John Ibbitson Citizen staff writer
No one would want to spend a glorious spring Saturday cooped in a church hall debating planning issues. So the 70-odd people who gathered at Almonte United Church to tussle with the question of Ramsay township’s future may all have been a little mad. But then, the people of Ramsay Township care about the place. And Ramsay Township must soon choose its fate: to preserve itself, or let itself be transformed into a suburb.
It is an old township. People started coming here in the 1820s; people still live in houses built more than a century ago. Part of the land valley farmland: fairly flat, criss-crossed with concession roads, dotted with farmhouses and barns. The rest to the west is Shield: the roads meander over hills and around rocks and through the maple bushes that are the only crop. It is a place of split rail fences, dirt roads, stone houses; of tiny villages created around the grist and saw mills that once exploited the rivers but now have vanished or are in ruins; of families that go back seven generations and remember all of it.
It is also a place of ranch-style bungalows that look as though they were plucked from Barrhaven and tossed, haphazard, onto the protesting landscape. It is the place of Greystone Estates, Mississippi Golf Estates, Hillcrest, Carlgate, Ramsay Meadows suburban subdivisions of monstrous homes on big lots. There’s no place in Ramsay township that’s more than an hour’s drive from downtown Ottawa, and that fact has started to sink in.
“If you have a house going up here, a house going up there, that’s one thing,” protests Clarence Gemmill, who has run the Gemmill’s General Store in Clayton with his wife Betty for nearly 19 years. “But you get these subdivisions, they’re different. People are just there to sleep between trips to the city.” Ramsay Township, like so many within driving distance of Ottawa, is in danger of losing its identity as a rural Valley place, and turning into something of which only ; a Nepean politician would be proud.
The township needs to update its official plan. Two years ago, a planner hired by the township proposed a new plan at a public meeting. There was so much anger and criticism that the township council promptly scrapped the plan and started again. “It was presented as ‘Here’s what we’re going to do to you,’ ” remembers Cliff Bennett, one of the organizers of the Saturday meeting. ” ‘Over our dead bodies.”
People were angry, not so much with what the planner had planned, but that no one had asked them what they wanted. So now there are committees, and subcommittees of committees, and there are forums and discussion papers and polls and presentations. ; “You’ll have as much public participation as any municipality in the area,” promises Ben James, a township councillor. This time the people are going to be heard. Some people at the planning seminar talked about ending strip development single houses on lots along the concession roads. Some talked about clustering houses together, off the road and out of sight to protect the natural look of the place.
Some talked about imposing rules on what houses should look like. Julian Smith, a heritage architect who lives in Appleton and works in Ottawa, pleaded for a re-thinking of the planning philosophy. Forget about zoning, he argued: Forget about densities and land uses. Simply apply this rule: “Any development should be shown to improve what’s around it.” But little of what the group proposed sat well with Brian Keller. Keller is a truck driver who lives in Clayton. He came to the workshop because “I wanted to see that it was more of a full consensus of the whole population.” Everyone was going on about housing clusters and setbacks and protecting this environment and that environment.
“They’re all typical city ideas, that people are saying can work rurally,” said Keller, dismissively. The last thing he thinks Ramsay needs is more restrictions on the rights of property owners. His wife’s father has been trying to sever his farmland for years, so the children will have a place to live. But the township won’t let him. “He told me, I can’t give my land to my own family. I’ve got to wait for a politician to tell me.’ ” Councillor James understands Keller’s concerns. “Over the past hundred years, individual landowners have had autonomy in what they do with their land. And you don’t want to curtail that too much. You have to let people do what they think is best, within certain limits.” But if some people want to see controls on development, and others want to protect the rights of property owners, can there be any real hope for consensus? “Not likely,” James acknowledges. “Not in total.”
The Duncan family has been farming on the Ninth Concession since 1821. But no more. There isn’t any money in it, and the latest batch of kids are pursuing different careers. The Duncan home, built in 1870, is being turned into a bed-and-breakfast. But Don Duncan doesn’t feel like offering any heart-in-the-throat eulogy to a dying way of life. “The Ramsay township of the past doesn’t have any future. The question is, what kind of future will there be?” The township council hopes to have its new official plan by 1994, maybe 1995. There will be more meetings and more presentations and more groping toward consensus. Three new subdivisions were recently approved.
CLIPPED FROMThe Ottawa CitizenOttawa, Ontario, Canada12 Apr 1993, Mon • Page 17