Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Last Night at Council Land vs Cash Issue

Well it was an interesting night at council to say the least. There was a large group of residents in attendance to take in the deliberations and voting. There were several developers there that I recognized so I suspect they were there to listen to what was going to happen with this land vs cash issue when it comes to developing subdivisions.

Councillor Smith who is the chair of the Planning and Land Use Development Committee (PLUD) presented the motion with regards to Motion Drive Estates Phase III. She gave a brief description of the motion and how the committee came to the decision to recommend to council to accept a cash payment in lieu of land for this particular application.

Councillor Smith said that the committee didn't come to this decision lightly and weighed all the pros and cons of the proposal and in the end the decision was to take the cash. Reasons why it was deemed the better option was that in the opinion of the committee and other experts they consulted on staff there is a sufficient amount of green space in that area. Now I am just paraphrasing here and I am sure there are more detailed explanations but that is the jest of it from what I understood.

It was also noted by the members of the committee who also include Councillor Roach and Byrne that they felt that it would be unfair to the developer that has been waiting for over a year to get this application approved to go back now and demand to take the land. This indicated to me that there may have been an expectation by the developer that a cash payment was going to be sufficient for this project to proceed. I could certainly see how this would be the case when it appears that in many instances it appears to be the norm or even expected practice. With this in mind I think that the councillors may have been justified in this case to proceed as they did. I think it would be unfair to potentially "change the rules" almost at the end of the application process.

I know there is an argument out there that a developer should not have an expectation of a certain outcome with regards to compensation to the town for the right to develop land. Maybe they shouldn't but when it comes to planning and deciding to go ahead with a development they would most certainly look at decisions council has made in the past. While the options to council are clear that they have an option to take land or cash, the traditional way things have been done do set a precedent. This may invoke an expectation in both the developer and possibly even the councillors when they sit down to decide the cost of doing business. I would hope that while they are reviewing the 10 year plan they should develop clear guidelines to how we decide to take land over cash to help both the councillors and the developers to curb expectations. After all until the motion is brought to council and a vote actually takes place a developer should not assume anything.

The motion passed 4-3 and I think in this particular case with the information on hand they ultimately made the right decision. I know that there was a lot of public opinion out there that we should be taking the land and maybe we should have but each application needs to be looked at individually.

Those councillors on the PLUD Committee had all the information that the general public didn't have. This included recommendations from staff who are hired to advise council in a professional capacity. This is what they are paid for and they are considered content experts in these matters. What is the point of having a bunch of people working for the town who are there to advise council on these types of matters only to ignore what they have to say? This is where politics comes into it, yes staff make recommendations but ultimately it is up to council to make the final decision. Hopefully after all the facts have been discussed and the emotions and political gamesmanship have been removed that our councillors make decisions that are in the best interest of the community as a whole.

The three councillors who voted against the motion gave their reasons as well. Councillor Tapper read a prepared statement so that he wouldn't forget anything and stated his reasons pretty clearly. He thanked all the residents who showed up for the meeting and stated that the latest proposal from the developer didn't have green space included. He went on to say that there was overwhelming support from the community to take the land and he felt it was not recognized by the committee. Councillor Tapper also mentioned that council made a mistake in the past by rezoning that land residential but there is no going back. He also feels that over the years we have given away so much to developers as a town and received so little in return.

Councillor Gallant maintains that there were no good reasons for not following the towns guidelines. He was questioning why the town would spend $100,000 developing guidelines only to ignore them. He questions why certain things that have been approved by council are not being done like flood place analysis for example. Basically he questioned the entire decision making process and lack of following guidelines.

Councillor Whitty was a little more blunt and just said that he heard lots of people argue for taking the land but never heard a good argument for taking the cash.

There are people in our town who will say ALWAYS take the land to protect open space and preserve the rural feel and look of our town. Then there are other people who will say ALWAYS take the cash and use it to make advancements in other areas of the town where the money is dearly needed. I suspect that there is a balanced approach to be taken that uses aspects of both options. Most likely we will know we have struck this balance when everyone is complaining that we could have gotten more from that deal......that means each side got something and in the end it is the residents of the town who should be getting the benefits of our increased prosperity.

5 comments:

  1. Craig
    I think you are letting your Political Colours cloud your thinking!

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  2. Lee I don't know if that is entirely the case. Yes my political leanings effect how I view some things but after talking to the councilors and listening to what they had to say I was trying to understand what they did.

    I think that we need to make the best decisions for the town and in my opinion in most cases that will be to take the land where it makes sense and the money in other cases. That being said, I think we need to take a look at how we determine how much money we take. It needs to be worth while so we can use that money elsewhere. 35,000 dollars for me doesn't cut it.

    I couldn't really say everything I wanted in this story because I was trying to keep my own opinion out of it. I know it is hard and it creeps in because ultimately that is what I am doing giving my opinion.

    Personally, I would have liked to see council take the land and then do something with it. I am not a fan of getting land just for the sake of having it....it either needs to be used for the purpose it was obtained or sold so we can develop other areas of the town.

    In this particular case I was trying to understand why council and the committee made the decision they did. I think tradition, the "norm" and expectation may have played a role here and hopefully that will change.

    I think developers need to be told in no uncertain terms up front that there is a very real possibility you will be losing UP TO 10% of your land in this development. You can't count on just being able to pay a small fee as has been the common practice in the past.

    I am basically saying that I can understand what they did, why they did it and how they felt obligated to make the decisions they did. In this case when all they had to weigh I think for themselves and the contractor they may have made the right decision but not necessarily what is best for the town.

    Does that make sense? I may have lost my train of thought there along the way.

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  3. Craig
    The only thing that makes sense to me is this council is giving away our land and in long term on tax dollars.

    This council has to rely the message to the developers we are not giving away our land.

    What happened in the past should stay in the past!

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  4. Lee I agree with you totally. One thing of note that I did hear Councillor Smith say the other night was that on a go forward basis they may look at how they are doing things. I suspect this has a lot to do with the public out cry that was brought forward during this debate.

    I don't remember a time when we had such a strong public opinion on a particular issue. One thing that I found out the other night from Geoff is that the mayor picks who goes on what committees and the committee makes up doesn't change during a 4 year mandate. Seems to me that when there is no change in the make up of a committee is is difficult to change how that committee operates. I wonder if we should not be changing up committees at least once during an election cycle. Even if we left the Chair of each committee in place for the duration it would be a good idea to change the supporting cast to spur on some new ideas.

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  5. AnonymousMay 09, 2012

    Time for an ABC Campaign. Anybody But Codner next election. Mayor operates on us versus them. Us the founding fathers and them the new crowd.

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