The Official Plan – A Resident’s Guide

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The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing defines an official plan: “An official plan describes your municipal council’s policies on how land in your community should be used. It is prepared with input from you and others in your community and helps to ensure that future planning and development will meet the specific needs of your community”. Sounds like exciting stuff, right? Well, it may not be exciting, but it sure is important, and you may not realize how important it is until you run into a situation like a local business did recently.

Just some of the reasons why an official plan is needed are: it lets the public know what the municipality’s land use planning policies are; it helps residents of a community understand how their land may be used now and in the future. It helps decide where roads, watermains, sewers, landfills, parks and other services will be built. It provides a framework for establishing municipal zoning bylaws to set local regulations and standards, like the size of lots and the height of buildings. It provides a way to evaluate and settle conflicting land uses while meeting local, regional and provincial interests.

Why is this important to the average resident of North Grenville? Consider these two scenarios. You own a home which is beside a big empty piece of property. You love the peace and quiet of your home. You wake up one morning to a bunch of heavy machinery digging up the property next to you. You remember seeing a letter about something, but you were busy and forgot to go back and read it. You eventually find out that a big new building is being built there, and that the property is about to become a gravel pit, with heavy trucks coming and going all day long. You immediately get upset about this violation of the tranquility and potential loss of value of your property. Then you find out through the municipality that the big piece of property has been approved for these types of uses since the last Official Plan and that there’s little that you can do to stop this construction.

Or, the second scenario: You own a business and the property on which it operates. Your business has become successful, and is growing to the point that you realize that you’re going to have to expand your building to accommodate this new business growth. You go to the municipal offices to get a building permit, and you’re told that you can’t expand your building because the area that your property is in is now zoned as residential, not commercial, due to zoning bylaw changes from the last Official Plan. You also find out that your property is ‘legal non-conforming’. This means that operating your current business on your property is legal, despite the fact that it does not conform to permitted uses in the current zoning bylaw. Nevertheless you’re officially ‘non-conforming’, which means that zoning bylaws can limit your ability to repair or renovate your building, or may even limit how you can use your property.

It’s critical that residents understand how these types of plans can impact their day-to-day lives, their businesses, their future plans, their ability to enjoy or utilize their own property, and their personal finances. Being unaware of the contents of the Official Plan, and its potential impact on you, could possibly cost you tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. It might also cost you your dream of starting a business, raising chickens on your property, or building that ‘ultimate workshop’ that you’ve always wanted.

Come to the open house and public meeting and get answers to your questions. If you can’t make it to these events, email your questions, concerns, or comments to Planner Phil Mosher at [email protected], or call 613-258-9569 ext. 118.

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