Thursday, July 18, 2013

As election nears is Torbay council too political or is it just broken?


Just when we thought the current Torbay council had turned a corner and started to act like a more cohesive unit the wheels seem to have fallen off over the last couple of months. I don't know what the reason, it could be that council is simply broken from years of animosity and division. Maybe the upcoming election may have something to do with it, that is the opinion of at least one councillor. Councillor Carol Ann Smith chair of thPlanning and Land Use Development Committee (PLUD) has said quite clearly that she believes some of the recent votes were politically motivated. She even went so far as to accuse other members of council of actually trying to buy votes. These involved decisions taken by council that apparently were in direct contravention of town regulations and the recommendations of PLUD. In the most recent edition on the North East Avalon Times (NEAT) she mentioned there were three such instances, however I can think of 4 that might fall within the parameters she described.

The first two were at the April 15, 2013 meeting in which not surprisingly there were around 30 people present, this usually happens when there is something controversial on the agenda.

124-13 Motion – Councillor Smith / Councillor Roche
RESOLVED THAT the Town of Torbay refuse Application 9941-13, under the Applications to be Refused section of the Building Application Report, dated April 11, 2013, for the following reason:
1. The proposed extension to Byrne’s Lane is contrary to the Towns Development Regulation number 80 (c) (ii).
80. Subdivision Design Standards
No permit shall be issued for the development of a subdivision under these Regulations unless the design of the subdivision conforms to the following standards:
(c) The maximum length of any cul-de-sac shall be:
(ii) 300m in areas not served by or planned to be served by municipal piped water and sewer services.
Question called. Motion defeated.
For Motion: Councillor Smith and Councillor Byrne.
Against Motion: Mayor Codner, Councillor Roche, Councillor Tapper, and Councillor Whitty

The following is from the meeting minutes of the discussion that took place over this motion.
Council discussed the above motion, referencing the Town’s Development Regulation 80 pertaining to subdivision design standards. Council members questioned if the regulation related to the application. They discussed definition of cul-de-sac and the 300 meter maximum road length. It was noted that the applicant is willing to extend the road and construct a bulb at the end, which would provide turning room for heavy equipment and emergency vehicles. It was mentioned that a previous permit was approved for a home beyond the 300 meter maximum, at which time the lane was also extended.
Director of Planning indicated that a cul-de-sac is any dead end street. The road is over 400 meters, so any further extension is adding to non-confirming of street. Councillor Smith advised that the above application was discussed at Committee in full. Committee cannot support the application as it is contrary to the Town’s established regulations.
This particular motion and vote prompted me to send an correspondence to council concerning their new definition of Subdivision. I suggested that the proposed new definition didn't make any sense, was confusing and contributed to the results of this vote. You can view a copy of the letter I sent to council in this story Do the New Engineering Design Guidelines for Subdivisions in Torbay need a second look? At the next council meeting my letter was actually well received by some councillors who told me I raised some very good points. So good in fact that they decided to take a second look at it for clarification as indicated here in the April 29, 2013 minutes.
3. Correspondence from resident concerning new Engineering Design Guidelines for Subdivisions. Meeting to be arranged with Council and Newfoundland Design Associates Ltd. for further review and clarification. Also discussed under the Planning and Land Use Development Committee Minutes, dated April 24, 2013.
The second instance that went against the recommendation of PLUD happened on the same night and was related to a company wanting to set up some office spaces on Indian Meal Line.

125-13 Motion – Councillor Smith / Councillor Byrne
RESOLVED THAT the Town of Torbay approve Application B1113-13, under the
Applications for Approval section of the Business Application Report, dated April 11,
2013, subject to the following conditions:
1. The approval is for a change in use from a residential dwelling to an office use only.
2. There shall be no parking of large commercial vehicles on the property.
3. There shall be no storage of commercial materials on the property.
4. The business will be subject to business tax in accordance with the published schedule of taxes and fees for the Town of Torbay.
5. The development shall comply with the Town of Torbay Parking Requirements.
6. The Town reserves the right to inspect the site at anytime, if the above noted conditions are found to be in default then approvals may be withdrawn.
7. Approval from the following Government Agencies is required:
a. Service NL (Fire and Life Safety Division)
b. Service NL (Accessibility Division )
c. Service NL (Operations Division)
Question called. Motion defeated.
For Motion: Councillor Smith and Councillor Byrne.
Against Motion: Mayor Codner, Councillor Roche, Councillor Tapper, and Councillor Whitty

The following is from the meeting minutes of the discussion that took place over this motion.
Council members discussed the above motion indicating that the application was to turn a home into an office building with approximately six to eight employees as per residents’ correspondence. It was noted that neighbours were strongly against the application; and, that the home would be for office use only and not residential in any part. It would be completely business in a residential area. Council discussed the Town’s regulations and most members agreed that the application was against zoning and regulations and would alter the character of the neighborhood.
Councillor Byrne noted that Committee reviewed all correspondence received from residents relating to the above application. The application was recommended to be approved with the seven conditions. Councillor Smith also advised that Committee spent considerable amount of time reviewing the application and correspondence to make best decision within the Town’s regulations. She noted that the property does have a considerable amount of capacity, therefore parking would not be an issue. The application dealt only with taking a large home and converting to business site for approximately six to eight engineers. With regards to traffic on Indian Meal line, the road does run through a couple communities therefore you cannot control increased traffic
The Third instance where council went against the recommendation of PLUD happened just a couple of weeks ago at the June 25, 2013 meeting. This relates to the application to build a house on a parcel of land where Cole's Tavern used to be half way down Piperstock Hill. I don't have the text of that motion because there was some bickering at the last meeting about some wording in in the minutes and they deferred passage so we will have to wait another couple of weeks to see them.

I won't go into it too much but you can see what I did say about it at the time when it was fresh in my mind after the meeting in this story Surprise decisions and accusations fly at Torbay council meeting.

This was the second time this application came before council, the first being in April 2012 at which time it was rejected unanimously. The most recent application was the exact same as the first with the exception of the name of the applicant. Again PLUD recommended against the application but the majority of council decided to approve it. Accusations flew in the council chamber about buying votes and members of PLUD decided to consult with staff to find out if there is even a need for the committee to continue meeting and making recommendations if council is just going to ignore them. They apparently received advise that they should continue to meet and make recommendations and it is my understanding that they will. Mayor Codner was pretty blunt in his reaction to the matter when he said in the NEAT something along the lines if they don't want to do the job they can resign.

Now the fourth time hasn't happened yet but I suspect there is a chance it might next meeting judging from the discussions at the last one. There was an application relating to a trailer on 17 Reddy Drive that needs to be removed and the owner is trying to build a house there. As of the last meeting Councillor Smith communicated that the application does not meet the development requirements and that she would be voting against it. There was a lot of discussion but the general feeling I got was that the majority of council is willing to allow this application based on discretionary use. You can see more of the discussion surrounding this issue in this story I did on last council meeting Last Night at Council - A Synopsis

In the end a motion to send it to committee for a closer look and a recommendation was passed and that is what will happen. Now depending on what they recommendation will be will determine if council rejects the PLUD recommendation again or not. Regardless of what PLUD comes back with I have no doubt this application is being approved and the resident will be allowed to build the house.

Does the entire council have to vote in favor of a committee recommendation every time? Of course not, a committee makes a recommendation based on their interpenetration of the regulations, and in consultation with senior town staff who are supposed to be subject matter experts. In the end it is council who makes the final decision and if you are a councillor and you don't agree with a particular recommendation of even a regulation you don't have to support it. This happens all the time, but it is not that common that a majority of council votes against their own regulations that they created or were created by a previous council. If this is happening this often then maybe the councillors voting against the regulation is not the problem but the regulations them selves. Sometimes we are so wrapped up in regulating everything to death we forget that we live in a largely rural town and not all circumstances fall into the cookie cutter pattern.

So there you have it, is there politics going on with regards to these votes? Quite possibly but is it politics in the voting or the aftermath of the votes? Who knows I will let you be the judge, I suspect that there is a little going on from both sides of the issue.

Is council simply broken? Have the hard feelings and obvious political divisions finally taken their toll? I would like to say that it bothers me when we have members of council publicly criticizing decisions made by council as a whole. If a member of council disagrees with a motion or other matter before council they have ample opportunity before the council meeting and during the council meeting to air those concerns and offer alternatives.

After a democratically elected council votes on a matter it is now the decision of council. Even though a council member may have voted against it once it has passed it is now their decision as well. In public they should support the decision of council even if they were against it. There are two prime examples of this right now in the public spotlight, this issue raised by Councillor Smith and the issue of the Commissioner for the Gosse's Pond public hearings raised by Deputy Mayor Gallant.

Councillor Smith has publicly accused other members of council of vote buying and voting against regulations and disagreeing with the decision of council on a couple of matters.

The Deputy Mayor has openly questioned the decision to choose Commissioner Tom Strickland to hold the public hearings into the Gosse's Pond Development. This decision was discussed at council and voted on 6-1 in favor of selecting him.

These are not isolated incidents over the last 4 years and I am sure they won't be the last. As the election starts to ramp up over the next couple of months I am sure there will be other examples. I have heard people call the behavior of our council divided, dysfunctional, deplorable, disgusting, delirious, devious and down right nasty. I haven't just heard these in the street but I also remember a woman say similar statements to council in one of the 15 minute Q&A sessions after a council meeting. That meeting was so nasty that the word bully was actually used to described one member of council.

I wonder if the atmosphere of council and the perceived divisions doesn't have something to do with all the dissension that is displayed outside the council chamber. When council is supposed to show a united front and move forward with their decision something is always dragging them back over the same old stuff again and again.

This is not just my opinion but the opinion of the Department of Municipal Affairs. They have a document online called A Councillors Guide to the Golden Rules for staying out of trouble. I wonder if anyone on this current council has ever read this or a similar hand book?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Last Night at Council - A Synopsis

Nothing earth shattering happened at the regular council meeting last night bu there are a few tidbits I though I would share.

There was some discussion about a correspondence from a Church about an adjacent property that has a house on it that is in a dilapidated state. (I assume that this refers to the Anglican Church) The Mayor commented that this issue has been on the books now for two years and he wants action taken on it. Council agreed to have staff take a look, contact the owner and try and find a resolution as soon as possibly. Mayor Codner said that this is an embarrassment to the town and should be demolished.

There was also a correspondence from a resident at 17 Reddy Drive concerning their development application. As I understand it the resident has already proceeded with some of the work even though he only had approval in principle and not a permit and it is really a mess up there now. The trailer is jacked up and footings and forms have been poured and some other work may have been done, I haven't seen the site so that is all I can say about it. There are issues with the lot size that prohibit issuing a regular permit so it needs to be issued under discretionary use with variances. Council spoke about this and it appears that they are prepared to permit this applicant several variances to enable him to proceed with the work. Here is a sample of what was generally said.

Councillor Tapper said that is it quite the site. It used to be a trailer lot and now the owner wants to build a house on it. The owner is in a big jam because the trailer has to be removed by a certain time. He believes the work should go ahead but the town must take precautions to ensure it is done right.

Councillor Roche said that she visited the site and the application was approved in 2012 and it should go ahead. She commented on how the trailer had to go and that not to hold this up, give the variances which are only a couple of inches and move on. This will enhance the neighborhood.

Councillor Byrne said that he visited the site and that he is not going to comment on it.

Deputy Mayor Gallant consistent with what he said the last meeting when discussing a similar issue related to granting a permit he said that he wants to try and help the applicant if he is allowed and within the rules. He visited the site and thinks that the variances are only inches and should be allowed. He talked to the neighbours and none of them have a problem with the house going there. He questioned what are the option? Does the town halt the work and bulldoze the property and put the resident out on the street? He feels that the town should make the best of a bad situation and take the best of two evils and get out of the mess we are in. He would like to send it back to committee for them to do the homework on it and work out the details.

Councillor Whitty said that he spoke to the person and he is in favor of letting it go ahead.

Councillor Smith said that she too had visited the site and saw the situation the man is in with the trailer jacked up several feet. She said that the town had asked the applicant for a survey and based on that survey the applicant is allowed one variance but requires more than two. She said that safety is paramount but the applicant doesn't meet regulations and that she will not support it.

Mayor Codner said that the trailer has to go, he went with Brian and measured the lots and doesn't see a problem. When he measured it he questioned if the applicant needed any variance, places like this are difficult for surveyors to get accurate measurements, many times it is a best guess. It can proceed under rule 10 discretionary use.

Councillor Whitty had the last say on the motion and said that there are a lot of existing properties in the town that don't meet all regular conditions that were allowed in the past and need more consistency in the future. Introduced motion to allow the permit to be granted under discretionary use.

Deputy Mayor Gallant introduced an amendment to the motion. He doesn't want to proceed without taking proper precautions and the committee taking a good look at it to make sure everything is done correctly. He doesn't want to delay the applicant any longer then necessary but also wants to make sure they do it right. Gallant introduced an amendment to the motion to send the application back to the PLUD committee for a closer look and suggested a time frame of two weeks. So the application would come before council again in two weeks. The amendment passed 4-3.

The original motion with the amendment was put to a vote and passed unanimously.

Another piece of information I found interesting is this. There is a property along the by-pass road that the town has been trying to get cleaned up for years. The one we all know as Hel Jacks Pondarosa off Quarry Road, with the pond in the middle and the car wrecks in the woods. So for years the town has been battling with the owner to get the place cleaned up to limited success and finally that owner passed away and while dealing with the estate the town finds out that he didn't even own the land. As it turns out the province expropriated that property when they were constructing the by-pass road 4 years ago. How could we not know who owns the land we are trying to get cleaned up? I stand to be corrected on this and if anyone one from council reads this and doesn't agree let me know but that is what I heard last night.

Councillor Smith was quite upset that the town in cooperation with a developer closed a section of Quarry Road. I noticed the big rocks blocking the road last week when I went to the Gig on the Green. There have been a lot of complaints from that area lately concerning noise, people hanging out in there and dust. It was mentioned by Councillor Tapper last meeting that the resident is trying to pain his fence and can't because there is too much dust. At the time Tapper said that these people pay a lot of taxes and we should try and do something for them. Well I guess it got done, so if you pay a lot of taxes and can't paint your fence the town will close the road for you. Now that statement is completely facetious but as Smith argued closing roads can't be an answer to people hanging out and illegal dumping. She said that it is the property owners responsibility to take care of the situation. Apparently the road has been closed for a month and nobody has complained so I guess it is no big deal to anyone but Councillor Smith.

Here is something that might be interesting to some and that is the proposed Manning development in Gosse's Pond has been released by government and is moving on to the next stage. That would be public hearings on the proposed amendments to the town plan and development regulations required to proceed with this subdivision.

The Commissioner has been selected for the hearing related to the Gosse's Pond development and it will be Mr. Tom Strickland. Deputy Mayor Gallant questioned the selection of Mr. Strickland because there had been an issue with him before related to another hearing and he would like someone different. The problem at that time was Mr. Strickland would not accept submissions from people on the floor unless they had been submitted in writing prior to the hearing. This was later overruled by Municipal Affairs and a new hearing was ordered. There was some discussion related to this and it was pretty much agreed that the issue before was more of a procedural thing and that Mr. Strickland had proceeded with how the hearings were traditionally done. It was mentioned that he is a certified commissioner and they are not a dime a dozen, he is qualified and the issue before should not be a problem now. The vote was taken and it passed 6-1 with Gallant being the lone No vote on the appointment as Mr. Strickland as commissioner.

One last thing, the Deputy Mayor brought up the topic of the beach and asked if it is safe. The Mayor explained that there is regular testing that goes on both at the shore and out where the outfall is. The samples that have been taken are within the parameters set out by the province. In other words they are within the acceptable levels for a beach with raw sewage flowing into it.

Councillor Tapper mentioned that there are two signs on the beach, the new one telling people to enjoy the beach at their own risk and one on the south side of the beach as you come down the hill saying that the beach is closed. There is a conflict there and it should be resolved. The Mayor suggested that nobody ever comes to the beach that way so they wouldn't' see it.

Gallant asked if the beach was safe to use repeatedly and kept getting the same answer that the levels are within the acceptable levels and there is continuous testing. Councillor Roche said that she doesn't think people should go in the water...the Mayor said people don't go in there the water is too cold anyway. I guess he hasn't seen the CBC stories with kids wading out into the water.

Anyway, my advise for the beach is this. The beach is what it is for now. We are not getting a sewer treatment plant any time soon although hopefully we will in the future and may find a better solution. The town is always testing the water to make sure there are no issues that would cause the beach to have to be closed.

IF YOU GO TO THE BEACH....don't wade around in the water. Don't allow your dog to go out in the water. Don't eat any fish that comes directly from the water on that beach. Even though I am sure I have done it in the past along with many other Torbay residents. Remember this outfall was there when we were kids and it has not changed, I am still alive and don't remember ever getting sick because if it but that doesn't mean I would do it now. No matter what Torbay Beach will likely never be Middle Cove Beach, don't have your expectations that high, it is not going to happen.

As always if you have any questions of suggestions feel free to contact me.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Piperstock Hill Festival - Thrills, Chills and Ills - A Night for Dermot

The finale and big event of the inaugural Piperstock Hill Festival had a great lineup and town staff should be commended for putting it together. That is not to say that everything was perfect but in my opinion they did their job to ensure the concert went off as planned.

It was certainly thrilling to see all those performers entertain and treat the crowd with some great performances. Throughout the evening and into the night a large and varied cast of artists took to the stage and did their thing. Dermot O'Reilly certainly had a tremendous influence on many people and that was evident with the portion of the show called the friends of Dermot. One after another they took to the stage and performed songs that had special meaning to them and a connection to their friend. This set culminated with a large gathering of musicians on stage for one final tune in honor of Dermot with a well earned standing ovation to follow.

I think the highlight of the night would have to be a chilling performance of Let Me Fish of Cape St. Mary's by Denis Ryan. This acapella rendition was tremendous and displayed a beautiful voice that still rings clear after so many years. I only wish I had a video camera so that I could have recorded it to share with everyone or that the town had video taped the entire event and sold DVD's so that such a special tribute could have been preserved for ever.

With all the great performers that were rolled out throughout the evening it is hard to believe that there would have been a downside but their was. I have spoken to people and a common theme seemed to be that the concert was too long and they were surprised more people didn't attend.

That brings me to the Ills. In my personal opinion I think the concert could have ended with the final song from the friends of Dermot and the standing ovation they so rightly deserved. Instead we had to endure the Punters for another set. It saddens me to say this because I like the Punters but I think they really missed the boat with this performance. Their first song was a slow country tune filled with electric guitar solos by Larry Foley and if that wasn't enough they followed it up with more of the same. Every time Foley went into one of his guitar riffs it was like someone pulled the fire alarm and people started filing out of the building. By the time they finished their third song the place was virtually empty. It kind of reminded me of that scene with Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future where he is playing the guts out of the electric guitar and rolling on the floor only to finish with a dead quiet room and everyone staring at him. The biggest difference here is that there was nobody left to stare except for those of us diehards and people who bought beer at last call and didn't want to waste it. My 8 year old daughter who loves Patrick Moran and was hoping to hear "I had a Hat" and other crowd favorites turned to me and said "this is boring". I think that just about sums it up. I know some people will disagree with me but when you take a crowd that one minute is on their feet giving standing ovations and the next minute running for the exits that is an epic fail. Maybe it was an omen when the Mayor gets on stage to address the crowd and refers to the festival as the Hill Side Festival, surely he should have at least been able to get he name right.

As for the overall attendance, I don't know what more town staff could have done. This event and in fact all the events that took place this past weekend were well publicized. Short of grabbing people by the scruff of the neck and dragging them to a show there isn't much else we can do. This concert was advertised as an all ages family event but I am pretty sure the only people there under the age of 19 were my daughter and the daughter of Councillor Brian Whitty. I don't know what the final numbers were but I hope to find out in the next little while what the attendance was for all the events that took place.

One more thing that I think deserves a mention and that is the fact that there were no fireworks in Torbay for Canada/Memorial Day and that is a shame. The fact that it would have coincided with the end of the Piperstock Hill Festival would have been a fitting end. Although there were other celebratory activities on July 1st I know a lot of people look forward to fireworks when ever we have them and Torbay does do a great job on them.