Perth County launches public consultation on new land policies

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Perth County will launch an extensive public consultation later this year around the controversial designation of Natural Heritage Systems lands that will be included in the county’s new Official Plan.

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Perth County planning staff are set to launch an extensive public consultation on a controversial new land designation that could impact how county landowners with natural features on their property can use or develop their land.

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As staff continue to update mapping and policies that will be included in Perth County’s new Official Plan, Planning Officer Sally McMullen presented a public consultation strategy to help landowners in the region to understand the redesignation of lands and to provide them with a forum to ask questions, raise concerns and provide feedback on the redesignation of Natural Heritage System lands.

“The Natural Heritage Areas update has been a concern for some people and we – council and staff – want to tell people about it,” McMullen said. “We want to give them a chance to see what’s on offer and have a chance to understand it, and then give feedback and talk about it, and engage with what it might look like in the new official plan.

“That’s why we bring you a strategy today. What would it be like to go out and talk to people and what could we accomplish? Of course, our goal is to raise awareness – to dispel any misconceptions – but also to get really and genuine feedback on what people think about it and (give them) a chance to understand how it might affect them on their own property. .”

While the county’s current official plan only identifies and protects natural features, Ontario’s provincial policy statement now requires local planning authorities to take a systematic approach to protecting these natural landscape features.

The Natural Heritage Systems policies in the new county official plan, when completed and approved by council, would prohibit development, such as new building or change of use, or site alterations, such as grading, excavation and filling, in provincially significant wetlands unless there is no negative impact on the ecological function of that natural heritage system.

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McMullen said the public consultation, which will likely begin this summer, will include several elements to ensure the county can reach as many affected landowners as possible. The strategy includes a website featuring an interactive map showing changes between current and proposed land designations, as well as answers to frequently asked questions in plain language and an online forum for landowners to ask questions.

There will also be opportunities for one-on-one consultations to help landowners understand changes to their properties, a direct mail campaign for landowners who will be directly affected, and two open houses.

Additionally, McMullen requested that a consulting ecologist be retained at an estimated cost of $100,000 — to be included in the county’s 2022 budget proposal — to assess whether a natural system has been correctly identified in the proposed mapping if a landowner suggested otherwise.

Perth County Council will also take part in an educational session to learn more about the policy and map changes ahead of public consultation – possibly as early as next month – to give councilors the information they need to talk with residents about it.

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