Daniels on the MPS part 2

Here is David Daniels’ second letter to Council pertaining to the MPS review. Some of his comments – for example on agricultural lands- have been expressed before and are repeated also on Voices of Wolfville. We do not agree with everything Mr. Daniels suggests, but his views are certainly worth considering. The point is that many of these important questions have not really been asked and are not really resolved by the document that the Town has spend 3 years preparing at some cost. Again we have separated out the quotes from the draft which are in red. Quotes from elsewhere are in green. The emphases is bold are ours.

August 6, 2008

Dear Mayor and Councilors:

Please accept the following, my second written public hearing submission.

Public Engagement and Preserving Agricultural Land

The new MPS makes repeated references to the importance of public engagement and participation in the planning process and as an important element of sustainability.

Guided by principles of sustainability, we will work towards achieving the following objectives: An inclusive community based on social equity and guided by citizen engagement through ongoing public consultation. . . .” Vision Statement, MPS Draft 4, p. 4

Principle 7: Empower people and foster participation.” The Melbourne Principles Adapted for Wolfville, MPS, Draft 4, p. 72.

The Natural Step was used in the preparation of the MPS. See MPS Draft 4, 1.3 Introduction, p. 3 The following appears on The Natural Step – Canada website:

At the heart of this planning approach is a commitment to a bottom-up participatory process that engages those affected by decisions and those who will be responsible for implementing parts of the plan.”

The issue of public trust and governance in the Town was raised in the Community Circles.Lack of trust between residents and town, residents do not trust they are ‘getting the whole story’ and they feel that they are not trusted by the town.” Report on the Community Circles -July 2006, Governance – Issues, p. 20. In an apparent response to this issue of trust in governance, Mr. Brideau stated in part:

Ms. Dempsey will be recommending to Council that they adopt a new formal Public Participation Program as part of the plan review process to embody current practice in policy.” Memo from Roy Brideau, September 2006. Staff Response to Community Circles Report. (Was such a recommendation ever made?)

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The quality and quantity of public engagement which took place during the rewriting of the new MPS and LUB is subject to debate and may be commented on by others. In this comment I’d like to address the issue of public engagement in future planning decisions.

I did not see a single new significant proposal in the new MPS which would foster or increase public participation in future planning decisions. (There is a new requirement at section 18.5.2 of the MPS that a notice be posted on the property subject to a development agreement. )

Here are several proposals which I would like the Council to consider which may help increase public participation in the planning process and lessen public mistrust.

1. Establish Area Advisory Committees. See Municipal Government Act (MGA), section 201.

2. Amend town bylaws to decrease the number of Councilors on the Planning Advisory Committee.

3. Provide orientation and training to PAC members on their powers and responsibilities.

4. In appropriate circumstances, the PAC (or staff at the request of the PAC) should produce written explanations of its decisions. This would include comments for and against a proposed project and set out the reasons why it made the decision it did.

5. Seek out residents to serve on the PAC with relevant experience or knowledge such as architects, landscapers and civil engineers.

6. When important, town-wide decisions are being considered, make use of plebiscites. MGA, section 53

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Preservation of Agricultural Land

The Town should consider rezoning lands on the east and west ends of the town which contain Category 2 soils from RCDD, which permits farming and residential development, to a zone which would permit agricultural use exclusively, or in the alternative, take steps to ensure that portion of these lands be used to create a swath of forever green belt surrounding the town.

Preservation of lands with agricultural capability is a stated Provincial Interest and Wolfville residents considered the loss of agricultural areas in the Town to be “significant. P. 15, Report of the Community Circles: An Interim Report of the Wolfville Sustainability Initiative, July 2006.

Audience members at the May 6th PAC meeting at which this issue was discussed gave reasons in support of rezoning the RCDD agricultural lands to agricultural use only: an express Provincial Interest is to preserve agricultural land; loss of agricultural land adversely impacts the aesthetic and rural character of the Town, with particular emphasis on the Kenny property; allowing the residential development of these lands runs counter to sustainability: grow food locally; if new residential developments are permitted, new infrastructure would be required to be built, again counter to MPS’s sustainability principles; and there is no assurance farmlands beyond Wolfville’s boundaries will be protected.

The MPS Draft 4 at page 43 states:Wolfville is surrounded by an agricultural green belt that provides a pastoral edge to the boundaries of the urban landscape.” Putting aside the description of development in Wolfville as anurban landscape,” can we really be sure that the green belt will remain?

At the May 6th meeting, one member of the audience pointed out that there has never been a proper discussion with residents about the desired population of the Town. This issue was especially relevant that night in view of the likelihood that the major increase in the Town’s population will come from large-scale residential development on the agricultural land now zoned RCDD on the east and west ends of town.

Of the eight PAC members present at this meeting four did not say anything (that I can recall) on this important issue. Those who spoke all were in favour of continuing to allow residential development on lands with agricultural capability. The reasons/responses given were: the position of those in favour of rezoning to agricultural use is inconsistent with the position not to rezone the R1 residential to R1A; residents living near Kenny’s farm who wished to preserve it should buy the land themselves; the Town cannot afford to buy the land; and rezoning the land to agricultural use would not be fair to farmers since it would deprive them of their “pensions”.

The PAC unanimously recommended to the Town Council that the agricultural lands retain their residential zoning.

The comments by PAC members addressed a few, but not all, of the issues raised by the public.

The key issue of whether the Town should aim for a desired population, and if so, what that number should be was not discussed that night, and to my knowledge, this essential question has never been addressed in the MPS drafting process.

There was a direct response to the claim of inconsistency: if there had been assurances that agricultural lands would be protected, increased density in developed areas of the Town might have been acceptable.

Why shouldn’t nearby residents purchase the Kenny farm? A fair question which needed a response. Who benefits from preserving farmland? The town as a whole? Only nearby residents? Is the Town preserving farmland analogous to the Town purchasing parkland? Perhaps not, since a park can be used by all residents?

Is it unfair to the landowners, the farmers, if their land is devalued by a rezoning? Based upon the principles of sustainability, what should be done?

Are there alternatives so that the land can be continued to be farmed, or at least the capability retained, and the farmers can “cash out” or partially “cash out”? Some sort of purchase and leaseback? Since preserving agricultural land is a Provincial Interest, is there any Provincial or Federal money available to further this interest? More facts would have helped in the discussion.

Facts were in short supply at the meeting. How did the PAC know the Town couldn’t afford to purchase agricultural land? I heard no sales prices mentioned. What is the interest rate on long term bonds which might be used to finance the purchase? Numbers needed to be crunched.

After that meeting I suggested that the planning staff might prepare an analysis of the different positions for and against rezoning to agricultural use, informed by facts and information about how other municipalities are attempting to preserve lands with agricultural potential. My suggestion, as far as I know, was never pursued.

Respectfully,

David A. Daniels

We hope to have Mr. Daniels’ third missive to post here before the next meeting on the MPS and LUB which will be Monday, August 11th, 7:30 at the town hall. We gather this will be the last chance residents have to comment. We have to say that Mr. Daniels is still under the impression that this Council will take input to heart. ON the R1 issue and on the budget they just backed off when the heat was on, and before an election, but we feel quite sure they will go deaf again when people tire of the effort.

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