Editor’s note: The following column was written in response to the article “Builders: NIMBYism hurting development,” which appeared in the July 30 edition of Northern Life.
As an involved citizen representative of Lo-Ellen, I would strongly support Friends of Bennett Lake representative Philippa Spoel’s call for a better planning process.
We believe that important changes need to be made to how a development comes to be so that everybody involved can come to a quicker and more enlightened decision.
Let me assure the developers, that as a citizen, we do not go to OMB for “entertainment.”
In the example of the Bennett Lake proposal, many issues had not been dealt with to the level that the official plan and the planning act require.
The reality is that the official plan expresses a vision that reflects the people’s wishes, but some of the minute details in the document prevent that vision from happening.
For example, there is no complete definition of what the city will accept as parkland within the five-per-cent dedication rule, so as a consequence, citizens are left with “low use” parkland.
The city has endorsed the green vision of the Citizen Advisory Panel on green space, but has not given sufficient directives to staff on how to implement this very important vision of the people.
This has had the resultant effect that when a “priority for acquisition land” came up, staff did not fight for it, even though the people of the whole area and city greatly wanted them to.
The official plan and the planning act says that citizens are to be “engaged” in the development of their city.
You would expect that staff would be working collaboratively with the people.
The reality is that once the public is notified, it is almost or already a “done deal.” Staff will listen to the citizens but do not generally involve them.
For example, staff responsible for deciding on whether or not the wetland implicated should be designated “sensitive” would not walk the grounds with the steward representative for the lake and said it is not important.
We had a large sum of money available to buy the land, but staff decided on their own, without discussing it with us, that there was not enough money.
Developers are there to build and make money. If they can reduce their cost by giving less “useable” land, or putting more traffic than the roads can take safely or putting higher density than people want, they might just do that, since the official plan may not prevent that in every case.
The reality is that over time, things change and people and cities have realized that there are costs incurred by the city relating to new developments.
This cost usually involves the need for new infrastructure, but under the concept of smart growth, they also now evaluate the cost or losses involved to the people.
For example, the South End required the new sewage tunnel at a cost of $30 million, and the development in Minnow Lake would require tens of millions of dollars of traffic cost.
In Bennett Lake, the people are going to lose a pristine urban lake and surrounding ecological system, and even now, the trail system is not fully protected as an accessible trail for running and cycling for all.
The official plan is a good document, but severely lacking on important details, including the need to have watershed studies done right away.
Council says that it believes in a healthy community, but then does not allocate enough funds to make this vision a more complete reality.
In summary, the people who go to OMB do it because they feel that the official plan and the planning act has not been followed according to the wishes of the people.
Raymond Jacques is a Greater Sudbury citizen.