Monday, April 30, 2012

Land vs Cash Vote Tonight Regarding Motion Estates

Land vs Cash Tug of War
The issue of Land vs Cash from subdivision developers has been getting a great deal of attention lately from those who are involved in and observe our municipal government. There has been a lot of back and forth regarding this particular issue over the past couple of months and certainly longer than that where Council is concerned. Will it all come to and end tonight with a vote in Council or is this just the beginning of a larger debate that will be a lightning rod of controversy every time a developer submits and application for a subdivision?

Lately this issue seem to dividing council and there are clear lines between those who support the land option and those who are in favor of taking the cash in this particular case. Over the years it seems that council has chosen to take the cash more often than not and that may be adding to the ferocity of the debate.

In the past few weeks the tone of this debate has certainly taken a turn for the worst with the Mayor accusing the Deputy Mayor of grandstanding in Council while trying to comment on the issue. The Deputy Mayor was ruled out of order in that case although he still probably questions the ruling. Just as troubling is the fact that in the latest issue of the North East Avalon Times and on some social media the Deputy Mayor pretty much called the Mayor a liar.

This is in regards to a suggestion by the Deputy Mayor that the town should take the land even if it decides to sell it later at market value. The Mayor said that would be illegal under provincial legislation in the latest edition of the Times. The Deputy Mayor posted a portion of a document on Facebook the other day that states the town can sell the land if it wants as long as it complies with the regulation. It should be noted however that the position of the Deputy Mayor on this particular motion before Council is 100% in favor of taking the land as per the Open Space Management Strategy guidelines. His reasoning for posting the regulations with regards to selling the land for market value was in response to the questioning of the legality of the proposal. The Following is from the towns own Development Regulations that are posted on the town website here, it is the document that the Deputy Mayor posted on the Torbay for Families Facebook Page recently.

78.  Land for Public Open Space 
(1) Before a development commences, the developer shall, if required, dedicate to the Council, at no cost to the Council, an area of land equivalent to not more than 10% of the gross area of the subdivision or 25 m² for every dwelling unit permitted in the subdivision, whichever is the greater, for public open space, provided that:
(a) where land is subdivided for any purpose other than residential use, the Council shall determine the percentage of land to be dedicated;
(b) if, in the opinion of the Council, no public open space is required, the land may be used for such other public use as the Council may determine;
(c) the location and suitability of any land dedicated under the provisions of this Regulation shall be subject to the approval of the Council but in any case, the Council shall not accept land which, in its opinion is incapable of development for any purpose;
(d) the Council may accept from the developer in lieu of such area or areas of land the payment of a sum of money equal to the value of the land which would otherwise be required to be dedicated;
(e) money received by the Council in accordance with Regulation 78(1)(d) above, shall be reserved by the Council for the purpose of the acquisition or development of land for public open space or other public purpose.
       (2) Land dedicated for public use in accordance with this Regulation shall be conveyed to the Council and may be sold or leased by the Council for the purposes of any development that conforms with the requirements of these Regulations, and the proceeds of any sale or other disposition of land shall be applied against the cost of acquisition or development of any other land for the purposes of public open space or other public purposes.
(3) The Council may require a strip of land to be reserved and remain undeveloped along the banks of any river, brook or pond, and this land may, at the discretion of the Council, constitute the requirement of land for public use under Regulation 78(1).
If the Town of Torbay's own development regulations say that the town can sell the land after it is given to the town then it can only be assumed that there must be another reason why the mayor would maintain that selling the land in this case would be illegal. It clearly states in the Urban and Rural Planning Act, 2000 that land conveyed to council under the regulation can be sold or leased by council. This stands to reason considering the Town's development regulations would have to be created within the regulations of the provincial act. The following is from the Urban and Rural Planning Act, 2000.
Dedication of land for public use 
37. (1) A council or regional authority may make regulations requiring that an applicant for a permit for a subdivision dedicate to the council or regional authority, not more than 10% of the subdivision or land to be developed for park land or other public use.
(2) Land dedicated under subsection (1) shall be conveyed at a cost of $1 to the council or regional authority under whose jurisdiction the land is located.
(3) Where it is not feasible or desirable to set aside a proportion of the land under
subsection (1), the applicant may pay an amount of money to the council or regional authority that is equivalent to the value of the land in that subdivision that would have been conveyed under subsection (2).
(4) Where an agreement cannot be reached on the amount of money to be paid under subsection
(3), a board of arbitrators shall fix the amount as if the land were expropriated under Part IX.
(5) Where the subdivision or land development for which a permit is required consists of land for which there are 2 or more persons holding an interest in the land, the costs of a land dedication, conveyance or money payable under subsection (2), (3) or (4) shall be shared proportionally among those persons.
(6) A council or regional authority may sell or lease land conveyed to it under subsection (2). 
(7) Land dedicated and conveyed for a park or another public use under this section that is not sold or leased under subsection (6) shall be used for that dedicated purpose.
(8) A council or regional authority may, for a development that is not a subdivision, require that the owner of the land being developed convey to the council or regional authority, for a public purpose, a portion of the land proposed for development.
(9) Where a council or regional authority and the owner of land to be conveyed under
subsection (8) cannot agree as to the cost of the land, Part IX shall apply to that conveyance.
This issue will be voted on tonight at Council and it is likely to be a very heated debate. There are very strong opinions on both sides of the table and it will be interesting to see how the vote plays out. There is a likely possibility that this vote will be a close one and may end up 1 vote deciding the matter one way or the other.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Important Update On Great Big Sea Tickets

I just got word from the town that If you go DIRECTLY to Mile Once Centre Box Office in person and buy your tickets you can get them for the base price or $31.00 plus GST and applicable surcharges which brings the price to $41.75.

Do NOT use the internet to buy your tickets. If you use the internet you will have to pay additional charges and depending on how you get them, "mail" or "will call" you will have to pay even more. If you buy the tickets online you will pay around $51 instead of 41.75.

Thanks to Ralph Tapper for getting this info to me.

Tickets For Great Big Sea Are On Sale Now

Yesterday I discovered that the tickets for the Great Big Sea concert were actually being sold on their site for much more than what we were led to believe from the town. I made them aware of the discrepancy and as of last night the people from the town were still under the impression that tickets were supposed to be $31. On the Torbay 250 site it says that the tickets are $31
Advance tickets go on sale April 5th at 10:00 am for $31. Tickets will be available online atwww.greatbigsea.com and can also be purchased at Mile One Centre Box Office. Gates open at 4:00 p.m. This is an all ages event with a licensed area for those 19 .
On the radio this morning there was a advertisement for the concert and it stated that the tickets were $31 dollars.

Well then how come the tickets are not $31?

Yesterday I went on to GBS site and I could have bought tickets for this price

Base Price - 38.70
Great Big Sea.com Service Charge - 5.50
Transaction fee - 1.50
Total 45.70 each

Today there are NO tickets for sale on GBS.com

Update - The link on GBS.com not directs you to Mile One Box Office

I went to Mile One Centre Box Office and low and behold the tickets are even more expensive that they were yesterday on GBS site.

Base Price - 41.75
Fee - 4.90
Total - 46.65

I have one question, what the hell is going on? I know council and staff are working hard on the Torbay250 celebrations but we should be able to get some clarity on something as simple as a friggin ticket price for the biggest concert ever held in our town.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Planning and Development Meeting Tonight

Wanda Hammond has a pretty good summary of the meeting on our Torbay For Families Facebook Page.

I just have a couple of things to add...

First of all I think that the meeting went well if you take into account the reason they had it....to explain the process of how the town deals with development. It was informative and although I agree with others with regards to when the Mayor was speaking it was pretty dry stuff but to tell you the truth I suspect there are a good many people who have no idea how the town operates and it was probably a good lesson for some. It was kind of painful but considering this is the first of these types of sessions that they have held that I can remember it is something that I can live with.

Another thing that was helpful was the fact that they explained that these strategies like the Open Space Management Strategy that they have developed are not policy and are basically guidelines. That makes a big difference because some people tend to think that these recommendations that come forward are hard and fast policies that the town must follow.

One thing that kind of bugged me tonight was that the overall theme of the meeting centered around Motion Drive Estates. I know that is the hot topic in the political circle right now but there are lots of other issues that need to be addressed as well. We never got to hear enough about other facets of development that we are concerned about. I think when the green space issue is front and center the discussion kind of gets swallowed up by people with a clear biased. There is nothing wrong with having a biased on a particular issue, that is fine with me and I know that there is a particular segment of our town who are always going to advocate for the town to protect green space regardless of anything else. That is their right and I respect that.

That respect has to run both ways though and I find that doesn't always happen. Without developments in our town and the option for the town to take cash over land when it is deemed preferable we will never be able to raise the funds to enhance other areas of the town.

Without that option for the town to raise the one time money and the tax revenue in perpetuity we will always be at the mercy of the Provincial and Federal Governments to get the much needed funds.  That is why all the plans the town has are in the 10 year range and of course many of these project are so big that they require that time anyway.

I think we need to keep pushing and advocating for the issues that we find important. We need to find common ground with other people and band together to present our agenda. That is how the environment people always get their issues addressed, they have strength in numbers and I applaud them for that. At the municipal level to get things done you need to have a louder voice than the next guy. We need to take our cue from the people who have been successful in getting their issues addressed and follow their lead, no point in reinventing the wheel.

Torbay Open Space Management Strategy

I just finished reading the Open Space Management Strategy and it appears to be a very ambitious document. There is certainly a plan to acquire land and preserve open spaces within the town and it also talks about interconnecting different trail ways and discusses an inner and outer loop of trails interconnected throughout the town. Now I am just paraphrasing here so to get a more detailed look go and see the plan here.

There is a lot in there and here is just a taste of some of the items listed, this has both inner and outer loop features included.

  • Aquire Lands to be developed
  • Route Refinement - develop routes for trails I guess
  • Signage/Wayfinding
  • Development and construction of corridor
  • Paving for Bike Way
  • Development of Neighbourhood Parks
  • Development of Agricultural/Community Gardens
  • Development of Nature Playgrounds
  • Improvements of area sidewalks
  • Coastal Parks
  • Gully Wetland Boardwalk
  • Big River Boardwalk
  • Development of Remainder of trail
  • Development of trails around ponds
All these things are great initiatives and would be nice to have in our town but from a quick glance this looks like it is going to cost an awful lot of money. There is no price tag attached to this strategy so it is completely open to debate on how much this is going to cost. I would hazard to guess it would be in the millions.

I understand the desire to have all this open space and trails and to preserve our wetlands and green spaces but we also have to proceed with other priorities as well. Ones that I think may be more important to a lot of people. Before we spend millions of dollars on green spaces we need to possibly put some sidewalks on the roads we already have.

How about moving forward with a plan to get a pool in Torbay or a recreation complex that can be used by families and our children. Even if we can't build the infrastructure to house new programs we need to enhance the ones we have and offer more stuff for families.

The Town of Torbay is a pretty damn good place to live and it is not like we don't have ample green space throughout our town. That is not to say we shouldn't protect our undeveloped lands for the future but we can't do it despite everything else. There are many issues facing this town as we move forward and we will need to find more money to get things done. We can't rely on the province to give us the money so the only other place to get it is through property taxes. That means in order to increase our revenue we either have to increase taxes or increase the tax base. To be perfectly honest I didn't like the huge tax hike we got blindsided with this year and I don't look forward to tax increases every year in the future.

When we look at the 10% land or cash scenario on a piece of land that has a raw value of say 50,000 what are the options? We take the piece of land, say it is an acre. What are we going to do with it? If we develop it it is going to cost the town money. We are either going to have to pay to develop that parcel of land or we are just going to let it sit undeveloped. Either way it is not adding any money to the town coffers.

Now lets say for that same piece of land we take the 50,000 dollars. Right away we have more money to spend in other areas of the town for services that we want and need. Those expenditures could very easily be a green space in another part of town. But the money doesn't end with that initial 50,000. We as a town are going to get construction permit fees and of course the yearly taxes that the owners of that new house is going to pay. Again this adds to the towns bank account and provides funds to be spent on other town services and best of all that money is going to be coming to the town year after year after year.

While I agree that we need to have a green space strategy we also need to have a development strategy that allows the town to grow and increase our tax base so that we can pay for much needed infrastructure and services.

I guess the question I have with relation to this piece of land in Motion is this. How is an acre of undeveloped land in Motion going to help build a sewage treatment plant? How is it going to add to our water supply capacity? How is it going to help fund programs for our families and children? How is it going to put sidewalks on our streets?

Well the answer to that question is simple...it won't. So if we always choose the land over cash how will we ever get the things we need and want that cost money? I am not saying always take the money but I think each situation has to be looked at individually and other factors in the town need to be considered as well. Sometimes it will make more sense to take the land and sometimes it won't. As long as we approach it sensibly then I think we will be OK in the long run.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

What a Night At Council

I must say that it was certainly entertaining at council tonight. Usually Council meetings are pretty boring and procedural. Tonight though things got a little heated between the Mayor and Deputy Mayor. This is how I recall what happened and I did write it down so I should be pretty accurate.

Anyway, from the start of council there seemed to be an undertone of disappointment in the demeanor of Deputy Mayor Geoff Gallant. I think he certainly seemed preoccupied and not entirely happy about how things have unfolded regarding the Public Information Session that is happening Wednesday night at the Kinsmen Center.

Basically Geoff stated that he was disappointed that members of Council are not going to be addressing the public session on Wednesday and will not be answering questions presented by the public. Geoff commented that he believes that when Councillors are not available for questions that they are not being accountable to the public.

Councillor Smith countered this argument saying that the original intent of the session was for staff to present information to the public regarding planning and development in general and not specifically Motion Drive Estates. I guess that when the original motion was passed it did not specifically mention Motion Drive Extension but referred to a question presently before council. Which as I understand it was the Motion Drive Extension application. Confused yet? She also said that Councillors are accountable and available to residents 24/7, not only at a public meeting.

Anyway as the council meeting progressed it was plain to see that the Deputy Mayor wasn't exactly happy about this and when he tried to present some information from the recreation committee, Councillor Smith raised a Point of Order related to the information that Geoff was going to present and he was ruled out of order by the Mayor. Apparently Geoff was trying to present information that was discussed at the committee meeting but was not expressly written in the committee minutes. When the Mayor said that Geoff was out of order he disagreed and said that he was not out of order. There was some back and forth between the Mayor and the Deputy Mayor before Councillor Smith spoke up and said that Council should decide if someone is out of order or not. So they voted on it and the Deputy Mayor was ruled out of order by a vote of 4-2.

Oh it gets better.....

After the Deputy Mayor was ruled out of order and it was clear that he didn't agree the Mayor went on to report on something that apparently was not in the minutes of some committee meeting. Sorry I don't have all the details but I was trying to write it all down and the jabs going back and forth distracted me. So basically what happened is that when the Mayor proceeded to give his oral report the Deputy Mayor spoke up and asked why can the Mayor give an oral report and he can't? He obviously felt that he was being treated unfairly and was not happy about it. He challenged the decision of the chair and said something about consulting Municipal Affairs about the ruling.

In response to Geoff's question as to why the Mayor can give oral reports and he can't the Mayor stated that what he was reporting on was important to the operation of the town and lets face it the Deputy Mayor was just grandstanding. It was at this point that I thought the Deputy Mayor was going to lose it, to his credit he held some sense of calm, well as calm as can be expected I guess.

So the meeting continued and Councillor Byrne was asked if he had anything to report and he said that he never had time to send the minutes of a meeting about Tappers Cove but asked was it OK to give an oral report. Then he proceeded to give an oral report of what was going on down at Tappers Cove and I had a hard time not laughing out loud. Now I am no expert on the procedures of Council but the Mayor and another Councillor just gave oral reports immediately after the Deputy Mayor was ruled out of order and accused of grandstanding for seemingly trying to do the same thing. So the way I figure it if you go to a meeting and there is no minutes taken you can give an oral report. However if your meeting has minutes and you present them for the council meeting you can't give an oral report on something that is not in the minutes.

At the end of council when they are doing their round table Geoff again tried to say something about the Green Space Management Strategy (I think that is what it was) and he was immediately interrupted and asked if he was trying to present something that related to a motion that council will be voting on in a couple of weeks, the Motion Drive Extension issue. Again he was ruled out of order and forced to stop talking about the issue. Geoff told the Mayor that you can't stop me from talking and telling me what I can and can't talk about. The mayor responded I can if you are ruled out of order.

I will be the first to admit I don't know all the ins and outs of Council procedure but this is the first time I have seen this type of thing at Torbay Council. Makes me want to go back next meeting and I certainly will. The next meeting will be the one where they will vote on this Motion Drive Extension motion and I am sure all parties will have a change to have their say and even do a bit of grandstanding if they choose.

This little bit of excitement tonight at council doesn't rank up there with the epic battles between Andy Wells and Shannie Duff or Dorothy Wyatt but at least it shows that there is some life in the council chamber. I am sure that the Deputy Mayor is not too happy with how things turned out at Council tonight but he is a big boy and should get over it pretty quickly.

Who says Torbay politics is boring...

Monday, April 2, 2012

Update On Public Information Session For Planning and Development

The title of this post says it all. I just got back from tonight's council meeting and it appears that there may be some misunderstanding of the purpose of the information session at 7:00 on Wednesday night.

First thing that needs to be mentioned is that this meeting is not specifically about the Motion Drive Extension project, it may come up but it is not the main purpose.

Secondly, no members of Council will be taking or answering questions from the public. All questions will be handled by subject matter experts which are people who are in the employment of the town. These are the people who know the regulations and the legalities of how and why the town makes certain decisions. Ultimately it is Councils decision when it comes to policy and they either accept and adopt the recommendations from staff or they don't. That is a political decision as apposed to legal and regulatory decisions that staff make. At least that is how I see it.

Anyway to make a long story short, anyone who thought they were going to this information session at the Kinsmen Centre Wednesday night and put questions to Councilors in hopes of effecting a decision on Motion Drive Extension are out of luck. Although all members of Council will be listening and you may be able to sway their decision before the vote at the next Council meeting.

Basically what is going to happen as I understand it is that staff will make a presentation for a period of time, I think 45 minutes and then people will be allowed to ask questions of these experts for another 45 minutes with a 5 minute time limit per person. I can't guarantee that these times I have a totally accurate but that is the impression I got from Councillor Smith tonight.

Just because Councillors are not going to be answering questions directly doesn't mean that this is an exercise in futility, it is far from that. We as citizens can learn a great deal about what is going on first hand with our own ears from the people who know what they are talking. Most of what we hear is second hand information from people who may or may not know what they are talking about, kind of how all the misinformation about this public session got spread in the first place.

I would still encourage anyone who wants to have a say about how development and planning are conducted on our town to come out to the sessions and have it. The only way we can effect change in our town is if we participate in the political process and that means more than just casting a vote every 4 years.

Who is this Public Information Session Really For?

I am starting to have a bad feeling about this Public Information Session on Wednesday Night. At first I thought this was a great idea but after looking at the guest list that Deputy Mayor Geoff Gallant has sent out I am starting to have problems with the motivation behind it. I thought this was about how the Torbay Council is going to make a decision about a piece of land in Motion and how we as Torbay residents want to deal with this type of scenario in the future.

However when I look at the list of guests and I start seeing names like the following I can't be anything but skeptical and worried.

Lorraine Michael - Leader of Provincial NDP
Ryan Cleary - NDP Member of Parliment
Dale Kirby - NDP MHA
George Murphy - NDP MHA
Gerry Rogers - NDP MHA
Rick Boland - Works for the NDP Party
Jean Graham - Works for the NDP Party
Sheilagh O' Leary - City of St. John's Councillor and known NDP Supporter
Shannie Duff - St John's City Councillor
Yvonne Jones - Liberal MHA

That is just the high profile recognizable names that I picked out after skimming through it. I don't know about anyone else but I would like to know what the hell is going on. Why is the Deputy Mayors guest list full of people who don't live in our town and quite frankly most of them probably couldn't find Motion if they fell over the cliff. In fact the only time you are likely to see any of them in Torbay is if there is an election going on and they are shilling for votes.

I want this to be an issue that is discussed by residents of Torbay, you know the people who pay the taxes in this town and have the most to gain or lose by what decisions our council makes. I am worried that this meeting is going to be nothing more than an opportunity for Geoff Gallant - NDP Candidate for the last and most likely next provincial election trying to score some political points with a bunch of grandstanding from his NDP friends. I hope I am wrong about that.

I know, people are going to say that I am over reacting and reading too much into this and that there is nothing sinister going on. Well I ask this question, why should we as residents and tax payers of Torbay, who want what is best for our town, have to be drowned out by the voices of a bunch of people who don't even live here and certainly don't contribute to the the tax base that fuels it. They will only show up in our town to discuss this issue because they have a political agenda, what other reason could it be?

Why is our own Local MHA not on the list of invitees? Kevin Parsons has a Facebook Page just like the rest of us? How about the minister of Municipal Affairs? To be quite frank I don't see why Kevin needs to be there, this is an internal issue related to our town and we should handle it. This is a discussion that should take place between the concerned residents of Torbay and our elected council. This is one building lot we are discussing here, not 1000 acres somewhere in the middle of a conservation zone.

If all these people show up on Wednesday night then this is going to turn into a farce and nothing will get solved because ideological partisan politics is going to take over. I thought municipal politics was supposed to be about people and communities and doing what is best for the entire town, not a partisan platform to push the agenda of a bunch of Provincial politicians and their minions.

Let us all hope that the interest of all who are actually involved in this issue wins out over the interest of a bunch of people who don't live in our town possibly showing up to high jack our public information session.