Another submission to Council

We have a copy of another submission to Council, presented at the Aug 11 meeting, again via the Ratepayers Group. This one is from Keith Irving. We don’t need to add any comment. It speaks for itself.

Submission to the Municipal Planning Strategy (MPS)
and Land Use By-Law (LUB) — Special Meeting

by Keith Irving
Wolfville Ratepayer
August 11, 2008

A Municipal Planning Strategy is the most important and most democratic tool an elected Council has for involving community members in setting a vision for their community’s future.

The Sustainable Community Task Force recently heard from both your staff and the Chair that they are “proud” of this document feeling that it was the product of extensive public consultation and that it will “stand the test of time”.

Tonight I will provide you with a different perspective.

First, I will argue that that the MPS is an incomplete document – the result of a failed process that played lip service to the democratic principle of public consultation.

Secondly, I will argue that the MPS document failed to meet your contractual obligations to Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) and this raises serious questions of trust and public confidence about this Council’s ability to manage a project of this importance.

Finally, I will offer thoughts on a way forward.

Now I know that using such harsh words such as ‘failed process’ automatically puts people on defensive.  Some will argue that the quality of the process is a matter of interpretation and perspective.

Let me offer some points to consider when you deliberate on the merits of the public process that lead to the document before you.

For well over a year,  a number of people, myself included,  have been  encouraging your staff and the PAC Chair to engage in a proper community participation program.

The Municipal Government Act ( Article 204) requires that a public participation program be adopted as a policy of Council in the process of preparing planning documents.

When I recently asked Chairman Wrye for a copy of the public participation program adopted by Council for this project he replied that he did not know what this was.

I was subsequently forwarded by town staff a policy passed almost 10 years ago which requires one public participation meeting in the process to amend of [sic] the MPS.

One meeting is not “a program” and therefore this policy could not really apply to this extensive 3 year review process.

Clearly this policy does not meet the intent of the MGA and falls woefully short of what might be considered adequate for a process as important as the intention for a comprehensive revision the MPS.

Your staff has argued that the community circles and STFC meetings were the most extensive public consultation processes in their experience.

Well, I had an opportunity to listen to the tapes of the last meeting of the Sustainable Community Task Force. The strongest comments came from John Brown and I quote:

“I was very disappointed with the process… in fact as a process it was a failure”

Mr. Brown also went on to say (quote)  “ the task force did not get any product from the Community Circles”. He wanted to make it clear that “the task force never in any of its deliberations acted in any way on what the Community Circles uncovered”

He also confirmed that he saw no evidence that The Natural Step process was used which was a contractual obligation of the FCM contract.

So, before you comfort yourself in the argument that this process involved the most extensive public consultation the community has seen, I urge you to take the next step of connecting the dots.

Presumably the new vision for the community as formulated through the community consultations would be reflected in the new land use maps. The maps would reveal a vision which we can all be excited and proud.

However, if you look carefully at the existing land use map and the future land use map you will note that they are virtually identical!

The Comparison Document that was produced by your staff – by public demand – to show the changes from the previous MPS included a list of 82 bulleted items. Yet,

·    20 of the changed items were only name changes for zones.
·    16 of the changes use the words “Slight” or “Modest” Change.
·    33 of the noted items say “no change”

This leaves 13 items that are different from the last plan – 13 items that presumably define a sustainable vision for the future. Take a look at them, there is really not much there.

Completely absent from the new Land Use Plan are features found in other communities also pursuing a sustainable vision, features such as:

·    New types of zoning designations for innovative sustainable housing or clustered housing.
·    locations for new facilities and playgrounds to attract families.
·    Locations for community gardens.
·    future bike routes and trails.

In short, Wolfville’s new MPS process took $160,000 and almost 3 years to arrive at a new plan with 13 minor changes from our last plan.

So not only does the value for dollar question come into play in looking at the results of the new Land Use Plan, but you must also examine whether you have met the terms of the contract with FCM.

The contract with FCM outlines five objectives that go well beyond reworking the MPS and LUB –  yet the process has been  remarkably silent about these other objectives. The Town of Wolfville is contractually obligated to complete all the objectives under the FCM contract.

It was only at the most recent meeting of the Task Force that there was acknowledgement that things like the community monitoring tools were not complete. Yet, the Task Force was happy to be dissolved at that meeting without completing this objective.

If these objectives have not been completed, the question must be asked: Who will be held responsible for not completing the objectives of this project?  From a citizen’s perspective, it is still not clear who holds accountability for the project content, the schedule or the budget.

A review of the FCM contract with the Town of Wolfville  leads to a fairly obvious conclusion: the terms of this contact cannot possibly be fulfilled by the completion date of Sept 30th.

What do you do now?

·    You can hold your nose and pass this MPS which lacks vision and has no evidence of public support.
·    You can hope that FCM looks the other way when they review your submission due on Sept 30th and that future Green Funds to Wolfville are not put at risk.
·    And you can hope that the electorate has forgotten what has happened over the past few months.

The biggest risk of this approach is of course, that the Town of Wolfville will plod forward with a plan that in no way addresses the core issues of a sustainable community vision.  We will muddle through issues of sustainability, boundary expansion, and difficult choices that compromise our community quality of life. We will continue to react to the vision of developers rather than leading a vision for our community. We will undertake lowest common denominator planning because the bar has not been set higher when we had a great opportunity to do so.

But, you can also pause this process and take the time review the FCM Contract and talk to folks like John Brown on his experience with the process.

You can then consider the difficult but right decision of asking FCM for an extension so that the new Council can have an opportunity to complete the process and restore the public faith in the planning process.

A vote for this Municipal Planning Strategy and Land Use Plan places your voice behind a failed public process and a badly managed project that fell well short of your contractual obligations. It fell well short of the expectations of our citizens. I strongly urge that you vote against this Strategy and Land Use Plan.

Thank you.

Keith  Irving

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