Crunch time for Whistling Gardens

Norfolk council was called on this week to intervene in another long-running problem involving the county’s planning department.This one involves Whistling Gardens in Wilsonville and its campaign to host weddings, concerts, receptions and hospitality events.From 2013 to 2017, the county granted Wanda and Darren Heimbecker — owners of the 20-acre botanical garden — special occasion permits for events of this sort. Recent events included musical performances by Sarah Harmer and Ron Sexsmith.Planning staff recommended an end to these permits after receiving an inquiry from a community member.The Heimbeckers staged no events last year but would like to resume doing so this summer. Planning staff recommends an Official Plan amendment and zoning change to recognize these uses in the agricultural zone.The Heimbeckers want to comply. To date, they have spent more than $50,000 on environmental studies but to no avail. They are some distance from meeting the county’s criteria with garden party season set to begin.As a temporary solution, the Heimbeckers came to council Tuesday seeking a return to special-event permits.“That’s for the short-term,” Darren Heimbecker said. “That’s the Band-Aid for the time being.”The Heimbeckers also wanted to know why the county approved events like theirs as a right last year in the agricultural zone in the Lakeshore Special Policy Area. This is where many of Norfolk’s wineries and breweries are located.Norfolk has flagged the lakeshore as a primary zone for agri-tourism. The county approved the Official Plan amendment and zoning bylaw along the lakeshore at the request of the Ontario South Coast Wineries and Growers Association.“The proposal includes updates for restaurants, weddings, receptions and concerts to be permitted,” staff’s report on the change said last year.“We just want to be included under the same umbrella they have,” Heimbecker said.At Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Kristal Chopp wanted to know why council couldn’t extend these privileges to Whistling Gardens, which is located in the north end of the county north of Waterford.Harry Schlange, Norfolk’s interim CAO, cautioned that “doing policy on the fly” is not a good idea.Senior planner Shannon Van Dalen noted that the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing approved the creation of the lakeshore policy area and also approved the amendment that allows restaurants, hospitality events, concerts and the like in this area. A similar approval process is required, Van Dalen said, for similar approvals outside this area.Windham Coun. Chris Van Paassen expressed frustration with a planning process that forces property owners to spend thousands of dollars and wait for years for permission to stage community events on their land.“Someone is asking for permission for something they were doing for five years,” Van Paassen said. “They’re not here asking forgiveness for something that was illegal. And they have spent more than $50,000 on studies that, to my mind, mean nothing.”Van Dalen promised council that Norfolk’s planning department will continue working with the Heimbeckers toward a solution. Port Dover Coun. Amy Martin wondered if that is the problem.“The landowner has been working with the county,” Martin said. “My concern is we’re not helping.”Council supported Waterford Coun. Kim Huffman’s request that staff come to next week’s council meeting with a road map for securing Whistling Gardens the same rights as wineries, breweries and distilleries along the Norfolk lakeshore.“I hope we can appreciate the time sensitivity of this,” Mayor Chopp said. “The tourist season in Norfolk is even shorter than it is in other places.”Huffman agreed.“We are in crunch time,” she said. “It is the middle of April.”In support of their request, the Heimbeckers have collected more than 300 endorsements from national, provincial and local horticultural organizations.As for past or potential conflicts with neighbouring property owners, the Heimbeckers say there have been no complaints and that many of their neighbours attend their functions.MSonnenberg@postmedia.com read more

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Opposition economists business advocates weigh in on budget

by News Staff Posted Oct 27, 2015 6:49 pm MDT Opposition, economists, business advocates weigh in on budget As he tabled his first budget as finance minister, Joe Ceci said the wants and needs heard from Albertans during the provincial election were met in the budget.“Albertans know that lower oil prices mean deficits for the government of Alberta, since we are currently so dependant on oil revenues to pay for public services,” he said. “The citizens of this province want to see a plan to budget within a reasonable amount of time without reckless cutbacks that will only have to be repaired later.”“Albertans are well aware that the recent drop in the price of oil is presenting our province with a serious challenge, Albertans also know that by making better decisions, we can and we will get through our current challenges to better days.”Earlier this week, Wildrose Leader Brian Jean warned that Alberta going too far into debt could affect the province’s credit rating and after the budget came down, he touched on the province borrowing money for daily operations for the first time in 20 years.“When families are hurting and the private sector sheds jobs, a realistic plan to get Albertans back to work and grow the economy should’ve been considered, I’m very disappointed that the NDP government is not looking at any opportunity to do that whatsoever,” he told 660 NEWS. “It’s going to be more expensive to borrow money for all the agencies to borrow, whether it be the Alberta government or those agencies that work them.”PC MLA for Calgary-Greenview Manmeet Bhullar said the government is unwilling to make a tough decision, also noting the NDP borrowing money to pay for daily expenses.“That is a very, very scary proposition,” he said. “Albertans really need to look and say listen, who in their right mind, when they don’t have enough money to pay for their every day expenses and their household, goes out and pays more money? That’s exactly what this government is doing.”Liberal Leader David Swann said there’s progress in addressing the infrastructure deficits.“I’m glad to see that we’re investing and putting in place the cancer centre in Calgary, the ring road, some of the hospitals in Edmonton that have desperately needed refurbishment,” he said. “I’d like to see a repayment plan, a debt repayment plan that would address some of the long-term needs of Albertans.”Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark said it’s not realistic to think the NDP will be able to balance the budget by 2019-2020.“I’m worried that we’re going to get ourselves into a debt-spiral we can’t get out of,” he said. “We need to create an innovative public service.”Amber Ruddy with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business is also concerned about the new debt.“If they’re not raising taxes to the same level that the PCs were going to and yet, they are borrowing at an unprecedented rate, that means taxes on tomorrow’s generation and that’s simply unacceptable,” she said.Calgary Chamber of Commerce Director of Policy Justin Smith said there’s positives and negatives.“Overall I think the budget takes a step in the right direction in terms of restoring fiscal balance and overall economic stability,” he said. “I think it does miss the mark a little bit in terms of support it gives the business community and we’ll be working with the government to try and shore up some of those provisions.”Chief Economist with Dominion Lending Centres Sherry Cooper said the budget is a compromise between stimulus and austerity and it was the right approach.“If it were strictly austerity, it would only mean further slow down in economic activity and if the stimulus was much bigger, it would jeopardize returning to a balanced budget anytime in the next five years,” she said. “The real fact is no one really knows what level oil prices will be.”As for borrowing, Cooper said it’s necessary.“They have no choice is the fact of the matter, Alberta hasn’t needed to borrow money for a very long time, Alberta has a triple-A credit rating and of course the lowest tax structure in the country and still does have the lowest tax regime in the country.”“The good news is that interest rates remain incredibly low and Alberta will have no problem financing this debt.”Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said in a statement that while he is disappointed the issue of affordable housing wasn’t really addressed, he’s pleased about the commitment to infrastructure spending.“We will continue to work closely with the province to finalize this important work,” he said. “Furthermore, we are intrigued by the language in the budget around regional planning and cooperation.”Jonathan Teghtmeyer with the Alberta Teachers Association also said there’s good and bad.“We’re seeing that enrolment growth is being funded, we’re seeing there’s going to be an inflationary increase for the first time in three years and there’s some good measures in the years ahead,” he said. “Unfortunately at the same time, it’s not going to address some pretty significant systemic issues that haunts the budget.”Executive Director for Friends with Medicare Sandra Azocar said she’s pleased that in a difficult time the government is moving forward with health care.“They were able to achieve quite a few of the very important platforms that certainly Albertans were looking forward to having on the budget,” she said. “Something that we did notice was the fact that the funding for primary care networks was reduced significantly and we would love to follow up a little bit more on how this government is going to be proceeding with primary care.” AddThis Sharing ButtonsShare to TwitterTwitterShare to FacebookFacebookShare to RedditRedditShare to 電子郵件Email read more

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