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  • Writer's pictureDouglas W. Judson

Official Plan and Zoning Process Must Be Inclusive

Updated: Aug 10, 2022

The Town of Fort Frances is beginning the process to develop a new official plan and zoning by-law for the municipality. For a community undergoing economic, social, and demographic change, it is critical that this process be sufficiently inclusive of the needs of young people, marginalized communities, and Indigenous voices.

What is an official plan and zoning by-law?

An official plan is a document that describes a municipality’s policies on how land in the community should be used. It addresses issues such as:

  • where new housing, industry, offices and shops will be located;

  • what services like roads, watermains, sewers, parks and schools will be needed;

  • when, and in what order, parts of your community will grow; and

  • any community improvement initiatives.

An official plan is supposed to be prepared with input from the community and helps to ensure that future planning and development will meet the specific needs of the community.

A zoning by-law is municipal legislation that controls the use of land in the community, including how land may be used, where buildings and other structures can be located, what types of buildings are permitted and how they may be used. The zoning by-law puts in to effect the official plan for its day-to-day administration by creating specific requirements that are legally enforceable.

What is Fort Frances doing to update its official plan and zoning by-law?

The Town of Fort Frances has retained WSP Canada Inc. (WSP) to create its new official plan and zoning by-law. WSP proposes an in-depth consultation strategy.

According to a report that was presented to Council, WSP's proposed consultation scope includes the general public, key stakeholders, and neighbouring Indigenous communities. To accomplish this, WSP has recommended that a new “Technical Advisory Committee” (TAC) be struck to provide recommendations on key components of the official plan and zoning by-law.

From this, it was recommended to Council by the Planning and Development Executive Committee that the membership of the TAC consist of:

  • Up to 2 members of town staff;

  • One member of the Committee of Adjustment;

  • One member of the Economic Development Executive Committee;

  • One member of the Municipal Accommodation Tax Committee;

  • One member of the Business Improvement Association (BIA) board of directors;

  • One member of the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce board; and

  • Four citizens (described as “local developers, stakeholders or general public”).

What decision has been made by Council?

During the meeting on August 9, Council adopted the recommendation for the TAC without amendment.

I raised concerns during this meeting that the composition of the TAC appears to over-prioritize the local business community and under-value other important perspectives in the community. We need these plans to be responsive to a wider range of needs and priorities. The failure to do so is a risk we can address in structuring the committee.

My concern is that despite the recommendation from WSP for a broader consult, the TAC composition contains no explicit requirement that it include representation from local Indigenous communities or business interests or that any public and non-profit organizations that are working closely on our community’s emerging social issues be included.

More pointedly, the TAC includes no requirement to include voices for equity seeking groups, those experiencing homelessness or precarious housing, and low-income citizens. The local homelessness committee, the Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board, the United Native Friendship Centre, and the Northwest Community Legal Clinic are all examples of local organizations that could be valuable contributors to this process. In addition, over half of our community’s downtown waterfront is now owned and being re-developed by a First Nation-backed organization – shouldn’t they be at the table?

Even so, the wider composition of the committee would leave these stakeholders "outnumbered" and includes these interests in the "catch all" category of for the general public. In contrast, it is unclear why the other organizations' participation is specifically listed when they have much overlapping membership and little diversity between them.

Why does it matter?

Over the past four years, I have repeatedly written and spoken about how Council discounts the views of young people and those they cannot relate to. That is a consequence of their lack of diversity, which they have taken steps to maintain as we head into an election.

As our community grapples with a housing crisis, an aging population, a shortage of recreational amenities, and looks to cultivate a new industrial identity, shouldn’t the voices of young families, marginalized people, and the fastest growing demographic groups count for more – and be explicitly included – in such a landmark process with long-term consequences?

I encourage all citizens to make their voice heard and take advantage of all opportunities to influence the development of the new official plan and zoning by-law. These tools will shape the direction of our community for a generation.

You can find the current official plan here and the current zoning by-law here.

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