Publisher’s Column: What Would You Rather Have — New Infrastructure or Pointless Studies?

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By John Francis

Municipal Bylaws contain some surprising bits of language. The meaning of words can stretch or compress. 

Take the word “depot” for example. In the military, it generally means a warehouse or storage facility.

In North American civilian parlance, it generally means a place where you embark on or debark from some kind of transportation — bus depot, ferry depot, taxi depot. It’s more imposing than a “bus stop” but less grandiose than a “train station”.

MNBP’s Comprehensive Zoning Bylaw (CZB) dates to 2002 although much of the wording may have been copied from much older documents.

One of the permitted uses in the C1 Commercial Zone (the standard commercial zone) in our CZB is “Transportation Depot”. The CZB does not mention “Ferry Terminal” or “Tour Boat Dock” or “SCUBA Charter Operation”.

This lack of specificity is becoming inconvenient. The municipality feels the need to implement some regulations for tour boat operations with regard to the provision of parking spaces for their customers. Viz: “Notwithstanding section 6.32.4(b)), the Operation minimum number of spaces as required through site plan approval in accordance with Section 41 of the Planning Act, wherein the application associated with a new operation, or an expansion of an existing operation shall demonstrate that adequate parking will be provided on-site and/or off-site at a ratio of 1 parking space for every 5 seats capacity on a commercial tour boat used by the operation: or Where there is no minimum number of spaces required through site plan approval, 1 space for each 20 m2 (215 ft2) of gross floor area.”

A lobby group (Big Tub Harbour Citizens Committee) representing some shoreline landowners is opposing this change. In fact, in a letter from their legal firm (included in the Agenda for MNBP Council’s Jan 10 Meeting), they are insisting that because Tour Boat Operations are not specifically mentioned as a Permitted Use in the CZB, they are not permitted and hence forbidden.

The letter continues: “It is premature to amend the Comprehensive Zoning By-law until a comprehensive planning analysis has been completed by the Municipality to confirm that a commercial tour boat operation use is appropriate in the C1 zone. In order to make such a determination the following studies, including but not limited to, noise impacts, parking requirements, traffic impacts, air impacts, location, natural environment assessment, site planning details, must be completed, reviewed and assess to determine whether the addition of such use is appropriate.”

This is the part where we go back to the CZB itself. What was the intention of the planners who wrote the Bylaw and the Council that passed it?

They seem to have put a lot of thought into the list of Permitted Uses for the C1 Commercial Zone. They listed 38 different uses. Did they forget that there was a ferry terminal at Tobermory? Did they forget that there were tour boats? Did they forget the SCUBA charter industry? (Image of Homer Simpson smacking himself in the forehead and yelling “doh!”)

Or did the planners and Councillors figure that “Transportation Depot” was good enough for now — one size fits all.

Can you imagine that they forgot the ferry dock? Me neither. It’s zoned “C1”.

The phrase “Transportation Depot” seems a bit stilted, but then the land use is also stilted. Georgian Bay and Lake Huron are not part of MNBP. So when you step or drive onto a ferry/tour boat/dive boat, you are leaving the municipality. Boat tours, SCUBA Charters and the Chi-Cheemaun ferry never operate in MNBP.

They just load and unload. At a depot. That’s what depots are for.

So do we need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of municipal tax revenues on studies, focus groups and consultant reports before we can prescribe parking requirements for tour boat operations?

Seriously?

There are a lot of things I’d like to see tax money spent on. Sidewalks. Cycle lanes and trails. Public housing. A viewing platform on the south side of Little Tub Harbour. Boat and canoe launches. Phragmites control. A live human being to answer the phone when you call the municipality.

But a whole bunch of my tax money going towards studying whether boat tour operations should be forbidden in MNBP?

Count me out.

Tour boat operations are clearly “Transportation Depots” and so is the ferry terminal. Both are clearly permitted uses in C1 Zones and always have been. So if MNBP wants to prescribe new parking regulations for one part of “Transportation Depots”, it’s just housekeeping, not a big deal.