On June 27, an open house was held at the TC Energy Centre in Île-des-Chênes to provide the public with an overview of the newly updated Macdonald-Ritchot Planning District development plan.
Staff members of WSP, the land use planning company responsible for the creation of the development plan, were on site to provide insight and accept public feedback.
Kari Schulz, senior planner with WSP, admits that the plan hadn’t undergone any major changes since it was last updated in 2010. Mostly, the policy wording was adjusted to reflect a more modern approach to land use planning.
Planning districts, such as Macdonald-Ritchot, are collaborations created by neighbouring municipalities with the intention of sharing resources and creating terms on land use that help prevent conflict between the RMs.
These districts are subject to the provincial government’s Planning Act, which governs land use across the province. Under these guidelines, planning districts can further create their own policy which is specific to their region. This becomes the district’s development plan.
The Macdonald-Ritchot development district was first established in 1984 and covers the almost 1,500 square kilometres of land under the jurisdiction of the two municipalities. Council members from each RM make up the board of directors. Councillors Shane Pelletier and Janine Boulanger represent Ritchot on the board.
Phase one of the development plan renewal project began in December 2020 with the hiring of WSP to review and rewrite the plan. In the summer of 2021, public input was sought from all residents in the district.
“A year ago we did visioning workshops… where we surveyed people about what they like and what they don’t like, and from that we derived a vision statement,” says Schultz. “So a lot of what we heard was [that people want] a strong sense of community, the rural feel… and we also heard that a lot of people were wanting to protect the agricultural land base.”
At the same time, key stakeholders—such as developers, government departments, and agencies—and the utilities were drawn into the conversation on land use policy change.
Based on all the feedback received, WSP determined that the new plan needed to focus on four key areas: preventing fragmentation of agricultural land, preserving the rural character of the district, encouraging residential and industrial growth in specific areas, and providing more housing diversity.
For future residential growth, the plan has established two primary types of communities: rural centres and settlement centres.
In the rural centres, councils will focus on encouraging housing diversity, commercial and industrial development, and employment and transportation options for all ages. These hubs will also act as centres for most recreation.
In Macdonald-Ritchot, the rural centres include Île-des-Chênes, La Salle, and Oak Bluff.
All the remaining communities in both RMs fall under settlement centres. These are communities where the primary residential focus will be on large lot single-family dwellings.
“Settlement centres tend to have less diversity in terms of housing stock, less commercial and industrial uses,” Schulz says. “It’s not quite as diverse in terms of land uses… The intent is to kind of keep them as is to maintain that rural character.”
Three enterprise centres have been established for the district as places where larger scale commercial and industrial growth will be directed. These locales include Ste. Agathe, Oak Bluff, and the strip of land along the western leg of McGillivray Boulevard.
The updated development plan does include two new principles to direct land use designation in the future. These principles require that councils promote climate resilience by taking actions that will reduce negative impacts on the natural environment.
As well, a new emphasis has been placed on preserving the historical attributes that make each community unique.
By far the dominant land use in the district is agriculture and Schulz says the focus on preserving that is as strong as it’s ever been.
“Macdonald-Ritchot is one of the few districts that we have in the capital region that has really strong policies to protect agricultural land… and directing residential growth to either the rural centre or settlement centre,” Schulz says.
The final stages before approving the new development plan will include a review by the province and then a public hearing, at which time the two councils will vote on its acceptance.
Brenda Sawatzky, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Niverville Citizen