Council rejects planning policy over glamping site

Mandatory site-plan control in question

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Mayor Kristal Chopp won a battle this week in her campaign against red tape in Norfolk’s planning department.

In a significant deviation from current policy, Norfolk council denied a staff recommendation Tuesday to put a glamorous camping development near Port Dover under site-plan control.

Chopp was in the chair for the public meeting under the Planning Act.

When confronted with the staff proposal, Chopp commented that she didn’t expect to deal with the issue of site-plan control this early in her mandate.

Nevertheless, Chopp reminded staff and council that the Planning Act reserves site-plan control for the construction or placement of new buildings and structures, the establishment of commercial parking lots, and significant alterations to a property.

Chopp said the placement of all commercial and industrial developments under site-plan control is a “Norfolk County-ism” that deviates from provincial legislation.

“We have to start respecting the intention of the Ontario legislature,” Chopp said.

Council agreed. It even turned down a planning staff suggestion that the “glamping” proposal be subject to “minor site plan control.”

At issue was a proposal to establish 10 glamorous camping sites at a rural property at 524 St. John’s Road East.

Glamorous camping – or “glamping” – is for people who enjoy camping but don’t like roughing it in the wild. Glamping involves deluxe tents or mini-cabins with amenities one wouldn’t expect to find at a regular campground.

Sponsor of the project is Jonathon and Caroline Jager. Their property backs onto the Lynn River in a picturesque area north of Port Dover.

Developments under site-plan control are required to provide professional responses to questions planning staff feel necessary to ask. Applicants are required to design and execute a site plan that meets planning department specifications.

In some cases, site-plan control can be an expensive, time-consuming process. County staff can request traffic studies, engineering reports, environmental assessments or any other professional report that helps them assess a planning issue.

Norfolk’s planning department adopted a policy of mandatory site-plan control for all commercial and industrial developments two years ago. At the time, Chris Baird – Norfolk’s current general manager of public works – was general manager of planning and economic development.

At the time, Baird explained that the county was fielding too many complaints from adjoining property owners about commercial and industrial developments that were not done to county standards.

Retroactive repairs were sometimes required at county expense. The county’s solution was to put these developments under site-plan control and guide them to a successful, problem-free conclusion every step of the way.

During the recent municipal election campaign, opposition to this policy was a key plank in Mayor Chopp’s platform.

Chopp says mandatory site-plan control where it isn’t required is expensive, deters investment, and frustrates people who want to do creative things. So far, the new council elected Oct. 22 agrees with her.

“I know what the applicant is trying to do,” Windham Coun. Chris Van Paassen said of the glamping application. “I don’t see the need for site-plan control.”

The Jagers and their engineering consultant John Vallee, of Simcoe, breathed a sign of relief after council’s decision.

Vallee said the site-plan control waiver saved his clients a $730 application fee, spared them the cost of any number of reports and studies, and shortened the approval process by several months.

Vallee is a veteran of steering development applications through the county process. Vallee was asked if he agreed with Chopp’s interpretation of the Planning Act and the site-plan control process.

“That’s a hard one,” Vallee said. “I’m staying out of that fight.”