Monday, May 14, 2012

Residents Appeal Decision on Motion Estates Phase III

On Friday May 11, 2012, representing concerned residents of Torbay, Derek Staubitzer submitted an appeal to the Regional Appeals Board in relation to Council's recent decision on Motion Drive Estates Phase III. On April 30, 2012 at the last public council meeting members of council voted 4-3 in favor of taking a sum of cash from the developer in lieu of a parcel of land for green space. This has been a very contentious issue it has been on some people's radar for a long time and especially in the past few months as the decision got closer.

Donated Application Fee of  $113 including taxes
Details of the Appeal as follows:
 
Summary of Grounds for Appeal
Authority: Town of Torbay
Appealing Group: Concerned Citizens of Torbay

Decision Being Appealed: Acceptance of “an amount of money in lieu of land” as a condition of approving Phase III of the “Motion Development”

Summary of Grounds for Appeal:

By accepting “an amount of money in lieu of land” for open space use as a condition of approving Phase III of the “Motion Development”, the Town of Torbay violated its land use planning directions and requirements for the Motion area as established within its Open Space Management Strategy. By direction of Council, the Open Space Management Strategy is meant to be a single source of guiding policy for open space management in the Town.

Furthermore, through a motion of Council and a specific directive in the Letter of Approval to the developer, the Town vested the authority and responsibility for determining the “open space requirements” for Phase III of this development with the Town’s Parks, Recreation and Community Services Committee. The recommendation of this Committee to obtain land for open space use as per the Open Space Management Strategy was not accepted by Council.

Furthermore, by accepting an amount of money equal to the “assessed raw land value”, the Town violated its Municipal Plan which stipulates that if the Town should chose to accept money in lieu of land, the amount “must be equal to the fair market value of the land”. This amount would be significantly more than the “assessed raw land value” which has been specified by the Town.


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Anyone wishing to be part of this appeal can either sign a paper copy of the form or they can send an email stating that they wish to be part of the appeal. For more information on either option please send an email to Madeleine Florent at the following email address madeleine.florent@nf.sympatico.ca

Many people feel that the Town of Torbay is neglecting it's responsibility to protect our green spaces and to get the most from developments for residents. Research done and posted online by Deputy Mayor Geoff Gallant shows that over the past 10 years there have been over 450 building lots developed and only around 10.8 acres of land has been acquired by the town under the green space management strategy. It is also interesting to note that 6.8 of those were acquired last year. So for the other 9 years we only requested a total of 4 acres of land, on the surface that seems like a pittance. To take a look at the Deputy Mayor's research and conclusions you can follow this link Case for Open Space. There is a lot of information included in those pages and it is an interesting read.

Since the vote both the Mayor and the Deputy Mayor have done interviews with CBC regarding the vote and the issue of land vs cash in general. I listened to both interviews and was struck by a couple of differences in what both men were saying. Here are a few examples.

The Mayor contends that there was already enough green space in that area and plans for a coastal park. The Deputy Mayor says that although there is a park planned for that area the town does not own the land and we will have to buy it in the future.

The Mayor says that according to regulations in the Urban and Rural Planning Act that the town has a choice of 10% land or equivalent cash amount of the raw or assessed land value, which in this case is around 35,000 dollars.  He also mentioned in the last edition of the North East Avalon Times that it would be illegal to take the land then sell it for a higher price after.

The Deputy Mayor says that both of these statements are wrong. He can't find anywhere in the Urban and Rural Planning Act where it says we must interpret the value of the land as "raw value", in fact he says our own town plan says "Fair Market Value". He also can't find any reference as to why taking the land and then selling it later would be illegal.

Another thing of interest is the fact that the Deputy Mayor sad that the Parks and Rec Committee voted in favor of taking the land and passed that recommendation on to council but they basically ignored it. However the Mayor said that in fact the Parks and Rec Committee actually voted 2-1 and the staff member voting in favor of taking the cash basically made it a split vote. This part is confusing because as far as I know from the research I have done that only Councillors vote in committee, not staff. I looked in the Municipalities Act and could not find an instance where staff is allowed to vote on anything in a Committee of Council.

With these inconsistencies in mind and all of the information provided to me in the past with regards to the regulations surrounding Land vs Cash issue it makes me wonder what the hell is going on? How can the same provincial regulations be interpreted so differently by people serving on the same Council? How does the Mayor and the Planning and Land Use Development Committee come up with an interpretation of the rules and other members of council come up with a completely opposing view?

I understand Councillors disagreeing on matters of personal belief and political tendencies but there is no reason why we should be getting multiple sides to Provincial Regulations. There is also no reason why we should get different explanations of votes in committees, this stuff should be in black and white with no room for misunderstanding. The fact that all of these things are out there in the media makes our town look like we don't know what we are doing or that we don't understand the provincial acts governing municipalities.

I have known the Mayor pretty much my entire life and know him to be honest and straight forward. Mayor Codner always makes himself available to me if I have questions and I don't recall him ever avoiding a question or not giving me an answer. I have also gotten to know the Deputy Mayor a little bit over the past couple of years and he also presents himself to be honest and hardworking. He is an advocate for open dialogue between council and residents and seems to have the towns best interest in mind. For these reasons I am confident that there must be a reasonable explanation for such a difference of opinion on this particular matter.

Also it should be noted that this is not an issue that is isolated to the Mayor and Deputy Mayor. They just happen to be the people who have made public statements and explained the other sides position. This is a matter that involves the entire council as was evident by the narrow 4-3 vote on this motion last meeting.

Hopefully all this stuff is cleared up as soon as possible, I have spoken to a lot of people about this and other issues lately and there seems to be strong opinions for and against how this particular council operates and makes decisions. I suspect that the more publicity issues such as Motion Drive get the stronger these opinions will become. No matter what side of the issue you fall on it has to be encouraging to see so many people take a vested interest in our municipal government.

Here are the two CBC radio interviews if you would like to listen to them.

Deputy Mayor Geoff Gallant CBC Radio Interview May 2, 2012










Mayor Bob Codner CBC Radio Interview May 4, 2012

2 comments:

  1. AnonymousMay 22, 2012

    Great job as usual, Craig – we’re all more engaged citizens of the community thanks to what you do. Those two, differing CBC interviews in particular points to one of my main concerns with Council: they need to know that the public can hold them accountable for what they say.

    After all, the bi-weekly council meetings are open to the public, and people such as yourself are free to attend and report back on what was said, but I don’t understand why they don’t allow recording devices, or – better - stream a video feed to the town website so that more members of the community can see for themselves what’s going on.

    I can empathize with members of Council who say they don’t want to be held liable for what’s said in the meeting, but here’s the thing: if you DON’T KNOW something then it’s your own fault if you pass off your OPINION as FACT.

    Getting out of this is pretty easy, all you have to do is prefix a statement with “in MY opinion…” and then you can research the facts afterwards. I’d much rather see a vote get postponed for a week or two rather than take place under an umbrella of misinformation. Please make decisions based on facts, is all I’m saying.

    Everybody is human. We all makes mistakes from time to time, or misunderstand something we thought we knew “for sure”… and obviously in cases like this where two people are publicizing a different meaning for the same set of rules then at least one party is more ‘wrong’ then the other. Come on now people, there can be only one version of what the “truth” actually is.

    I don’t expect Council to know the fine print of every official document off by heart… but I DO expect them – when such a difference of opinion/interpretation occurs – to drag out the big heavy ‘rulebook’ and dig up the cold hard facts involved (or, if necessary, get a ruling on the interpretation from a higher governing body, such as Municipal Affairs).

    If a given “side” is in the right and/or have the facts behind them then they shouldn’t have anything to worry about. If not… then hooray for the system for unearthing the truth of the matter.

    The public deserves to know why their elected officials are doing what they’re doing on our behalf. We don’t need to have an open-to-everybody meeting over to the Kinsmen Centre over every little thing, but they do need to have the facts on their side to back up their stance when they get questioned.

    Like you said, “what the hell is going on?”

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  2. One thing that I don't understand is why we never hear Councillors refer something to the town solicitor for an opinion. I know that the City Solicitor attends regular council meetings in St John's and they will defer question to them for an opinion.

    In my opinion if we have a disagreement between members of council on the legality of an issue then we need to get a legal opinion and then act accordingly.

    Going off half cocked and making decisions or motions based on what you think can get the town in a lot of trouble down the road.

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