After reading Pam Fulford's letter in the Holiday Season issue of Lake Simcoe Living Magazine, many people wanted to know how to help.
If you missed her letter, which starts on Page 6, here it is:
STRAWBERRY ISLAND — AN ISSUE FOR ALL OF US
We love living in the Lake Simcoe area. But protecting the health of the lake just got a little harder. On July 27, 2015, Ramara Township Council adopted Official Plan Amendment 18 (OPA 18) for Strawberry Island that allows the construction of up to 80 condo units at the housing density of 13 units/hectare, the same density as the town of Brechin.
Let’s back up just a bit. In the November/December 2014 issue of Lake Simcoe Living, I reported that Ramara Township had received official plan amendment and zoning change applications from Trans America Group to build 120 condominium units, including 52 two-storey cottages, five multi-unit, three-storey buildings, a recreation hall, a sewage plant to handle up to 137,282 litres of sewage per day and facilities to sprawl across the small, ecologically important Strawberry Island in Lake Simcoe. The details of the development application described in this article are dated as of September 2015. Any revisions by the applicant after this date are not included.
Strawberry Island is 10 hectares (25 acres) in size or about the same size as 10 rugby fields. The island is important for its First Nations and Orillia history, forest, wetlands, significant wildlife habitat, species at risk and untouched shoreline, all of which are rapidly disappearing from the Lake Simcoe Watershed. This development will destroy about five hectares (12 acres) of forest, destroy wetland function, decrease the number of area-sensitive wildlife species currently on the island, increase phosphorus loading to Lake Simcoe from current levels, and could harm the lake trout and whitefish spawning grounds along the southern shore of the island. First Nations archaeological artifacts dating back to the Woodland era have been found on the island where Pope John Paul II vacationed in 2002.
Every Ramara Council member voted in favour of OPA 18, except for one. To his credit, Mayor Basil Clarke voted against the motion, due to his concerns about the development’s size and impact. The development is planned to sprawl across the island, leaving only a narrow 30 metre strip of trees around the shoreline. Even that will be cut into for “a reasonable provision of views,” according to the consultants’ reports. Buildings can be 14 metres (46’) high, taller than many of the existing trees.
Ramara has requested Simcoe County give OPA 18 final approval. The fate of Strawberry Island is now in the hands of Simcoe County Council, with a decision expected in the spring.
In my 25 years as a professional biologist working for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and municipalities, I have never before seen a planning document reverse environmental gains made through a year of negotiations and at the same time advance habitat destruction as OPA 18 plans to do. OPA 18 gave the applicant more than they originally requested, for a development that should be designed in the most conservative way under the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan (LSPP) and Act (LSPA). Unjustified and surprise revisions were made to the development application and OPA 18 without public knowledge until the day it was discussed and voted on by Ramara Committee of the Whole on July 20. Significant resident concerns were ignored in OPA 18 after a petition was signed by more than 1,700 people to keep the zoning rural. These valid concerns, regarding woodland and shoal destruction, increased phosphorus loads, docking, traffic and parking congestion remain unresolved in OPA 18.Many questions can be asked about Ramara OPA 18, some of which I raised in a recent letter to Ramara Council on Sept. 1, 2015. Unfortunately, Ramara Council has now silenced opposition to OPA 18 by passing a further Council motion on Sept. 14 regarding my letter and directing “staff not respond since this matter is at the County awaiting a decision.“ I can live with Ramara Council ignoring its bothersome residents like me and the 1,700 other people who signed the petition against this development, but I still cannot stand by and watch Strawberry Island be destroyed, nor Lake Simcoe damaged in the process. So I repeat the essence of my questions here:
1. Why did OPA 18 decrease the planned Vegetation Protection Zone width from 40 metres as shown in their 2015 FSP (pg. 31) to 30 m, increasing the development footprint by 1.3 hectares?
2. Why did OPA 18 increase the building height from originally requested by the applicant and use Brechin as a comparable density rather than Grape Island (same size, same type) for this ecologically sensitive, “non-settlement,” forested island?
3. Was Council told that the applicant’s original proposal specified 80 units, as clearly shown in the Sept. 25, 2014, Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA) letter?
4. Why did OPA 18 omit reference to correspondence received in June from the County of Simcoe and the LSRCA and in April, from Ramara’s own peer reviewer, CC Tatham & Assoc., indicating that many questions remained unresolved and any planning decision would be premature?
5. How can OPA 18 ignore the “Technical Definitions and Criteria for the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan,” a supporting document for the Lake Simcoe Protection Act that clearly proves that the eight-hectare woodland is “significant” and therefore requires complete protection with additional buffers?
6. Why did Ramara’s contract planner tell me in June that LSRCA was “entitled to their own opinion.” Is it the opinion of the Manager of Planning and Ramara Council that LSRCA can be ignored in their interpretation of the LSPP?
7. Under the Provincial Planning Act, the Provincial requirements for “Complete Applications” include Servicing Options, Hydrogeological and Archaeology Reports. The “Notice of Complete Applications” starts the clock ticking for the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) deadline of 180 days and initiates pressure on Council for a decision. Why was the “Notice of Complete Application” sent by Ramara Township on July 14, 2014 to the developer before the Functional Servicing Plan, Hydrogeological Report and Archaeological Assessment had been completed? In fact, the hydrogeology measurements were still ongoing during this spring of 2015, the final FSP was received in Jan 2015 and the final Archaeology report was not in the township file by July 27, 2015, when Ramara Council officially adopted OPA 18.
8. The OPA 18 Planning Report (p 11), claims the applicant’s phosphorus loading estimates based on a 1984 sewage system are valid to establish correct phosphorus loading targets and 94 housing units. Why doesn’t OPA 18 use the clean water quality and low phosphorus levels around the island today as the proper baseline, not an antiquated sewage system, unused for 10 years? Furthermore, the following unanswered questions are still outstanding. Why is the Town of Orillia rightfully and wisely investing $15.4 million in their septic treatment plant to meet the Lake Simcoe phosphorus compliance limit of 0.1 mg/L if the Strawberry Island development, about 6 kilometres from Orillia, is allowed five times that much, 0.5 mg/L, at the shoreline? If the Strawberry Island sewage plant is found non-compliant, will Ramara Township be fined $250,000 per day as Orillia would be? Who would take responsibility for too much phosphorus in the water around the island and how would it be monitored? How does OPA 18 address the fact that the groundwater level on the island is only one foot below surface, as was found out in the ground water monitoring this past spring? What if the 137,000 litre capacity sewage plant fails? What happens to the shallow ground water and clean surrounding lake water currently at 0.01 mg/L of phosphorus? Why did the consultant say there is endangered butternut on the island at the June Public Meeting (Council Minutes, p 3), yet his report claims that there are none on the island (Environmental Impact Study, July 2015 p. 52)? Why does the Traffic Study (December 2014) focus on an intersection 3 km away from the McRae Park Rd./Bayview Ave./Glen Cedar Dr. intersections that are likely to be the roads most affected by this development? Ramara Council should have gotten the answers to these significant inconsistencies and difficult questions before they passed OPA 18 over to Simcoe County Council.
The municipal planning process is undeniably flawed, as the Strawberry Island development application has clearly demonstrated. The threat of any developer taking Ramara, or any small municipality, to an Ontario Municipal Board hearing, putting us further into debt for fighting for important provincial legislation such as the Lake Simcoe Protection Act, will continue to happen over and over again. The provincial government must step forward to take responsibility for its Lake Simcoe Protection Act, the only environmental law passed in Canada for one lake. Our small municipalities need help to fight for the Lake Simcoe Protection Act and our lake!
Until this process is corrected, perhaps Ramara Council would be wise to hand over all development applications involving the Lake Simcoe Protection Act (LSPA) directly to Simcoe County, by way of an official plan amendment that is silent on specific densities, within the 180 day deadline so that the developer cannot take us to the OMB. It is a waste of time and taxpayer’s money if Ramara is not able to properly interpret the LSPA, as is likely the case for many of the townships in the watershed. Simcoe County, LSRCA and provincial staff, properly trained in the LSPA and with the essential natural heritage expertise can then protect Lake Simcoe. In our efforts to avoid the OMB, we are sacrificing a very good law and destroying Lake Simcoe in the balance. And that is just plain wrong. This is not just a local issue for Ramara Township or for Strawberry Island. It affects all of us who live on or love this lake whether you live in Oro-Medonte, Barrie, Innisfil, Springwater, Sutton, Keswick or Orillia. The Lake Simcoe Protection Act was initiated by the Ladies of the Lake, agencies, ministries, politicians, individuals and groups dedicated to health of Lake Simcoe. If the Lake Simcoe Protection Act is now ignored in OPA 18, the whole of the lake and watershed is open to inappropriate development, which can reverse all that we have gained, and destroy the lake.
If you live in Simcoe County or the Lake Simcoe watershed and care about the health of Lake Simcoe, please call or write to your township’s Deputy Mayor and Mayor who sit on Simcoe County Council and will be making the decision on OPA 18. Ask them any or all of the questions above.
My voice has been ignored by Ramara Council; maybe yours will be heard by Simcoe County Council.
Pamela Fulford, Friends of Strawberry Island