We often notice what is happening in municipalities around even if we don’t always comment but a recent bit in the Advertiser is of interest, and may have ramifications here. This is the headline that caught our eye:
Old language not illegal, just embarrassing
We wondered what kind of embarrassment that could be, but as we read on we learned that it was about more than merely language. Apparently municipal zoning can no longer be counted on and not only that but forget about being notified about development proposals in your vicinity.
Cleaning up ‘conflict of language’ is behind a new piece of business before Berwick Council. Following a contentious public hearing and successful second reading approving two duplexes in a R1 neighbourhood [emph ours – Yes, you read that right! Ww] earlier in November, councillors reacted to public comments property owners weren’t specifically notified of the proposed changes. They almost didn’t pass the development, but felt in the end it was an acceptable project and the process had been fair.
So there it is. If it’s an “acceptable project” zoning is out the window! Odd, we always thought that what was deemed “acceptable” depended on the zoning not the other way round!!!!
And what about the fair process bit? It seems things have changed. They don’t have to let homeowners know – at least not the same way they used to. The CAO Bob Ashley and the town planner Chris Miller put it this way:
We haven’t notified neighbouring property owners since 2000″ Ashley said, when the province replaced municipality specific land use bylaws with upgraded Municipal Government Act public participation programs … the intent was public participation would be guided by the MGA.
Emph ours. Bylaws replaced? Didn’t we just spend plenty to produce a new MPS and LUB? Is this just bad reporting? Do they mean just notification bylaws? Even then. Who knew? And what is this not so new process?
In the application process for the project behind this concern, Miller followed the newer program for public notification: newspaper [who reads them anymore?]and posting in the town hall [because residents go there every week?] And they call this an “upgrade“? [????????????????]
Now we get to that “embarrassing” language that shows everyone that what you had before was better than the “upgrade”:
Ashley and Miller advised council to remove the section that says the town “shall” send letters to property owners within 500 feet of the development.
We used to think that “shall” had the force of law in a bylaw – and maybe it still has. We think the R1 residents of Berwick should not let this go unchallenged. It is not just a change of language – it is a change of process and a change in responsibility.
Councillor Anthony Morse asked whether this change in policy language would change the town’s position should there be an appeal of its decision on the recent project at a higher level.
“No”, said Ashley “but [sic] citing the LUB wouldn’t be concrete grounds to overturn council’s decisions. We did follow the public participation program.”
This is not what we would call open government, Mr. Ashley.
Councillor Don Clarke suggested adding other means of public notification to the town’s public process – through its website, a town bulletin board, letters to property owners if desired. “We shouldn’t over react, but we should make our public participation as good as it should be.”*
That would upgrade the “upgrade” to what it was before!!! And why not? The MGA doesn’t limit this we don’t suppose.
*This article is not online that we could see but you can read the rest in the Advertiser of Dec. 8th page 5 – “news on the go.”