CBRM Council: RV Park Postponed

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Artist's rendering of Ceilidh on the Lakes RV Park club house. (. (Ceilidh on the Lakes RV Campground/Facebook)

Artist’s rendering of  RV Park club house. (Ceilidh on the Lakes RV Campground/Facebook)

CBRM planning staff seem really keen on this Big Pond RV Park idea.

I don’t know how else to interpret the time and effort planning director Malcolm Gillis and planner Karen Neville have put it into Calgary developer Chris Skidmore’s project — first in their original recommendation that council amend a municipal zoning by-law to allow phase one of the development to proceed, and then in their 9-page response to concerns raised during a public hearing on the matter.

As a research enthusiast myself, I have to hand it to them — they did some solid fact checking. They explained that public recreation, not private campgrounds, is a CBRM responsibility. They cited the land use by-law definition of an amusement park and said Skidmore’s development did not meet it. They double-checked property assessments and reported that Big Pond’s are not, as was claimed during the hearings, the second-highest in the CBRM but 10th highest. They said RVs would not be a source of toxins as they would not run generators (such parks provide electrical connections) and their air conditioners would not run regularly during “the typical Cape Breton summer.” (They even checked out last summer’s temperatures and found they never cracked 30 degrees Celsius. And because there’s nothing funky happening with the climate, whatever happened last summer can totally be expected to happen next summer, and the summer after that. So that’s settled.) They researched Department of Transportation traffic stats and argued the 930 motor vehicles per day traveling the highway would clearly pose more of a threat, toxin-wise, to a nearby organic farm than a 211-space RV Park.

And I’m only on Page 2.

The message from planning staff seems less a recommendation that council should amend the zoning by-law than a suggestion that it must amend the zoning by-law and I don’t quite see why that should be the case. In their own report recommending approval of phase one of the project, the planners state:

Campgrounds are not permitted as-of-right in rural CBRM, but are eligible to be considered by Council by zone amendment.

So council may amend the zoning law to allow for a campground in rural CBRM, but does it have to do so? Am I missing something?

Moreover, planning staff are trying to keep the discussion focused on three criteria which, under the CBRM’s Municipal Planning Strategy, must be considered when contemplating a zone amendment: visual compatibility and noise; dust or fumes; traffic.

Esmond "Blue" Marshall

Esmond “Blue” Marshall

But other issues keep raising their pesky heads, like, does the developer have a reasonable business plan? How will this development impact the Bras d’Or Lakes? And — as of last night, thanks to District 3 Councilor Esmond “Blue” Marshall — have First Nations peoples been properly consulted?

The answer to all of these questions, as far as the planners are concerned, is “None of these are municipal responsibilities.”

But that answer, however accurate, is clearly inadequate because all of these concerns are perfectly reasonable matters for a municipality to concern itself with. In 2018, it’s not enough simply to say that existing municipal regulations do not require the municipality to consider the environment or to consult with First Nations on potential developments. The regulations will have to change (and to give planning staff their due, they make that point repeatedly — stating that they are simply working within the regulatory framework they’ve been given).

Councilor Marshall requested last night that the vote on the zone amendment be postponed until First Nations people had been consulted. Mayor Clarke called a recess, huddled with legal and planning staff in secret, then returned to announce that while there was no policy for First Nations consultation in the municipal zone amendment process, out of respect for the CBRM’s First Nations partners, consideration of the matter would be postponed to March 7 at 10 am. In the meantime, the municipality’s solicitor would gather information from all relevant sources on the municipality’s legal position.

But isn’t the municipality’s legal position that the land in question is situated in a zone that doesn’t permit campgrounds? If the municipality were legally obligated to amend its zoning regulations anytime a developer requested it, what would be the point of zoning regulations? If the fear is that refusing to do so in this case could send a chilling message to developers, what kind of message will it send if the opposition of many residents and the concerns of First Nations are ignored?

Which brings me back to my original point, which is that planning staff seems weirdly keen on this development, which is unlikely to be an economic boon to anyone except the developer. It’s an RV Park — it will generate some initial construction jobs and then a handful of low-paid, seasonal jobs. That Skidmore is promising to invest $4.5 million and create 25-30 full-time jobs should set off every alarm bell in the planning department.

And might I also point out that while planning staff have clearly invested hours of their time researching and presenting the case for Skidmore — a service for which Skidmore, a non-resident, pays nothing — a CBRM citizen seeking a response to a FOIPOP request is quoted a price of $2,445 for 81.5 hours of staff time.

Planning staff will say they are simply doing their jobs, for which they are already compensated. So why does that logic not stretch to the municipal clerk’s department?

 

 

 

 

 

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