Muskokans explore a vision for the district

SOUTH MUSKOKA - The environment, economy, growth and uncontrolled taxes were all part of the discussion when nearly 40 residents joined a visioning session on the future of Muskoka last week.

The Muskoka Lakes Association (MLA) facilitated the visioning session at Port Carling Community Centre on July 27 in conjunction with the District of Muskoka. The session is one of many district planning staff is conducting for community groups and organizations.

The district has contacted groups such as the Muskoka Watershed Council, schools, Muskoka Landowners Association, Creative Muskoka, business improvement areas and chambers of commerce, said Samantha Hastings, director of planning policy and programs for the district.

“We want to try to hear from as many people as possible,” said Hastings.

The district has also solicited input with a visioning survey through a mail-out to all residents. A vision is a conceptual statement that sets the overall vision for the future of the community, said the district’s manager of planning projects Summer Valentine at the meeting.

The current Muskoka vision statement was created in 1991 and hasn’t changed much over time, said Valentine. The official plan is undergoing a review and the vision statement initiative, called Muskoka Moving Forward Visioning for the Future, is part of the review.

The statement includes basic community values and future dreams, she said. “The vision is a very important piece of our official plan because it does inform district council’s decisions on important matters that involve the environment, the economy and our society,” said Valentine.

The statement provides an overall framework in the rest of the official plan. The official plan manages physical change, growth and land use in the District Municipality of Muskoka, she explained. Participants in the session were asked what they like and what they don’t like about Muskoka.

In addition they provided input on top priorities for Muskoka and critiqued the current vision statement. Many said the current statement is too long. Some suggested it should emphasize a balance between the economy and the environment. The statement currently focuses on trees and some said it should emphasize the lakes.

It was easy for participants to come up with things they didn’t like about Muskoka. Many agreed uncontrolled taxes, rising cottage prices and too many bylaws and regulations are not attractive.

Rick Spence of the Friends of Port Carling suggested there have been poor planning decisions in the district, such as water and sewer treatment facilities built in areas too small to sustain them.

As for priorities, preserving and protecting the environment topped the list, along with maintaining affordability. There were many new priorities suggested, such as ecotourism and developing bike and recreation trails. MLA president Brian McElwain suggested creating an education centre of excellence for the environment.

Students seeking an education in the environment would think of Muskoka first, he said. It’s not too late to get in on the discussion. Muskoka residents can complete a survey on the district vision, which is available on the website under hot topics at www.muskoka.on.ca. The surveys will be accepted until Sept. 1.

There is also more information on the website.

Visioning sessions continue into the fall. The results of the sessions and surveys will be compiled and presented to district council and posted on the district website.

If the vision statement is to change, district council will have the final vote, said Hastings. Current vision “A predominantly forested landscape that supports diverse and functioning ecosystems including lakes, wetlands, forests, barrens and open fields. Interspersed in the natural setting are small to mid-sized communities and rural and waterfront development that provide a wide range of economic opportunities and lifestyle options.”