The Rural Municipality of Malpeque Bay Proposed Official Plan
Introduction: The Municipality of Malpeque Bay includes the communities of Indian River, Hamilton, Malpeque, Baltic, Spring Valley, Darnley, and Sea View. In September of 2007 the Municipality applied for project funding under the Canada-PEI Capacity Building Fund Program to prepare a proposed Official Plan. The application was approved, Council appointed a Planning Board, and work began in April, 2008 with project completion scheduled for March, 2010. A cornerstone of the project is public consultation to identify key planning issues and preferred options for addressing them in a proposed Official Plan.
Why Have An Official Plan? Residents and Council presently have little involvement with decisions about land use within the Municipality; decisions are made by government in accordance with Provincial legislation and regulations. An approved Official Plan would transfer certain authorities (for example, with respect to subdivision approvals, building permits, and proposed developments) to the Municipality, and enable residents and Council to have a degree of control over future land use decisions. An Official Plan can not set lower standards than what is set by Provincial regulations, but it can be crafted so as to meet the specific needs and aspirations of our residents, and make best use of our human and natural resources. If a municipality decides to engage in municipal planning, it does so with an Official Plan and a Land Use/Zoning Bylaw pursuant to the Planning Act of P.E.I.
Implementation of an Approved Official Plan: After developing a proposed Official Plan and receiving approval from the Minister, the Municipality will have to implement it and enforce its regulations. How this is to be done will be addressed within implementation-administration components of the proposed Official Plan, which will give residents and Council an opportunity to re-evaluate whether or not they really wish to proceed. There are resource and cost considerations to be considered as well as possible legal liabilities. Staff from the department of Communities, Cultural Affairs and Labour have attended one of our public meetings and presented information on the opportunities, responsibilities, and other considerations related to implementation of an approved Official Plan.
Vision and Goal(s): It is important for residents of the Municipality to have a shared vision and goal(s) for the future that provides direction and guidance for the Official Plan. The shared vision and goal(s) may need to be reviewed and revised over time as circumstances change, but in the meantime they will provide direction and guidance as planning issues arise and options for issue resolution are being considered. For example, in its Official Plan the Community of North Shore had a vision of maintaining the rural-agricultural character of community while encouraging coastal development. As a consequence it separated land use planning into two zones, the coastal area zone and the remaining agricultural area zone, and developed specific regulations for each zone. We need to develop a shared vision and goal(s) for the Municipality of Malpeque Bay that accurately reflects the values and aspirations of our residents (both permanent and seasonal) as well as our human and natural resources.
Social and Economic Trends: An Official Plan should consider demographic trends based on data available from national, provincial and local sources. We have little capacity for gathering new data, but we can make use of data available from Statistics Canada (based on Census Districts) and other available sources of information to identify trends in age, education, income, etc. Socio-economic trends need to be considered in order that the plan reflects what the municipality will be like 15 years from now.
Coastal Zone Development: The coastal zone of the Municipality already is subject to considerable development pressure. There are 16 coastal subdivisions of over 25 approved lots within the Municipality (8 with over 50), and more are anticipated given current demand for attractive coastal properties. There is concern that all this development diminishes the aesthetic qualities of the coastal zone, ruining view-planes, limiting access to the shore, and reducing the attractiveness of the area to both residents and tourists. The quality of coastal wetlands is threatened by development. There are significant issues related to actual and potential groundwater contamination from septic fields on approved lots that are too small or too concentrated. Saltwater intrusion induced by excessive withdrawals from groundwater aquifers also may be an issue.
Access to the Shore: Lack of access to the shore already is an issue, and there is concern that access may be even more restricted in the future. This issue is linked to coastal zone development, as traditional points of access become encompassed by subdivisions. The historical atlases of P.E.I. (1880 and 1928) seem to show points of public access that may not exist today (i.e. Darnley Point) and there are other locations where people feel public access is restricted unduly by development. Visitors to the area are left wondering where they can get to the shore. Disputes, where they exist, could be addressed through legalistic means or through negotiation or mediation. Access to the shore is a topic that should be discussed during the process of preparing an Official Plan to evaluate if the issue merits Municipal action.
Sustainable Agriculture: Much of the Municipality is prime agricultural land and many of our permanent residents derive their livelihood from agriculture, either directly or indirectly. Agricultural issues such as groundwater contamination from pesticides and erosion-siltation receive widespread publicity throughout P.E.I., but at the same time the entire farm economy is in crisis. What role can an Official Plan play regarding agricultural issues without adding to the crisis? Agriculture is seen as the foundation that drives our communities and we need to keep it going. The challenge for an Official Plan is identify ways that it can support our farmers and contribute to sustainable agriculture, while still addressing agricultural issues that affect land use and the quality of the environment.
Watershed Management: The department of Environment, Energy and Forestry has a program to support non-government initiatives for watershed management. Within the Municipality groups from Sea View and Indian River have been active for years on projects such as stream habitat enhancement and tree planting. A move is underway to amalgamate the numerous small 'Kensington North' watersheds under a single organization, and encourage development of a watershed management plan (Which could include all of the Municipality, plus an area further East to French River). If this proceeds there are obvious reasons for collaboration between municipal planning and watershed planning, and it may be possible to support implementation of watershed initiatives through the Official Plan and its bylaws.
Green Initiatives: With global warming and greenhouse gas emissions as major issues of the day, what should the Municipality of Malpeque Bay be doing in an Official Plan to encourage 'green' initiatives? Five years ago proposed siting of a major wind turbine complex on the Malpeque peninsula resulted in considerable debate. Are large wind turbines problems that residents don't want, or are they the future of green energy? What about other potential sources of green energy, such as solar? Through this planning process residents have an opportunity to identify preferred green initiatives, and to define which areas of the Municipality, if any, could be acceptable sites for green projects.
Future Steps: At this point the Planning Board is giving priority to obtaining feedback from residents of the Municipality, both permanent residents and seasonal residents, regarding these (and other) planning issues. Some opportunities for you to provide feedback include:
1. August 16th and 17th at the Kensington Community Harvest Festival, where the Planning Board will have a booth;
2. August 27th when the Planning Board is preparing to hold an afternoon workshop on planning issues for interested citizens, followed by an evening public meeting (check the next issue of the Courier for details); and
3. By contacting members of the Planning Board (Chair Jeremy Stiles at 836-4964 or Jimmy Carruthers at 836-5339 or Stephane Senechal at 836-4185), or Hal Mills (Planning Board staff person) at 621-0224.
By Hal Mills