SEPO PRESENTATION TO COUNCIL – DECEMBER 9, 2013.
Subject: Draft Comprehensive Zoning By-law
- Thank you for providing the opportunity to SEPO to speak to you on behalf of our members, most of who are deeply concerned about the recent deferral by Council of the draft Comprehensive Zoning By-law.
- We believe that a zoning by-law is one of the most important pieces of legislation that a municipality can have, particularly in a municipality such as ours, where the overwhelming amount of municipal tax revenue comes from the property assessment
- It is self evident that no other by-law has such a direct impact on property values
- SEPO also believes that a zoning by-law is a living document that should reflect the changing social and natural environment as well as the evolving environmental policies of the Provincial Government
Deferral of draft By-law
- Last September’s public meeting on the draft Zoning By-law was attended by a record number of residents who generally expressed great displeasure with the draft. Council, consequently, deferred passing the draft indefinitely
- The process, which led to the deferral of the draft zoning by-law began three years ago when the County Council reviewed and approved its Official Plan.
- The Official Plan amendments included a new section 4.3 which significantly changed the basis for the development of rules respecting the building of structures in areas considered by the planning department to be environmentally sensitive.
- At this point, I want to acknowledge that some of these areas, such as Provincially Significant Wetlands, are not within the jurisdiction of the County or the Municipality. SEPO’s concern today is with those areas which are within County and Municipal jurisdiction.
- The opposition of many residents to the draft by-law was not surprising given that the proposed new zoning would diminish the value of many people’s properties.
Public not informed and their views ignored
- When the County Council reviewed its Official Plan in 2010 our representative on the County Council provided no information to the residents of the Municipality about the potential impact on their properties of the proposed section 4.3.
- When the Local Official Plan came up for renewal in 2011, two public meetings were held in St. Edmunds. These were very well attended and the public provided a great deal of input. The staff told the public that the best way to get their views considered by the planners was to send in written submissions. In the event, 42 written submissions, some of them very detailed, were sent to the planners.
- As Council knows, none of the public’s written submissions or oral opinions were reflected in the new Official Plan. Instead, section 4.3 of the County’s Official Plan was imported into the Local Plan.
- It is important to note that during the course of the public meetings on the Local Official Plan the public was not told anything about the potential impact of section 4.3 nor that it was the intention of the staff to import section 4.3 into the local plan.
- Finally, when it was announced that the Zoning By-law would be amended to reflect the changes to the County and Local Official Plans, the public was told that the changes would be “house-keeping”
- In fact, as we now know, the changes were profound and it was only when the public saw the new zoning maps that they appreciated the significance of the impacts of section 4.3 on their property values.
- With respect to this lack of information from the County and the Municipality, SEPO would like to draw Council’s attention to s. 34(12) of the Planning Act which deals with zoning by-laws:
Before passing a by-law under this section, except a by-law passed pursuant to an order of the Municipal Board made under subsection (11.0.2) or (26), (a) sufficient information and material is made available to enable the public to understand generally the zoning proposal that is being considered by the council, It is the opinion of SEPO that the County and the Municipality has failed to meet this standard. Loss of confidence in the Council
- As a result of this failure to adequately inform the public and to take their views into account, the Council has lost the confidence of most of the taxpayers of the Municipality
- We understand that the staff is currently sounding out various consultants to conduct the review of the draft zoning by-law and the Local Official Plan in accordance with the resolutions passed at the September 22 public meeting and that the cost to the Municipality of retaining a consultant is likely to be into six figures.
- It is SEPO’s view that such an expense would be deplorable, unnecessary, and it is likely to be a waste of public money.
- SEPO understands that there is very little that can be changed in the draft zoning by-law as long as section 4.3 remains in the County Official Plan
- Accordingly, Council cannot meet the public’s expectations that the most objectionable provisions of the draft by-law will be changed. These expectations have been built up as a result of the three resolutions passed at the public meeting.
- A means must be found to re-engage the public in the planning process, educate them about the new realities being imposed by the Province and restore their confidence in the County and the MunicipalitY
- You cannot do that by simply paying a six figure sum to a consultant from outside the Municipality
- Nor is it necessary. There arE many residents who are more than capable of reviewing the draft by-law and the Official Plans
- Similarly, there are many residents who know how to develop a credible communications strategy to ensure that the reviewed draft zoning by-law will be acceptable to the majority of the public, even with the new environmental constraints
- The process, which resulted in the present impasse, is the result of Council’s refusal to engage the public directly in the planning process
- SEPO urges you to trust the residents of this Municipality and respect their intelligence rather than always turning to expensive outside consultants to solve your dilemmas
- We urge Council to consider the suggestion made at the public meeting that a planning committee, made up of local residents, a member of the staff and a member of Council, should conduct the review of the Official Plans and the draft Zoning By-law
- Most other municipalities, both big and small, have planning committees. The lack of one in this municipality is a significant cause of the ill-advised choices that led to the current collapse of the planning process and of the loss of public confidence