s Council meeting, Councillor Guerard asked about a no-parking zone that had been identified on a short length of Waba Road in Pakenham, between Isabella and Dalkieth streets.  Because this road is a County road, it had been necessary for our municipality to discuss the issue with Lanark County, and apparently, as Mayor Christa Lowry explained, in the process there had been a mix-up in the communications between the two levels of government, which resulted in a delay in the issue being resolved.  One reason for the mix-up was that it was somewhat unusual for the County to be requesting Mississippi Mills’ opinion on this no-parking question. What blew this whole matter up out of all proportion to the question seemed to be the involvement of a local so-called taxpayers’ group, which was alluded to by Councillor Denzil Ferguson.  Councillor Guerard railed at length about the lack of due process, the lack of police records, the lack of public consultation, etc., etc., and finished by publicly levelling an accusation, without cause, at Councillor Ferguson that he had gone over the heads of Mississippi Mills Council to make arrangements with the County.  Mayor Lowry immediately intervened, stating that it was inappropriate for Councillor Guerard to infer that a fellow Councillor behaved incorrectly.  Councillor Guerard then acknowledged that she needed training.  Finally, CAO Kelly said he would ask the County to print out the proper procedure to follow for situations such as this, for future reference.

The rest of the meeting shambled towards the end, in a more or less predictable manner.

Conclusion

During this meeting, it seemed that the majority of our Councillors were behaving civilly.  Not only is this a sign of good governance, it is also an effective way of making the municipal workplace a positive environment for our staff.  If nothing else, it fosters employee retention, which if we fail at that, we lose continuity of service, and incur additional expenses by replacing the staff who leave.  For God’s sake, let’s not add pointless stress to the working lives of our employees, who excel at their jobs.  Besides which, it shouldn’t be necessary to remind our Councillors that everyone, including staff, needs to be treated with respect.

One last thing.  Every single one of our Councillors should be mature enough to realize that special interest groups have no place in interfering with the good governance of our community.  There will always be people who don’t agree with the decisions that are made; however, there is no place for sabotaging the work of either staff or other Councillors, and any effort to do this should be rejected out of hand.

Millstone readers are encouraged to express their support of good governance to Council and staff.  I truly hope that this message comes through loud and clear, and that future Council meetings are positive and productive.