Many openly responded with their opinion on what planners had right or wrong. A timely second draft incorporating feedback was expected.
Several responses pertained to agricultural land. For example, the Kings County Federation of Agriculture stated grave concern that the draft favoured removal of protection from thousands of acres of farmland. The federation noted more loopholes permitting non-farm development on prime agricultural land.
Just prior to the drafting of the first draft of the new planning strategy, the county hosted a Farmers’ Forum attended by over 100 local farmers. Farmers unanimously agreed that agricultural land needed stronger protection than the old MPS provided to allow the agricultural industry in Kings County to remain viable and to encourage future growth. Many of the farmers present expressed a view that agricultural land is a valuable resource that belongs - not to developers or tax collectors - but to future generations of farmers and consumers that will depend on the land to feed themselves.
It is interesting that, during the consultation process, the public also placed a high value on agricultural land protection - as portrayed in the Goals and Vision statement of the Kings 2050 document. So, farmers and the public were in accord: the economic benefits of the agricultural industry and agri-tourism to Nova Scotia are vital to the future prosperity of the province and to Kings County in particular.
At a recent Planning Advisory Committee meeting, Coun. Wayne Atwater urged members to support more residential development in rural and agricultural areas of the county.
In stark contrast, this week, the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture urged Kings County council to expand the agricultural district within Kings County.
Over the last year, several planning staff have left their employment with the county. Were they so discouraged by the power of the current administration to set aside public consultation and findings with the blessing of the majority of councillors that they quit?
Under new planning staff what has happened to Kings 2050 Phase Three Community Engagement: Final Review of the MPS/Land Use Bylaw (LUB)? Chief administrative officer Tom MacEwan recently stated Kings 2050 was over.
In December, the Province of Nova Scotia, a financial contributor to the 2050 MPS consultation process, wrote to ask why regional land use discussions had stalled, effectively eliminating collaboration between Wolfville, Kentville, Berwick and the county on planning matters.
The current county council appears increasingly under the control of its CAO and a robust majority of councillors. Is the result of open public consultation being set aside in favour of backroom, private discussions with “farmer developers”? For example, Coun. Bob Best recently stated that he had a private meeting between planning staff and “nine farmers” from his district. It appears that our dysfunctional council is making sure that all the "right" people in the county are having all the important influence on how our public planning policies are going to particularly benefit them.
Are these discussions behind closed doors, under the watch of new planning staff, designed to circumvent the public consultations and submissions made to date? Are you, me and minority councillors who prefer public process to private meetings being shut out?
The current administration seems determined to roll out a new MPS/LUB to replace outdated documents that have been amended to a ridiculous and confusing degree. It would be most unfortunate if the excellent public process we experienced under the former Manager of Planning is hijacked.
That can't be determined by those who are diligently watching and waiting until the new draft is released, or not, by this sitting council.