The new council for the Town of The Blue Mountains will make the final decision on the fate of the town’s Official Plan (OP) update.
At its committee of the whole meeting on Sept. 13, council voted in favour of approving Phase 1 of the OP review in principle, but will not send the package of OP updates and changes to Grey County for approval. The committee decision must be ratified at council’s next regular meeting on Sept. 26.
The debate about the matter was filled with twists and turns as members of council returning for the next term or running for reelection advocated a full deferral of Phase 1, while the members of council who are retiring from local government were opposed to that option.
A motion to defer the review to the next council was defeated in a 3-3 vote with Deputy Mayor Peter Bordignon and councillors Paula Hope and Andrea Matrosovs in favour and Mayor Alar Soever and councillors Rob Sampson and Bill Abbotts opposed. Coun. Jim Uram was absent.
A subsequent motion to approve Phase 1 in principle, but to take no further action and leave the final decision in the hands of the new council passed 3-2 with Matrosovs, Sampson and Abbotts in favour and Hope and Bordignon opposed. By the time of the second vote, Soever had departed the meeting for a medical appointment.
Town staff presented the final report on Phase 1 of the OP review and recommended council approve the package of updates and changes and have them sent to Grey County council for final approval.
Staff provided five options for council to consider including: deferring to the next council; adopting in principle with the new council to make the final decision, adopt and hold, which would see the town approve Phase 1 but ask county council to take no action on the file until Phase 2 work is completed; adopt in part, which would see council adopt some of the items in Phase 1, but not all; and adopt in full and sent to the county for approval.
The town has been working on Phase 1 since July 2021 and has put together a package of changes and updates to guide planning in the town for the next several years. The most controversial changes revolve around density, height and community character. The proposed changes suggest six storey buildings could be permitted in the town in certain areas under strict controls. The full report on the proposed changes can be found here.
The package of changes has proved to be controversial with the public and multiple letters opposing the adoption Phase 1 were read during the public comment portion of the meeting before the committee considered the staff report.
Matrosovs argued it wasn’t appropriate for the current council to approve half an OP update and pass the other half to the new council.
“To hand over half the decision now and say “go do the other half” doesn’t resonate with me. We need to hold it in place and hand it over to the new council,” she said.
Hope said the community had spoken clearly and prefers council hold off to let the new council to be elected in a few weeks make the decision.
“I feel quite strongly that the community does not want to make a decision at this point,” said Hope. “There isn’t a mandate anymore in my view for this council to make such a big decision.”
Abbotts said the work on the OP review had been done, staff recommended approval and the proposed policy changes address needs in the town.
“I have lived here 75 years and I have gone through quite a few changes. I’ve got grandkids who can’t live here, they can’t afford to,” said Abbotts. “We can’t keep spreading out. We have to go up. I completely agree with six storeys. I don’t see any reason to defer.”
Sampson said he had concerns a deferral would reset the process.
“I too am having difficulty with the defer thing, it seems to be we’d be starting from scratch,” he said. “We have five-storey buildings in this town. I live next to one. It’s far more affordable to build up, it’s just the way it is.”