Planning interests

The following piece was contributed by David Daniels via e-mail. It concerns the Woodman lands and an amendment to the Development agreement.

PLANNING IN WHOSE INTERESTS?

The developer of the Woodman Grove subdivision (the “Development”) has asked the Town to amend the Developer Agreement (“DA”) approved by the Town on June 20, 2005. The Town’s Planning Staff has recommended the proposed amendment.

A portion of the Development falls within a Residential Architectural Guidelines Control Area (“RAGCA”). Therefore, before new home are constructed in the RAGCA, the developer is required to enter into new development agreements which would ensure that the new homes comply with the relevant portions of the Residential Architectural Guidelines (“RAG”). The developer has asked the Town to allow it to proceed with construction without the new development agreements and without having to go through the process required by the RAG. Rather construction could proceed in accordance with “text based criteria.” (Staff Report (“SR”), February 11, 2008, p 1.)

If the Town approves the proposed amendment, “[t]his will provide the developer and future purchasers of these six lots a less rigorous approval process and time line to manage and will reduce the administrative requirements of Town staff to deal with six separate development agreements.” (SR. p.2)

In support of its recommendation, the Planning Staff argues that “the intent [of the RAGCA] was to capture properties with frontage on Main Street”, and these new houses will not front Main Street and are not “visually prevalent from Main Street.” The six subject lots “are of diminished significance respecting Architectural controls.” (SR p.1)

Under what circumstances should the Town agree to amend an existing development agreement. The Town’s Municipal Planning Strategy (“MPS”) does not provide any direct guidance. However, the Province’s Municipal Government Act (“MGA”) does.

The MGA states that an approval of an amendment to a development agreement may be appealed when the decision “does not reasonably carry out the intent of the MPS.” Disapproval of an amendment may be appealed when the decision “does not reasonably carry out the intent of the MPS and the intent of the development agreement.” MGA Section 250(1)(b) and (c).

What then is the intent of the MPS and the RAG?

First, the MPS and the RAG do not mention the financial interests of a developer as a factor to be considered when deciding whether or not to approve an application. Nor is the time staff must devote to review a proposed development agreement mentioned in the MPS or RAG.

Based upon the RAG Introduction and the MPS, one of the issues the RAG was intended to address was poor architectural designs that did not fit in already built up areas of the Town. In this regard, it would seem to make sense in a new development to allow some leeway. On the other hand, the question should be posed: do the proposed text based criteria afford the Town sufficient information to ensure good blending between heritage buildings one sees entering the Town on the east end and the new homes to be constructed. (It should be noted that had the drafters of the MPS or RAG wished to include text based criteria, they could have done so.)

Also included as intended goals of the RAG are to “[p]romote quality of growth and good design” and “[r]ecognize that the lifestyles of residents are shaped to a degree by the design of the streetscapes and houses.” MPS section 3.5.10.

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At the February 19, 2008, PAC meeting at which the amendment was approved, one of the committee members raised the issue of “connectivity” in the Development. An example of connectivity is the right of way at the end of one of the cul-de-sacs in the Development which provides a passage to a park. This right of way allows those who live in the cul-de-sac and others easier access to a community amenity.

The cul-de-sac on which several of the lots subject to the proposed DA amendment lie does not have such a right of way. At the meeting, when asked about the possibility of including such a right of way, the developer answered, to the best of my recollection, that the time to make such an adjustment was when the original development was being considered and that it would be costly to make the changes now.

The developer is asking the Town to amend the DA which he willingly entered into. The developer, it appears, could have known that certain lots fell within a RAGCA and would require separate development agreements. See section 4.3.1.4 of the DA. If approved the proposed amendment will save the developer money and allow the properties to be marketed faster.

At the March 3rd Committee of Council meeting I asked whether the fees paid by a developer to amend a development agreement cover the staff costs to review and report on the application. The answer I received was “no”.

The developer is coming to the Town to request an amendment to a DA which will save him money. The town could be viewed as out of pocket money to process the request. And when the developer is asked about doing something the Town may desire, he replies, in effect: it’s too expensive; you should have asked me before.

The PAC approved the proposed amendment, with one dissenting vote. This matter will be considered by the Town Council at its next meeting, Monday, March 24th.

David Daniels

Site plans from the original presentation on this development are available via a previous post. Plans may have changed since then. If you remember an appeal against the development by a neighbouring farm family was denied by the Utility and Review Board. If you search this blog you can also find other previous comments from us about this project.

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