You may often read about various housing developments or new commercial projects being built in Prescott and Russell. It may look like the process is fast because in most cases, people only notice these projects when a construction team shows up on site.

But larger projects can take years to get to that point. Development, subdivisions and commercial projects involve what can be a lengthy application process and that exists for a reason: to ensure that development happens in a responsible way.

The very things that make a region attractive to developers are often the qualities that need protection in order for communities to retain their character and appeal.

The Review decided to take a closer look at the planning process and find out more about a lengthy document called an Official Plan; that document is supposed to act as a kind of blueprint, or guideline, to control what types of development can occur on specific pieces of land which are zoned for various uses and further — a planning process may involve studies and of course, public consultation to ensure that there are safeguards, policies, transparency and fairness enforced when it comes to growth.

The Official Plan

Planning officials in the United Counties of Prescott and Russell have multiple tools to assist them with decision making on proposed projects as residential and business construction booms in the region. The most important of these are the guidelines laid out in the Official Plan of the United-Counties Planning and Forestry Department.

The plan was first adopted by the United Counties in 1999. Prior to 1999 individual municipalities each had their own processes to deal with development issues. With the adoption of the Official Plan, all of those individual plans were brought together and developmental planning in municipalities throughout the United Counties began to all follow the same process.

At 166 pages, the Official Plan requires a great deal of patience and time spent by anyone who wishes to read the entire content, providing guidance to allow for effective development and economic growth, as well as taking factors such as the environment and public health into consideration.

“This document contains a series of policies, which guide the Planning and Forestry Department and the United Counties Council with their decisions concerning land use planning,” reads the Official Plan. “These policies are oriented towards protecting the economical and environmental values of farm lands, water and mineral resources.”

The first Official Plan of the United Counties was adopted in June of 1999. Every five years, it must be revised and submitted to the public for comments. The plan ensures the same process of approval is followed by each municipality located in the United Counties and provides consistency for projects planned throughout the region.

“Each developer has 30 to 40 conditions to fulfill before any building permits can be issued,” says Dominique Tremblay, Director of Planning and Building and Economic Development for Russell Township, noting the entire process can take years before a proposed project is approved. “We look at (issues such as) road patterns and parking. In the Official Plan we have densities and types of buildings.”

The Official Plan takes a wide variety of factors into consideration, including population densities, the environment, soil stability and infrastructure, as well as many other issues. There are also human and regional factors to consider in any development projects and the policies outlined in the plan have been written to take those issues into consideration. In the section on Population, Housing Units and Employment Forecasts from 2012, the Official Plan makes the following observation:

“The United Counties of Prescott and Russell have experienced tremendous growth over the last three decades. Rapid growth often results in social, political, economic and environmental pressures that can threaten the very qualities that attracted so many to settle in this region.”

Among the many objectives outlined in the Official Plan is one aimed at controlling the ratio of urban to rural development in each municipality. This is one area where the plan differs among regions, with communities in the western area of the United Counties allocated a larger portion urban and community split compared to rural. The plan states:

“A ratio of 85-15 urban and community / rural split has been established for the western portion of the County, including Casselman and Wendover. For the remainder of the County a ratio of 70- 30 urban and community / rural split has been established. In essence it is the objective of the Official Plan to guide 85% of the housing unit growth allocated to the urban and community policy areas in an effort to direct mainly Ottawa-based suburban housing development to existing settlement areas and 15% or less to the Rural Policy Area. For the remainder of the County, 70% of the housing unit growth is directed to the urban and community policy areas, reflecting the more limited demand for housing and 30% or less to the Rural Policy Area. The 85-15 and 70-30 splits are reflective of the Plan’s overall objective of encouraging growth in existing communities.”

As well as the above, the plan provides guidance on numerous other factors for the United Counties and all of the municipalities within it to use when planning residential or commercial developments. A complete copy of the official plan can be found here:

http://en.prescott-russell.on.ca/services/planning_and_forestry/official_plan