Sustainability only part of a plan

The latest from David Daniels. This appeared in the most recent Grapevine (May 22-June4) Not sure why he has not posted this at Voices of Wolfville.

SUSTAINABILITY VERSUS PLANNING?

I was struck by the similarities between the discussions at the May 6th Planning Advisory Committee (PAC) meeting and those at the December 5th, 2006 and January 3rd, 2007 Sustainability Task Force (STF) meetings on that portion of the Municipal Planning Strategy (MPS) dealing with the preservation of agricultural land at the east and west ends of Town. This was both surprising and to be expected.

Surprising because Deputy Mayor Wrye (who is the Chairperson of the both the STF and PAC) has on more than one occasion stated that the STF was to review the MPS in terms of sustainability and that the PAC would review the document from a planning perspective. So I expected that new ideas or perspectives would be added to the discussion when the PAC tackled this issue.

“To be expected” because four members of the STF are on the PAC; Karen Dempsey, who has been responsible for actually drafting the MPS from a sustainability perspective introduced the topic of Agriculture; and to my knowledge, sustainability has served as the standard used in writing the MPS.

I have previously suggested to the PAC that it set forth the planning principles or perspectives it was going to use in its review of the MPS. Alas, my suggestion has never been acted upon.

There is not a perfect overlap between sustainable and planning principles. These principles may at times conflict. Since the PAC appears unwilling or unable to articulate planning principles, I thought I might try, although I am no planner.

I’ll start with a planning idea others have raised at meetings and in written submissions. Planning is about looking ahead. Town residents may wish to come to some agreement about the “ideal” or preferred population Wolfville. You want Wolfville to have “small town” feel, then that the “feeling” may disappear if the population doubles or increases by X amount. Once the target number is decided upon, then decisions about the number and types of housing to be built in the Town will follow. (Obviously, market forces and legal constraints will play a role as well.)

Economic issues should play a role in planning. I disagree with the view expressed at the May 6th meeting that the PAC should not be concerned with the economic consequences of its planning recommendations. The Municipal Government Act (MGA) at section 214(1)(b) and (q) explicitly permits the MPS to include policy statements concerning the economic environment of the Town.

Residents have complained about the Town’s high taxes. It is an impediment to young families moving into Town. Can planning do something about this besides encouraging the construction of affordable and desirable single family homes? The promotion of a diverse commercial base may help with the tax base. It also could lead to good paying jobs and less reliance on and/or greater cooperation and coordination with Acadia University. This could mean creating a hi-tech research park on land now used for farming in the Town. This may not be perfectly consistent with sustainability. But the Town may opt for greater economic viability in a trade off with sustainability.

In terms of planning principles, one need look no further than the MGA which allows a municipality to include in its MPS “the goals and objectives of the municipality for its future”. Section 214(1)(a). Shouldn’t Town residents be given the opportunity to voice goals and objectives which may not fall under the rubric of “sustainability”? And it should be noted these goals and objectives do not have to be directly related to land use. Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations, Local Government Resource Handbook, Part V at page 2.

Here is a comment from the Report of the Community Circles, July 2006, under the heading “Governance,” at page 20. “Lack of trust between the residents and town, residents do not trust they are ‘getting the whole story’ and they feel that they are not trusted by the Town.”

Where is this issue addressed in the MPS? Information and trust are crucial to the planning process, now and in the future. There are general statements in MPS about the importance of engaging the public. See pp. 4 and 72. But no specifics are provided on how to achieve this laudable goal. I suppose it’s easier to regulate runoff from a steep slope or protect wetlands than to draft policies directed to fostering democracy.

David A. Daniels

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