United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR) council is open to a strategy to leverage revenue from land and increase residential housing construction.

At the October 25 UCPR council meeting, Russell Township Mayor Pierre Leroux suggested the UCPR develop a land management strategy including an inventory of all lands owned by the UCPR which could potentially be sold for residential development. Leroux would like these lands to be identified and then a process followed to determine if it is possible to sell those lands. Leroux said the revenue could be used for the UCPR to obtain additional forested lands with biodiversity for protection. The strategy would allow the UCPR to divest itself of surplus land while ensuring areas of natural significance—or parts of those areas, are preserved.  While divesting of other lands, or requiring parts of certain lots to remain forested. Leroux said making more land available for development would address the housing shortage and suggested staff investigate the possibilities and report to council in six months.

Clarence-Rockland Mayor Mario Zanth noted the Eastern Ontario Wardens Caucus (EOWC), the organization representing all county wardens from across Eastern Ontario, is already working on a housing strategy and wanted to be sure Leroux’s idea does not duplicate the work already being done by the EOWC.

The EOWC’s “7 in 7” regional housing plan aims to have at least 7,000 new rental housing units built across Eastern Ontario in seven years.

Warden Normand Riopel said he was not certain Leroux’s suggestion would involve the same approach as the EOWC’s plan, but emphasized the suggestion could be beneficial for the UCPR. He said the EOWC plan is ongoing. Riopel questioned if six months is long enough for planning staff to complete their report.

Director of Planning and Forestry Louis Prévost said six months is a bit short and cautioned council that housing is generally needed in urban areas, not on rural land.

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Casselman Mayor Geneviève Lajoie wanted to be sure the land management plan conforms to the UCPR’s Official Plan for land use, and that services such as water and wastewater would be available to any lands identified for development. Prévost said all of those things would be identified within the context of the Official Plan. Hawkesbury Mayor Robert Lefebvre made similar comments, indicating the process would be undertaken within the scope of the Official Plan.

“There are many rural lands outside villages that can be developed as properties,” Leroux said. He also wants to ensure tree cover is preserved.

The Nation Mayor Francis Brière suggested that lands with significant road frontage could be used for development at their fronts, but the forest cover at the rear of such properties could be preserved.

Chief Administrative Officer Stéphane Parisien recommended including the idea of a land management strategy in the 2025 UCPR budget process to allow for sufficient time to develop the inventory. All of the mayors agreed.