Building Boom: St. Clair has more people than 2031 projections

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St. Clair Township has blown past growth projections.

The township is in the middle of a review of its Official Plan. It is the map which guides where housing, industry and farming goes in the community.

It’s something every municipality must do, once a decade; often, there are only minor changes to the document.

But Mary Lou Tanner of NPG Planning says the council is going to require some major changes to meet the growing demands for housing.

Tanner told council Aug. 14 that in 2017, Lambton County looked at population growth in St. Clair and expected there would be up to 13,876 people living in the riverside community by 2031.

But the 2021 Census shows there are already 14,600 people in St. Clair Township.

And the township has already issued 111 single-family home building permits in the first half of 2023 – seven more than 2022 – with a total value of over $25 million.

Tanner’s report to council says Lambton County did look at the land supply in St. Clair in 2017 and found there was enough supply beyond 2046.

But Tanner says with the rapid growth, that has to be re-examined.

“We also know that you’ve had a number of requests for boundary expansion and settlement area expansion,” she says. “We’re cognizant of that and we’re working to figure out a way that we can work with you and the community and the county to make sure that you can plan for growth for the next 25 years and address what you’re seeing in terms of the highly-attractive community and population growth that you’re seeing.”

“The county will be doing an update of the growth management study and looking at the need for housing and jobs and land for both,” Tanner said.

“We are going to work with your staff and you to set you up, so that once the county determines what land is needed for housing and jobs, you’ll be in a position with this Official Plan to immediately move to start implementing that.”

And while population growth is fueling the need to change the township’s planning document, Tanner says there are a number of other issues which need to be addressed.

Tanner wants St. Clair to consider changes which might allow more economic investments on agricultural land.

“We’re strong believers in the importance of letting farmers do their farming,” she says. “But we also believe that there is an ability in the Official Plan to support farmers making investment whether it’s in farm-related businesses or investment in the land or doing things like farm markets, wineries… but also things like Bed and Breakfast and picking up on agri-tourism.

“Fundamentally it’s about protecting land but it’s also making sure that the local farm economy, and the opportunities that come with that, are embedded in the Official Plan, so that you, in the farming community have that opportunity to capitalize on it.”

Tanner told council the draft Official Plan expected in September will also limit cannabis production to indoors in industrial areas and will put limits on the operation of short-term rental properties.

Tanner says the rental policies “will limit their size and really get control in a way that supports this part of the tourism economy, but doesn’t allow housing to become subservient to short term vacation rental units.”