“I promised you that I wouldn’t swear,” Peggy’s Cove resident Aonghus Garrison said, kicking off the discussion at a consultation meeting last night on a new land use bylaw (LUB) for the village.

Garrison was one of about three dozen people who packed a church hall in Hacketts Cove Thursday night, with 14 more joining online. Peggy’s Cove has about 30 full-time residents.

Led by Ian Watson of Upland Planning and Design, this was slated to be the last public meeting in the process to produce a new draft Peggy’s Cove LUB to replace the current one, which dates from 2003. But concerns around the process, what some saw as a lack of consultation, and disagreement about a proposed new mixed-use residential/commercial “Core Zone” meant the meeting went overtime without having addressed all the issues on the table.

The process of updating the bylaw launched in August 2021, followed by a background report, a survey, and meetings with residents and business owners. Upland Planning and Design, who were hired by the Peggy’s Cove Commission to develop the new LUB, released a draft bylaw last November, and brought a revised version to the community last night.

Unlike the rest of the municipality, Peggy’s Cove is not bound by HRM planning bylaws. It has its own LUB, enacted in 1993 and last updated in 2003. Compliance and enforcement fall to the Peggy’s Cove Commission, appointed by the Minister of Economic Development. The commission must include three residents of the community.

Development applications have to go through the unelected commission, with no appeals to a higher body possible. So, as Peggy’s Cove struggles to welcome tourists while remaining a viable residential community and active fishing village, the LUB is a critically important document.

If approved, the new LUB would change the zoning areas within the community, which would now be divided into Residential, Fishing Industry, Community (formerly Public Facilities), Conservation, and the mixed-use Core Zone (formerly Commercial).

The extent of that Core Zone was one of the key points of contention at the meeting, in particular a 15-metre stretch near the northern end of the village.

Map of Peggy's Cove, showing an area along Peggy's Point Rd and a small portion of Lobster Lane shaded dark red.
The proposed “Core Zone” in the draft Land Use Bylaw Credit: Upland

One resident said she had always felt “so blessed” to live on the church side of the cove and was concerned about the encroachment of commercial activity, especially since the draft LUB would allow businesses to operate from more than one building on a property.

But Eliza Manuel, another longtime resident, spoke in favour of more commercial activity. She said the northern end of the village may be “more peaceful, marginally,” but “if you have fair and healthy competition, it makes better businesses… It’s better overall, because they have to keep their customers.”

Benefiting from ‘hosting the world’

Garrison, who kept true to his promise to avoid swearing, also agreed the zone should be expanded, saying in an interview after the meeting that “in order to benefit from hosting the world, which is the intent of the bylaw, the only mechanism in order to do that is to have a business of some kind.” His property was not included in the Core Zone.

He was also upset because of what he saw as a non-transparent process, through which residents lobbied to have their properties included: “There was an understanding on the side of the planners that people would lobby them, but there was not an understanding on the side of the community and the residents that you needed to do said lobbying to get what you wanted,” Garrison said. When he raised this objection during the meeting, Watson acknowledged the point, saying, “I do apologize… Some people knew to ask, and some people didn’t. I do apologize for that.”

Garrison said after the last consultation meeting, “It was radio silence for four months. And then on Monday, we got an email saying that this meeting is going to happen, and were given a 10-page document to review. The following day, on Tuesday, we were given a 60-page document to review. So you’re now asking people to review 60 pages worth of very complicated content in four days, and then come prepared to navigate this.”

Janice Steeles, who owns a shop and food takeout in the village but lives in Upper Tantallon, agreed with Garrison. Pointing to the draft bylaw on the table in front of her, she told the meeting, “I don’t understand half of what’s in here. I don’t have a planner in my arsenal of people I know, and most of the community is like that.” Steeles was opposed to expansion of the Core Zone. In an interview after the meeting, she said, “I get the fact that everyone needs to have a chance to benefit. If you’re going to live in the cove, then you should be able to benefit from the tourist business, but there’s got to be a better way. This is not the way to do it. It’s out of control.”

Asked if she was opposed to expanding the Core Zone because it might mean more competition, she said, “That’s not even a thing, I don’t believe, in Peggy’s Cove… There is enough to give everybody business at Peggy’s Cove. That’s not the issue. The issue is protecting the community and what makes us special.”

Process becomes ‘almost ugly’

John Campbell, owner of the Sou’Wester Restaurant (and father of Peggy’s Cove Commission chair Nicole Campbell), said the process was “flawed” and that the approach to discussing zoning areas had become “for lack of a better word, almost ugly now… I think a process where a resident can comment on another resident’s property and how it’s zoned is a flawed process.”

Although development approvals and enforcement are the responsibility of the Peggy’s Cove Commission, the commission hasn’t always been active. For instance, it didn’t meet between October 2021 and September 2022, because it didn’t have enough members as mandated by the Peggy’s Cove Commission Act. (This also held up the LUB process for a year.)

Upland hopes to mitigate that problem and take bias out of development decisions by proposing an independent development officer who can serve as a resource and as a compliance officer.

Watson, said, “When you’re doing development, outside of Peggy’s Cove, in the rest of HRM, you can go to the front desk at one of the municipal offices and say, ‘Hey, can you help me out with understanding what I need to do and what’s expected of me?'”

A crowded church hall with large quilts hanging on the wall, and a man with a microphone at the front of the room, speaking while looking at a PowerPoint slide on a screen beside him.
Ian Watson addresses a community meeting on the Peggy’s Cove Land Use Bylaw on April 27, 2023. Credit: Philip Moscovitch

But in Peggy’s Cove, it doesn’t work that way.

The Upland “What We Heard” report, published in October 2022, noted that “residents are frustrated that they cannot seek the advice of the Municipality and are dismissed when they say they’re a resident of Peggy’s Cove” and that “nearly every resident interviewed expressed their concerns with “neighbours [on the commission] policing neighbours” and the potential conflicts of interest that can arise.”

Removing bias from enforcement

Non-resident commission member Jeannie Chow, who works for the Department of Economic Development, tried to steer the discussion back to the proposed LUB itself, saying, “I think it’s important to talk about the Land Use Bylaw, and whether or not you’re comfortable with the zoning, with the proposed rules in the bylaws, because that’s what’s governing how the commission needs to behave. And so that takes out a lot of the bias that people are concerned about.”

But the decision on whether to appoint a development officer ultimately rests with the province, and their duties would be set by the commission, and so fall outside the scope of the LUB process. “The land use bylaw isn’t an operational document in terms of telling the development officer what their day-to-day duties are,” Watson said. “Ultimately, that would come down to the terms of reference that the commission sets for the development officer position.”

For District 13 — Hammonds Plains-St. Margarets Coun. Pam Lovelace, who sits on the Peggy’s Cove Commission, that’s a huge gap in the process.

In an interview with the Examiner, Lovelace said, “You can go ahead and create all these pretty little brand new land use bylaws, and we’re still going to be in the same position of not having a functioning village because one, there’s no enforcement, two, there’s no compliance, three, there’s no clear sense of who we are and what we’re doing… Four, because of a lack of transparency, there’s a lack of trust.”

Lovelace called previous iterations of the LUB “useless” and “antiquated.” She said there were “no teeth whatsoever in the land use bylaw at all, and no real involvement with HRM compliance, because HRM compliance didn’t have any jurisdiction or authority at Peggy’s Cove, So people would not bother coming to the commission if they wanted to put a new deck on, or a new window or whatever. What was the point, right?”

Watson recognized that “there have been challenges with the enforcement of the bylaw over the years,” and “there have been years where the commission was inactive and no one existed to grant permits. But life went on and people had to do what they needed to do to open businesses — so they would not have been legal in the bylaw sense, simply because they couldn’t have been.”

The proposed new LUB would grandfather these cases.

Some of the proposed changes were non-controversial — allowing metal roofs and vinyl siding as long as it looks like wood, for instance. But because of the discussion on process and the Core Zone, many of the questions Upland had put on the agenda for the meeting were not discussed. These included issues related to deck size and setbacks, the naming of the zones, and the following key question:

Thinking back to the beginning of the project, is the outcome to date what you had
hoped and expected? Does the draft Bylaw address the key themes from the initial
engagement (see page 2)? Does the draft Bylaw reflect your vision for the future of
Peggy’s Cove?

As the meeting ended, Watson said he would try to figure out a way to get maps to the residents so they could indicate changes they wanted to the zoning. There were no firm plans for a follow-up meeting.

Philip Moscovitch is a freelance writer, audio producer, fiction writer, and editor of Write Magazine.

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  1. Why was Peggy’s Cove originally carved out of the domain of Halifax planning? This sounds like Nova Scotia old boy politics.