Sabine Robarts, Planner, Bruce County,
Bruce County Planning & Economic Development Department,
Box 129, 578 Brown Street, Wiarton, ON., N0H 2T0.
Subject: Review of Official Plan for Tobermory, Lion’s Head and Ferndale.
Dear Ms. Robarts,
St. Edmunds Property Owners Inc. (SEPO) is a not for profit organization, established over thirty years ago by a group of Tobermory property owners and residents. The purpose then and as it is now, is to provide a collective voice for the property owners and residents of the community comprised of the former Township of St. Edmunds. The membership consists of 435 households or otherwise property owners with approximately 35% being permanent residents in the N0H 2R0 postal code area. The following commentary is specific to Tobermory.
SEPO’s goals are:
- Lead collective action in support of the long term affordable enjoyment of our properties in an unspoiled natural environment, and
- Encourage responsible attitudes for sustaining the high quality of life on our St. Edmunds properties.
These goals are not inconsistent with those set out in the Vision Statement of the Official Plan for Tobermory, Lions Head and Ferndale or, for that matter, in the Municipality’s Charter.
Regrettably, Tobermory is undergoing a transformation through largely poor or non existent planning as well as poor municipal management that is moving the community further and further away from the desired mandate of its constituents. Specifically, the rush to meet the needs of the overwhelming visitor traffic, brought on largely through Parks Canada and Provincial tourism promotional activity, has caused commercial developments that have directly impacted the enjoyment of residential properties around Big Tub Harbour as well as removing public access to the Gap. All this has occurred without any consultation or forethought of the long term impact to the many local residents who have devoted so much to the community over the years. Much has been said about the overcrowding during certain periods over the summer and, again due to poor planning, the inadequacy of the public infrastructure to handle the onslaught of visitors to Little Tub Harbour.
2011, in particular, has seen the approval by the County Planning Office and the Municipality of Northern Bruce Peninsula (MNBP) of a large number of developments by the tourist sector, including a hydraulic dock at the Gap, several parking lots and a motel that have all been approved with minimal or no input from the public.
This disregard for public opinion is directly attributable to the use of holding zone by-laws which exist on most commercially zoned properties in Tobermory.
This form of zoning has been in existence for a number of decades and it may have made sense when they were created. However, given the changing demographics of the residential population and the rapid increase in tourism to the former St. Edmunds (according to the National Park their visitor numbers have increased by 8 per cent per year since at least 2008) these holding zones that by-pass public input are like time bombs which periodically go off and deeply unsettle the public. They are in effect a planning tool that is demonstrably creating tension between the residential and commercial sectors of Tobermory.
SEPO will not assume your role as planner by going in detail through the Official Plan and identifying specific actions that have created problems in Tobermory and which are honoured more in the breach. We would, instead, prefer to draw your attention to the Major Community Goals in the current Official Plan which the Planning Department and the MNBP have significantly failed to achieve. These are:
- Goal (a) To create a positive economic climate. Based on recent letters to the Bruce Peninsula Press, letters to the Council of the MNBP, and the considerable feedback SEPO has received, we would argue that the climate in Tobermory is not positive.
- Goal (b) To protect the natural environment in order to ensure future economic growth. In our view the Province, through its regulations, does more to protect the natural environment than the MNBP which, while it says much, is more passive than active in its approach to the environment. Furthermore, SEPO believes that the natural environment in the MNBP is sufficiently unique that the Official Plan should protect it for its own sake and for posterity and not merely to ensure future economic growth.
- Goal (c) To provide that any development proceeds in a logical, progressive and economically sound manner. There is much evidence that the result of recent developments has been to cause rifts and tension between the residential and business communities in Tobermory. There is no doubt that this goal has been a failure. We would also suggest that the planning process, which has left the centre of the community, Little Tub Harbour, as an almost lifeless husk for two thirds of the year is a palpable failure of community planning. The current Official plan should be adjusted to ensure that more community and business activity returns to the Little Tub Harbour during the eight months when it is not inundated with tourists.
- Goal (d) To provide quality services to its residents. The lack of parking in the centre of the community of Tobermory has been a problem that has persisted for years and is exacerbated by the annual increases in tourist traffic. It significantly inconveniences residents who want to access their main shopping area and boaters who have difficulty in accessing the only boat launch in the area. The failure of the planners and the Council of the MNBP to address the problem of parking and traffic flow is at variance with this and other goals and a failure of the planning process.
- Goal (e) To work with the private and public sector to develop a common theme for building construction and appearance that enhances the appearance of the harbour areas, the downtowns, and the commercial areas along the Provincial Highway and County Roads. SEPO and other community organizations have frequently and always in vain approached Council to work with the municipality to achieve this goal. The inability of the Council to work with its residents through formal advisory committees has been a major impediment to achieving this goal.
Furthermore, SEPO would also like to draw your attention to Clause 5.15 (Public Consultation and a Fair and Timely Process) of the current Official Plan. This brief clause (five lines long) says nothing about how public consultation will be achieved. The current system of putting obscurely worded notices in the only local media (a monthly paper) and holding “public meetings” in the municipal offices located more than 40 minutes driving from three quarters of the population falls far short of the spirit of public consultation.
SEPO recognizes the difficulty of communicating with the population of a rural and linear municipality like the MNBP and accordingly, we have suggested establishing a Tobermory Advisory Committee (see below and the attached). Council’s refusal to explore the merits of this proposal and its quick rejection suggests that the MNBP is not interested in public consultation. This perception is reinforced by Council’s other rejections of attempts by the public to be consulted including, Council’s most recent rejection of a Municipal Heritage Committee.
SEPO would like to suggest that its proposal to establish a Tobermory Advisory Committee as a committee of council be revisited.
Progress is inevitable and thoughtful development is desirable. In April, 2008, a presentation was made to Council, proposing the establishment of a Tobermory Advisory Committee of Council. The Committee was to have the following mandate and objectives:
- The purpose of the Tobermory Advisory Committee of Council is to assist Council by broadening the scope of information that goes both into the identification of needs and thus into the decision-making process of Council affecting Tobermory and the Tobermory Community. The Tobermory Advisory Committee of Council will be only advisory in nature, and will have no other authority or mandate.
To organize and facilitate bi-monthly (once every two months) public meetings in Tobermory for the Tobermory Community to:
- express the Tobermory Community’s needs and concerns and to facilitate discussion,
- address matters referred to it by Council,
- arrive at a consensus or to take a vote regarding possible solutions or plans, and
- provide Council with regular reports of the above proceedings for its consideration
Other objectives of the Tobermory Advisory Committee of Council are to:
- act as liaison with community groups and council,
- assist Council with the research and any submission needed related to any grant monies that may become available from Federal, Provincial, or other bodies,
- assist Council in the implementation of any formal needs assessment and/or planning studies related to Tobermory,
- provide Council with advice, recommendations, knowledge and expertise regarding matters relating to Tobermory, and
- assist Council in other ways that Council deems appropriate.
The introductory wording to the presentation is attached. At the advice of its administrator, Council voted against this proposal.
Suffice to say that the establishment and existence of the proposed committee could have gone a long way towards avoiding, or at least minimizing the issues that the community has faced, particularly over the last year.
SEPO would like very much to remain involved in future discussions affecting the Official Plan. However, if we have learned anything from how badly development plans and approvals were handled in the recent past, it has become glaringly obvious that more dialogue is required with members of the community to avoid the acrimony that has evolved. Tobermory is a small community but it has tremendous complexity that cannot be managed from afar (the Municipal office) alone. By copy of this letter to the Mayor and Council of MNBP, we encourage that Council recognize this fact and reconsider the need for an advisory committee similar to what was proposed on April 24, 2008.
Udo Nixdorf, President,
St. Edmunds Property Owners Inc.
Cc Mayor & Council, Municipality of Northern Bruce Peninsula