The crowd may have been small, but the topics were big at the first Grey Highlands town hall meeting in Feversham.
Grey Highlands council held its first public town hall meeting at the Osprey Community Centre on May 23. A small crowd of ten local residents attended the meeting, which was an opportunity for citizens to speak directly to council about their concerns in a less formal format.
Topics such as budget surpluses, official plan and zoning bylaw updates, proposed provincial planning policy changes and affordable housing were addressed during the meeting.
Gary Gingras asked council why budget surpluses were not used to lower the tax bill for local ratepayers. Grey Highlands recorded a surplus of $85,000 in its 2022 budget.
“A surplus is always a good thing,” said Gingras. “Why not put it back into the budget to lower the tax rate?”
Stacie Howe raised the topic of the zoning bylaw update that Grey Highlands has just begun. She noted that usually zoning flows out of a community’s official plan and asked why the zoning update was coming first.
“Things seem to be going backwards,” said Howe.
In response, Deputy Mayor Dane Nielsen encouraged Howe and all residents to watch the recording of the committee of the whole meeting on the zoning bylaw update held on May 9. Nielsen said that Matt Rapke, manager of planning, explained the reasons for the zoning update being the first process.
Nielsen said the municipality plans to “clear up our zoning bylaw and then go into an official plan review."
Mayor Paul McQueen added that the zoning bylaw is 20 years old and badly needs a refresh. He also said the province is proposing many planning changes that will impact the official plan. The mayor also encouraged local residents to get involved in the zoning update process.
“It’s so important you do get involved. When the maps come out, look at your property. Get involved and look at those maps,” said McQueen. “It’s so important.
Hugh Simpson asked if council had taken a position on the provincial government’s proposal to open up the number of severances a rural/agricultural property can attain. Simpson noted that the province is considering a change that would allow up the three severances per farm, with two homes allowed on each lot.
“I’d like to hear what Grey Highlands council thinks,” he said. “(The proposal) will fundamentally change the landscape and experience of Grey Highlands.”
McQueen said council had discussed and debated the provincial proposals and had approved a letter being sent to the province expressing two main concerns. The first is the relatively short period of time the province is allowing for comments on the proposals. The second was the removal of municipal autonomy over the planning policies.
Coun. Nadia Dubyk said the government is focusing a lot of attention on communities around the province.
“They are putting more pressure on municipalities. It does make the job tougher,” she said.
Stewart Halliday, a former deputy mayor of Grey Highlands, spoke to council about affordable housing. Halliday encouraged council to make bold decisions on affordable housing and to remember the municipality’s vision statement in its official plan.
“Sometimes you have to think about these things and you can’t necessarily be afraid of what’s happening,” said Halliday, who asked council to put measurable indicators in place to gauge progress on issues like affordable housing. “You need action plans. If you don’t have action plans and timelines, you won’t accomplish anything. Time is of the essence. You have to get things done.”
At the conclusion of the meeting, McQueen praised those who attended and participated.
“This is our first kick and it was great. There was good dialogue and good discussion,” he said.
The next town hall meeting will be held on August 15 at the Rocklyn Community Centre.