Monday, February 10, 2014

Maintaining Our Small-Town Feel As We Grow

As I have written here several times, Pelham contains much land set aside for new growth.

The largest is in the “East Fonthill” area – between Rice Road and Station Street / Steve Bauer Trail and from Regional Road 20 to the Town’s boundary (south of Merritt Street).

While much of these nearly 450 acres are currently farmed, the entire area was added to the Urban Area by an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) in 2000. (Questions about whether the Town should grow on those lands were asked and answered during the OMB’s consideration nearly 15 years ago.)

This 2000 OMB decision disallowed the inclusion of any lands East of Rice Road in the Urban Area and required the Town to undertake a “Secondary Plan” before allowing development to proceed.

All Towns and Cities must have “Official Plans” which contain planning policies and outlines where commercial, agricultural, industrial, and residential developments can occur. It uses a series of maps to demonstrate those areas.

Like an Official Plan covering the entire Town, a “Secondary Plan” contains detailed policies and guidelines for growth and development for a specific area – in this case, this East Fonthill area.

When the Province dramatically altered their planning policies in the mid-2000s – adding the Greenbelt, “Places to Grow”, and the Provincial Policy Statement – the Town needed to realign our own policies. That’s one of the major reasons why it took until October 2012 to finally approve the East Fonthill Secondary Plan.

The other major reason is because Council and I worked to ensure that the Plan maintains our small-town feel as we grow. You see, the East Fonthill Secondary Plan includes several important features:

  • ensuring a well-designed, attractive, pedestrian-friendly development with a mixture of housing types;
  • encouraging significant commercial and mixed-use development – medical, retirement housing, recreational facilities potential – while at the same time connecting and protecting Downtown Fonthill;
  • providing a “Greenlands System” that protects existing environmental features and integrates with the Steve Bauer Trail; and
  • developing a pedestrian / cyclist-friendly and transit-ready road network.

If approved in 2012, why hasn’t development occurred in the East Fonthill area yet? A developer, the Province, and Lafarge Canada appealed the Town’s Official Plan and this Secondary Plan to the Ontario Municipal Board. Following much discussion and some minor wording changes, the OMB approved the Secondary Plan on 30 January 2014. (The OMB will consider the remainder of the Town’s Official Plan during a pre-hearing on 11 March 2014.)

With this OMB hurtle crossed, the first-phases of construction in East Fonthill should begin this year and Pelham can maintain our small-town feel as we grow into a stronger, more complete community.