Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
EMBRUN – With a late-in-the-game petition filed by residents opposed to the Township of Russell’s proposed Heritage Conservation District Plan (HCD), council ultimately decided to postpone the final decision until the upcoming May 17 council meeting.
The decision was made during the April 6 regular council session. The meeting’s agenda included three items in connection with the HCD, one was a petition from several residents against the proposal, while the other two included a request from staff for the receipt and approval of the proposed plan, as well as a motion to pass a by-law designating the HCD and approving it as a second and third reading.
With lengthy discussions throughout the three-hour meeting, which included a question-and-answer session with residents, council ultimately decided to approve the HCD’s second reading, but asked staff to once again mail letters to all homeowners within the affected area to be sure that everyone has had a fair opportunity to raise concerns or ask questions. Mayor Pierre Leroux made it clear this is not a referendum and council is not looking for a vote from residents. Residents are encouraged to read the full document, including previous questions and comments, before responding, and when they do respond, they are asked to cite concerns related to specific points or sections in the document.
Director of Planning, Building and Economic Development Dominique Tremblay made it clear that once a by-law is passed it does not mean it is set in stone. The HCD is a living document and changes can be made after it is passed by way of amending by-laws.
There was significant discussion about the misinformation circulating amongst residents about what the HCD is and how it affects property owners. For example, one resident was concerned he would not be permitted to put an in-ground pool in his backyard, but as Tremblay pointed out, this is not true. For the HCD, she said an in-ground pool would not be permitted in the front yard, where it would affect the overall feel of the heritage core.
Leroux said he would like to see more residents read through the document, which can be found on the township website (russell.ca/town_hall/projects/heritage_conservation_district). It was noted that many questions and concerns that continue to be raised have already been addressed in the document.
As for the petition letter included in the agenda package, Tremblay said there were 33 signatures, but some were people living at the same address, some were people living outside the proposed HCD area, and one was from someone in a different township. Only 10 came from homes within the HCD. There are roughly 170 homes outlined in the affected area.
The letter from concerned residents made it clear they are not in favour of the project. They “strongly” proposed that the municipality postpone the second reading until after taxpayers could be consulted in person.
“We understand that you believe the process has been going on for five years,” the letter stated. “Many of us, as residents within the proposed area only became aware of this in November 2020. The letter of February 19, 2021 indicated questions and answers would be available on the internet meeting but there was no opportunity for taxpayers to participate in the discussion, only members of council. In addition, as previously stated, not all residents have internet access or were available at that time slot. The letter of February 2021 stated, ‘No decision is being made at this meeting.’ In fact, a decision was made to table and approve the first reading.”
In the report submitted by Planner Alix Jolicoeur and Tremblay it was noted that notice had been given to all affected property owners that the updated plan would be presented to council for second approval on April 6. A notice was sent by mail on March 19, while an email was sent on March 25 to all those residents with their names on the project email list.
Leroux said staff and council are not able to say why someone has not seen information about the HCD. There were mailouts to all affected addresses. There were emails sent to everyone on the list. Notices and updates have been posted on social media. In-person sessions were held beginning in 2018 and, as the mayor pointed out, the information has been on the website for years.
“Staff has done their due diligence,” Leroux said.
In the end, all agreed that there needs to be a definitive answer at some point one way or another. While some were ready to vote in favour of the HCD that evening, others wanted to give residents more time to comment before they made their decision. With that decided, council directed staff to create and mail a letter with all relevant HCD information, including a link to the webpage devoted to the project, email contacts for all council members, and a clear statement that a final decision will be made at the May 17 council meeting.