It was a packed house last night at Council, standing room only for the early part of the meeting. And there were surprises, some of which may provide a look ahead.

The two big issues on the agenda, as far as I saw them, rezoning at 9A Belvedere (10.4.1) and space sharing at the Smelter Wharf (9.4.3), had quite different treatment by council. More on this below.

First the body count: the mayor and all of the councilors, except Dave Williams, were in attendance. It’s interesting to speculate how one vote might have gone had Councilor Williams been in attendance. Staff numbered about eight for at most of the meeting. Media numbered three, Moose-FM, Cogeco and North Star. There were more than 40 in the audience, two dozen fire fighters in support of their president’s deputation to council, about ten opposing the 9A Belvedere rezoning, four for the KPMG deputation, and a few others interested in better understanding the issues before council that evening.

There were two scheduled deputations. Wayne Gilbert, President of the Parry Sound Volunteer Fire Fighter’s Association, provided facts and figures summarizing the association’s services to Parry Sound. This followed a rather odd presentation from KPMG, the finance and accounting firm, analyzing Parry Sound’s financial performance versus other northern Ontario communities. The analysis was interesting, albeit a little superficial, and revealed that they did little research into the town’s current budget status and analysis process. What was odd, at least from my perspective, was the somewhat condescending tone of the presentation. They made a few assumptions about Parry Sound that seemingly underestimates the town’s level of financial sophistication and controls. Not the best way to try and attract new clients in my view.

There were also a couple of deputations regarding the rezoning applications before council as well as letters from town residents on these rezoning applications.

Councilor reports provided little new information. There was consistent praise for the organizers and town staff concerning last weekend’s Timbits 2012 Provincial Elementary School Championships. Having spent a short time at the Bobby Orr Community Centre catching some of the action I completely agree with the praise. Let’s hope it returns to Parry Sound. We are ideally located for province wide events, central to Northern, Southern, Eastern and Western Ontario.

Interesting and Notable Council Decisions and Actions

Item 2.1.1 a rezoning of 66 Emily Street was approved without any comment or concern.

Item 9.4.1, a resolution to approve a property variance at 18 Belvedere was approved by council after the only letter in opposition was withdrawn. Apparently there was a productive meeting between the owners of 18 Belvedere and their neighbour that resulted in a plan that satisfied all concerned. Bravo, this is the way it should be done. Council shouldn’t be asked to be referees and decide outcomes.

Item 9.4.2 a resolution to rezone portions of Louisa Street from Rural to Restricted Industrial Holding was approved without any discussion or disagreement.

Item 9.4.3, a direction to staff to ensure that the storage of salt at the Smelter Wharf be in compliance with the current lease agreement was approved with little discussion. The last shipment of the season has been received and tarped, and is apparently in compliance with the town’s agreement with Sifto. We’ll see if this is the end of this matter for now.

Item 10.4.1, a resolution permitting the rezoning of 9A Belvedere to allow for in-fill development was voted down by Council and Mayor. Well I called this one wrong, and I’m not quite sure why. There was a lengthy deputation opposing the rezoning application by a Belvedere resident that was in addition to multiple letters of opposition. The vote was split two for, and two against, the rezoning application with Mayor McGarvey cast the deciding vote against it. Two councilors did not vote. One, Councilor Williams was out of town and missed the meeting, and the other, Councilor Saulnier, did not participate in the discussion or vote because of a conflict of interest (he lives on Belvedere). It’s interesting to speculate on the outcome had all councilors been present.

The decision in my opinion is reasonable, but begs the question of what is next. The property is already zoned for multi-unit development and the rezoning application was requested to support the building of a separate single unit residence on the street side of the lot in addition to a three-unit building on the back portion. I wonder if the developer will return with a proposal to construct a six- or eight-unit building consistent with the current property lines, omitting the single residence unit. This would presumably not require town council approval and might result in even greater density and congestion than the original plan had proposed. The best outcome would be for the developer and the local residents to meet and reach an outcome that satisfies both sides’ needs. It’s worth noting that the property was on the market for a couple of years and presumably could have been bought by the residents of Belvedere and turned into a local park had they wanted to retain the ‘historic’ sense of the area. Or they could have purchased and resold the property to someone who would have built in compliance with local resident expectations. I suspect this whole matter is a preview of the future. if you don’t want infill development you need to buy the property and hold it, or resell it with covenants that restrict infill type development.

Item 10.5.1, Council unanimously approved the 2.5% tax rate increase. Tough times require tough decisions. The KPMG presentation mentioned earlier suggests that even with the increase Parry Sound taxes are on the low side compared with comparable northern Ontario municipalities.

Item 10.6.1, a by-law confirming the proceedings of the March 5th, 2012 Parry Sound Hydro Corporation board of directors meeting was approved.

That’s enough. I will provide a link to the final council minutes once they are posted.