Moving Forward

That is a good and constructive heading to this letter, written to the PSPAC by David Daniels. Perhaps it will help us all get out of this impasse we find ourselves in re the MPS and the LUB. Copied as given to us by e-mail, formatting may differ:

There will be time later to look at what went right and wrong in the process of drafting the new MPS. The point now is to move forward and make sure the MPS the Town will live with for many years to come is the best document it can be. With that in mind, please accept the following comments and questions.

I. TAKE STEPS TO FURTHER ENGAGE THE PUBLIC.

A. I know of two people who requested that the PAC allow them to make brief public presentations on residential development and were told no and not at this time. One presentation concerned hearing from a stakeholder who is in a group which to my knowledge has not been heard from before. The second concerned a proposed sustainable and innovative housing development with coloured renderings. Concrete ideas which should be happily sought and openly discussed.

Why such presentations must be submitted in writing makes little sense. These people are willing to take the time and effort to inform you and the public about their ideas. If there was an issue of duplication, then the chair could tell these people, tell us what the subject matter is, sorry there is duplication, you should speak to X about this and make one combined presentation.

Certainly time should not be a factor. Once again it was stated at the April 8th meeting that the process will take as long as it will take.

B. Those residents who own property who may be affected by lots which have the potential to become flag lots and bonus density lots should be notified of the pending proposals in some way. Post the map which shows potential flag lots on the website; display maps on the kiosks. Unlike people who live in the R1 zone, those who live on or near potential flag lots and bonus density lots are scattered around Town.

The focus of meetings should not be on whether or not people were adequately informed or why you didn’t attend meetings. At this point who cares whether the Town didn’t do enough to inform the public or residents didn’t avail themselves of the opportunity to participate, or a combination of the two. It was clear that many people did not know what the Sustainable Task Force (STF) was doing. Why take a chance that those who will be impacted don’t know what is happening when the result may be unnecessary public anger? The MPS is rewritten about once every 10 years. Especially in a document which trumpets public participation, ways should be found to ensure the public is fully informed and engaged. (I have made suggestions concerning public participation in the past.)

C. Minutes or notes of previous meetings should be made available before the next meeting takes place. This would allow those who miss a meeting to get up to speed and make the proceedings easier to follow. The policy of not providing minutes to the public until approved makes no sense. Just stamp them “unapproved” or “subject to change” or “unofficial until approved.”

Perhaps I am wrong, but I believe Karen Dempsey’s contract was largely if not wholly paid for by grants. In that case, and because of the importance of the MPS, the Town should not skimp on expending funds; the excuse of not doing something which will help ensure a better overall product because of lack of resources is not valid.

II. CLARIFY THE TASK MOVING FORWARD

Virtually the entire April 8th meeting was taken up with sustainability issues. My understanding was that the STF dealt with sustainability issues and the Planning Advisory Committee (PAC) is supposed to deal with planning principles. WHAT ARE THOSE PRINCIPLES? These should be acknowledged and made known to the public.

The Town has written several MPSs before, and they were not guided by sustainability. There had to have been some planning principles used in earlier MPSs. If the PAC going forward uses sustainability as its guiding light, then the claim that it was okay to have overlapping PAC and STF membership because different principles were to guide the work of the different committees, falls on its face.

III. CONFLICTS OF INTEREST

Several times during the course of the April 8th meeting mention was made of PAC members’ possible conflict of interest. Townspeople should be assured that this issue is taken seriously. Members of the PAC live in particular zones; they may live near or on properties that may be directly affected by the proposed MPS.

The Nova Scotia Municipal Conflict of Interest Act places obligations on “local board” members. With stated exceptions, members who have a direct or indirect pecuniary interest in any matter under consideration must refrain from taking part in the discussion and voting. Section 6(1). Why not have a brief overview of this topic at a public meeting to proactively clear the air? (Is there a Town policy that all committee members be informed of their obligations under the MCIA?)

IV. IMPLEMENTATION AND ENFORCEMENT OF DEVELOPMENT AGREEMENTS

There appears to be a lack of trust — in the Town government? in the PAC? At the April 8th meeting the condition of housing on Marsh Hawk was brought up and a person raised the issue of enforcement of bylaws along Main Street. I have questioned the judgments of the PAC regarding some of the decisions it has made. If you believe Town residents don’t trust in either the PAC or the Town’s planning decisions, then you may wish to confront this matter outright.

“Yes, we understand there is lack of trust, and this is how we propose to deal with it.” One way has been by tightening the implementation policy for development agreements. See section 18.6.1. See also sections 8.4.5. (RCDD) and 8.5.4. (Bonus Density). I have suggested revisions which I belief will make the standards more stringent. See my Comments on these sections. But, of course, stricter standards are only as good as their application and enforcement.

Perhaps the Town needs to rethink its heavy reliance on development agreements or further restrict their use. Mr. Morrison has argued that the development agreements provide the Town with needed flexibility. But flexibility can cut another way — it may give builders and developers no sure standards and too much latitude. The Town needs to do some hard (but not unreasonable) bargaining with developers, and strict standards can provide the leverage needed by the Town.

Here is an idea which can kill two birds with one stone: increase public engagement and help restore trust. The Town has the power to establish area planning advisory committees. Municipal Government Act sections 200 and 201. “Character and stability of surrounding the neighbourhoods” is one of the standards by which proposed developments are to be judged. See MPS 18.6.1(b). Who better to provide advice to the Town, to judge the impact of a project on the character of a neighbourhood, than area advisory committees made up of those who live in and around the effected neighbourhoods.

V. THE MPS ON THE GROUND

Karen Dempsey in one of her introductions at the April 8th meeting referred to “sharing burdens.” Yet I don’t recall hearing what those burdens are which need to shared. The Town needs to be fully aware, as much as one can look into the future, of the benefits and drawbacks of different policies proposed in the MPS.

To make sure that the proposed policies are “grounded’, here are some questions I suggest should be posed for each decision or policy considered by your committee:

–will the policy help the Town accomplish its goals?

–are there alternate ways to reach that goal?

–do we have as much information as possible concerning the proposed policy?

–what are the downsides of adopting the policy?

–do we understand the possible unintended consequences of the proposed policy?

–have we gotten as much input as possible from those who may be affected?

Thank you for taking the time to consider my observations and questions.

David A. Daniels
April 12, 2008

Posted also at Voices of Wolfville

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