A shout out to CBC for continuing to focus on Stittsville development issues this week. Here’s an excerpt (in red) from an article by Laura Osman published today, along with my comments. I’ve added some additional context based on my work with the Fairwinds Community Association.
Bottom line: If councillors and city staff really believe in the importance of public engagement, this case illustrates how far they still have to go to ensure transparency and trust in the development process.
Residents not allowed to weigh in on big subdivision, councillor says
Councillors approve application to build 945 residential units on Maple Grove Road after decade of holdups
by Laura Osman, CBC Ottawa
A large new subdivision in Stittsville has been approved, despite the fact the last public consultation meeting happened more than a decade ago.
As far as I can tell, the last public consultation for this zoning bylaw amendment was in December 2004, when most of the area was still farmland.
The planning committee approved the rezoning for Richcraft to build 945 residential units on Maple Grove Road.
The last update we heard about the project was in December 2013, when a plan of subdivision was submitted for around 800 residential units.
The development has been in the works since early 2004 but was held up by an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board. Richcraft then filed an appeal against the city because it’s taken so long for the city to make a decision.
Coun. Shad Qadri asked the committee to hold off on the decision on behalf of the neighbouring Fairwinds community, which didn’t exist when the initial public consultations were done.
“The area now didn’t really have the opportunity to put their comments in,” Qadri said, adding that planning documents were also not posted online.
Qadri lost the vote seven to one.
Usually when there’s a zoning bylaw amendment in front of Planning Committee, it’s easy to search the city’s web site to find background documents like planning rationale, transportation plans, environmental studies, etc. We couldn’t find anything on the city’s DevApp web site, or on the councillor’s web site, or even on alternate sources like ottwatch.ca.
The Fairwinds Community Association asked Councillor Qadri to put forward a motion to defer a decision on the file until next month’s planning committee, to at least give residents time to access and review the documents.
Planning committee chair Jan Harder said the public had the opportunity to be heard at Tuesday’s meeting.
The committee received two written statements responding to the report that was tabled last week.
They would have received more than two written statements if there was a more proactive effort to alert residents about it. I stumbled upon it last week when I was reading the agenda. I doubt that many of my neighbours make a routine of reading the weekly agenda updates! Besides that, how can we provide proper comments without the full information to work from?
(I would have loved to attend today’s meeting, but work commitments kept me from taking the morning off work to trek downtown.)
If the committee held off on making a decision, the developer would simply withdraw the zoning application and go through the OMB instead, Harder said.
“And then we’ll have a made-in-Toronto decision that may not be that great,” said Coun. Rick Chiarreli.
Chiarelli didn’t want the decision to be made by the OMB because there’s no way to appeal it, he said.
The developer has been working toward this subdivision for 13 years, and the city should not be holding up the process any longer, he added, comparing the application to a criminal trial. Serious charges would be dismissed after such a long period without a decision, he said.
I don’t know how accurate this is. If the threat of an OMB decision is so significant, why did the report from planning staff attached to the agenda not call this out as a potential legal risk? The document refers to previous OMB hearings but it doesn’t explain the relevant background or approval timelines for this application. After 13+ years, what’s the rush to get this zoning approval through? Shovels can’t hit the ground until next year at the earliest.
The proposal includes townhomes, detached houses and low-rise apartment buildings. It also includes some commercial development along the south side of Maple Grove Road, which is currently entirely residential.
During the initial public meeting in 2004 the city received six responses, including concerns about the Carp River restoration project and the timing of the development.
Back in 2004, the Stittsville Village Association did submit comments about transportation impacts. Current president Tanya Hein says that they did receive advance notice of the meeting, but just barely: “By chance, I found out late yesterday that a paper notice dated October 13th was mailed to David Jenkins (a former SVA member). I think he was on record from the original application, before email was the standard means of circulation. That, in itself, might suggest a more modern public consultation is warranted.”
Part of the development is expected to be built on the former floodplain of the Carp River, which is currently under construction to alleviate flood concerns.
The development must still be approved by city council.
The Carp River restoration … commercial development on Hazeldean Road … residential development in Fairwinds and Fernbank … an evolving mass transit plan … pending departure of the Senators… These are just a few examples of major changes in our area since 2004, and reason enough in my view to treat this zoning application with more scrutiny.
Another person who sent comments to councillors about the zoning bylaw amendment was Faith Blacquiere, a retired research librarian who reviews planning documents as a hobby.
She submitted nine pages of detailed technical notes to the committee, which are included below. She really gets down in the weeds of the planning process. I haven’t fact-checked the document, nor are all of her concerns necessarily within the scope of this zoning amendment. Still, I believe she’s identified enough inconsistencies and concerns with the published staff report to justify a deferral. Or at the very least, more scrutiny from on the Planning Committee today.