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Five highlights from Simcoe County's public sessions on growth planning

Public feedback on the County of Simcoe’s municipal comprehensive review will be accepted until Nov. 12
2020-03-11 County JO-001
County of Simcoe council chambers. Jessica Owen/BarrieToday

Residents, developers, special-interest groups and others had their voices heard during eight more public information sessions as part of the County of Simcoe’s first municipal comprehensive review on Oct. 18 and 19.

The review is a planning exercise where the County of Simcoe will meet with all upper and lower-tier municipalities that are subject to Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. As Official Plans must conform to the provincial policy, the growth plan requires that certain elements have to come through a municipal comprehensive review.

Specific topics that will be covered through the review include growth management/land needs assessment, natural heritage system mapping, agricultural system mapping, climate change and watershed management.

During a public information session on overall growth and preliminary population allocations, which took place on Oct. 5, many residents expressed concerns. To read our story on that session, click here.

Here are five highlights from this week’s public consultation sessions.

1. Natural Heritage Mapping

As part of Monday’s session on natural heritage mapping, consultants discussed changes being recommended by the province to refine Simcoe County’s map.

As part of those changes, 146 patches of land totalling an area of 1,444.76 hectares have been recommended as additions to the natural heritage system. About 379 patches are recommended for removal from the system totalling 4,521.28 hectares.

2. Climate change

According to the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, in Simcoe County, it is expected that average annual temperatures will increase by approximately 3.5 degrees Celsius by 2050 resulting in a climate similar to that of the state of Kentucky, which has relatively hot, humid, rainy summers, and more moderate cold and rainy winters.

Currently, county-wide, Collingwood and Wasaga Beach have both declared a climate emergency. Midland, Penetanguishene, Oro-Medonte, Severn, Tay and Tiny all participated in the development of a Local Climate Change Action Plan prepared by Sustainable Severn Sound.

3. Watershed management

During a session on watershed management, some special interest groups spoke up to identify concerns about the order in which the review was being undertaken.

“This whole exercise is about growth and accommodating growth. In my opinion, growth is a massive problem for water quality. These kinds of (conversations) should have happened long before we started talking about population allocations,” said Claire Malcolmson of the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition. “We haven’t even really talked about water quality. How are people supposed to comment on this and what kinds of comments would actually be helpful?”

“The watershed plan is not the answer to all questions,” said Ron Scheckenberger, consultant with Wood Environment & Infrastructure Solutions who is overseeing the watershed management portion of the review. “We’re assessing and evaluating information and once we’ve done that, we’ll identify where there are gaps.”

4. Prime agricultural land

Currently, the prime agricultural area in the Simcoe County Official Plan has an area of 154,252 hectares (33.4 per cent of the county).

The province is proposing to add about 57,418 hectares of prime agricultural area to the total. The total amount of prime agricultural area proposed is 211,670 hectares, which translates into 45.8 per cent of the county.

“We’re encouraged that they want to expand the area to 211,000 hectares,” said Dave Ritchie, representing the Simcoe County Federation of Agriculture. “The question at the back of our minds is... where are we going to find this land to expand our agricultural base given the pressures on land development?”

Nick McDonald, of Meridian Planning Consultants, said it was an issue that’s top-of-mind.

“We’ll be making every effort through our process... to ensure that impacts to agriculture are minimized,” said McDonald.

5. Moving forward

Public comments on the municipal comprehensive review are being accepted until Nov. 12.

More information on each topic, the option to sign up for regular updates as well as contact information on how you can submit feedback can be found here.

Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen brings 12 years of experience to her role as regional reporter for Village Media, primarily covering County of Simcoe matters, education and features.
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