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Monday, March 7, 2011

What’s on the agenda for the Built and Natural Environment Committee?

Reports about the transportation master plan, a petition about a possible access to a subdivision, some drive throughs, updates about a moratorium on methadone clinics, a demolition, and a whack of development applications. All in an evening's work for BNEC.

The Built and Natural Environment Committee (BNEC) normally meets alternate Mondays to deal with matters of growth and development of the city, including some matters that were previously within the jurisdiction of the Planning Committee, such as development applications, as well as some that were formerly part of the Environment and Transportation Committee dealing with building and renewal of hard infrastructure, such as roads and sewers. Because of Family Day, it has been three weeks since its last meeting.

BNEC usually has a pretty heavy workload since development applications are quite detailed and technical. There are lots of regulations to keep in mind: the Planning Act, the Provincial Policy Statement, The Official Plan, the Zoning By-law, and so forth. Members of the BNEC are likely to be heavily lobbied by developers, homebuilders, and construction unions whose profits and livelihood are at stake. It’s why I feel very strongly that would-be councillors should not accept campaign donations from people in this category. More about that in a future blog.

Monday’s agenda is no exception. There are 362 legal sized pages to be read. Some of them contain maps and drawings that need to be examined. Others consist of recommendations and analyses of development applications, reports from advisory committee and communications from the public. There will almost certainly be additional pages to be read at the start of the meeting as more information and communication comes forward.

Each committee at council has five members. For the BNEC they are Bud Polhill (chair), Joe Swan (vice-chair), Joni Baechler, Denise Brown and Sandy White. The mayor is a member ex-officio and has full voting rights.

When I served on council the mayor rarely attended committee meetings unless a very contentious issue was being discussed. She would have her say on that issue and then depart. Her vote often served to set a direction or to break a tie since we had six other members. The current mayor is very active in the discussion and voting at committee. Rather than breaking a tie, he is more apt to create one. A tied vote causes a motion to fail.

At the beginning of the meeting, members of the committee are asked to declare if they have “a pecuniary interest” in any of the items on the agenda. A pecuniary interest includes any material benefit that the member his or her immediate family might stand to gain or lose from a decision. Examples include a son or daughter employed by the applicant, or having a interest in a competing business. A campaign donation from the applicant is not considered to represent a pecuniary interest under provincial legislation.

There are two kinds of items to be dealt with at any of the meetings. Matters that are relatively routine or just involve receiving information, such as a report from staff or an advisory committee with no decisions to be made, are referred to as consent items and dealt with in total rather than one at a time. However, if a member wishes to discuss a consent item and/or make a motion about it, he or she need only to identify it at the beginning of the meeting and that opportunity will be given.

On the agenda tomorrow evening are 15 consent items. Included is an update on a review of methadone clinics. At present, there is a moratorium on allowing any more methadone clinics until council has an opportunity to get some information on the impact they have on a community so that decisions can be made about where they should go. Recently there was some talk about a company wanting to put up such a clinic on Bathurst St which provoked some community concern. The property being considered has since been purchased by another party.

Matters which need a recommendation from the committee are dealt with one at a time in order to allow full consultation, consideration and discussion. There are 11 such items on the current agenda, almost all of them dealing with development applications.

The development applications may be for a residential, industrial or commercial development. These will have been worked on by staff before being brought to the committee with a staff recommendation. In most cases, staff will give the go ahead on a particular application because the bugs have been worked out with the applicant in advance. As well, the community will have a chance to make its concerns known as part of a public participation meeting where anyone may speak.

Some developments, especially when they are located in an established neighbourhood, will attract many members of the community who want to express their concerns. Others, such as new subdivisions located in “greenfields”, may not have anyone to comment on them since there are no neighbours to whom notices are circulated. Making your concerns known either in written form or by speaking at a public participation meeting is important if you want to appeal the decision of council about an application. Normally, only people who have done so before or at the meeting will be able to appeal the decision to the Ontario Municipal Board or to speak at its subsequent hearings.

Engineering and planning staff members have been hired for their professional expertise. They work with the applicants to ensure that their proposals meet all the relevant legislation and provide suggestions for changes that will allow the project to go forward. They always give reasons for their recommendations. Therefore, if the recommendation is to refuse, it’s a pretty serious matter. The committee should not approve the application, simply because its members want to support “growth.” The wrong type of growth can get you in a heap of trouble. Councillors have to remember that they are there to serve the best interests of the community or the city which may, from time to time, not coincide with the interests of the applicant.

A case in point on the agenda for Monday evening that staff has recommended that council refuse the development proposal at the southwest corner of Clarke Road and Dundas Street. Currently, there is a variety store and gas bar at 1905 Dundas St E. The developer wants to put in a couple of drive through restaurants and other commercial buildings on that property and the adjacent property on Clarke Road which is currently zoned for multi-residential, i.e. an apartment building.

There are a number of reasons for the staff to recommend refusal. That is a busy intersection which has had more than its fair share of automobile collisions. Putting in a drive through is likely to exacerbate that problem, especially at rush hour. As well, putting a drive through next door to the residential community on Clarke Road is not likely to sit well with the neighbours. Finally, putting a drive through at a major intersection where there are adjacent homes is not likely to provide the boost needed to support public transit. These, along with other concerns detailed in the report, are some of the reasons for staff’s unwillingness to support the application.

The new council (and BNEC) has indicated that its main interest is growth. The applicant is known to be a generous donor to election campaigns. It will be interesting to watch the debate and recommendations that come from Monday’s meeting.

The complete reports on campaign donations and expenses will not be available until the end of March or even later if the candidate has requested an extension in order to receive more donations as a couple have done.

I'll keep you posted on both matters.

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