SYDNEY: The company working on planning strategies for local municipalities has been hosting open houses around the region.

UPLAND Planning + Design, the Eastern District Planning Commission, and local municipalities hosted a series of open houses in Antigonish and Richmond counties last week, and Inverness and Victoria counties this week as part of the Plan Eastern Nova project.

Upland’s senior planner Ian Watson said the purpose is to have land use planning for all four municipalities. He said this came after Bill 58 was passed which established minimum planning standards for all areas of Nova Scotia.

“The four municipalities have varying levels of planning. They all have some degree in certain parts of the municipalities but they’re not fully planned,” he noted. “The municipalities have taken a unique step of joining together to undertake this project.”

What is different about the Plan Eastern Nova project is that it will incorporate community interests, Watson noted.

“The plan needs to reflect the character of the community and what matters to specific local issues. There will be difference, but as much as possible, we’ll be working to keep things easy,” he noted.

Upland’s engagement manager Ryan MacLean said the project will also make recommendations around changes to existing documents.

“Community engagement is very much something that impacts the way these plans evolve and develop,” she noted. “This is the first activity, just getting the word out, building some awareness, and giving people a bit of a background too on what planning is, and what this means.”

At the meetings in Antigonish County, Watson said he’s been hearing a lot of questions, how much people value the landscape and communities, and there are concerns with the natural environment.

“A lot of the evening have just been spent with people asking what are the ramifications of this; how does this process work, how can it affect my land,” he reported. “There’s trepidation around going from having no planning, to having planning and what that means.”

MacLean said she has heard comments at meetings in Richmond County about environmental protection, economic development, and rising housing costs.

“We’re having some conversations with folks about those things,” she noted. “These are all things that we also cover within the survey as well, to try to dig a little deeper into what people would like to see within their communities relating to these topics.”

Over the next couple of months, MacLean said they will allow residents to share their thoughts via a survey, and will provide an online interactive map, both of which will be on the project’s website: www.planeasternnova.ca. She said there will be individual pages for each municipal unit and those interested can sign-up for updates on the project, on the website.

Once this information is compiled, the consultants will show draft documents to their public to enable community buy-in, MacLean said. Watson said these documents will have to reflect what the community needs and wants.

“So that the public then has another opportunity to take a look at these documents to determine whether or not did we get it right, are there elements they want to see tweaked or changed,” MacLean said.

The ultimate goal is to compile a municipal planning strategy to allow each unit to draft new land use bylaws and planning strategies, Watson added.

“We’ll be doing the drafts for all of this, but at the end of the day, they’re documents that get adopted by municipal councils, so we’ll work with the councils to ultimately adopt a document that meets their needs, and they take ownership of,” he added.