COMMENT: Recent articles give insight into developer perspective (and it ain’t pretty)


There were two articles published last week with some interesting perspectives from Ottawa’s local development scene.

The first is a profile from Ottawa Business Journal of Ted Fobert and Robert Tennant, the founders of Fotenn.  Planning nerds like me will recognize Fotenn as the predominant planning consultant in Ottawa. They collaborate with builders and developers large and small to get projects planned and approved by City Hall.  I remember being at a Planning Committee a while back where Fotenn was involved in most of the projects on the agenda, from all corners of the City.

Here’s a quote from the article:

FoTenn’s greatest accomplishment remains its biggest challenge: helping cities move forward by getting projects approved in the face of community resistance.

Large supermarkets and taller buildings can create mobs of angry neighbours, leading to wild accusations, name-calling and even – on one occasion – the slashing of car tires.

“Planners are change agents,” Fobert says. “That’s our primary role. We accept a vision that has been stated by a municipality, that becomes in the public interest. It’s not the 20 to 30 people complaining at public meetings who are in the public interest.”

The second article comes from the Globe and Mail, and it’s about Ottawa’s new planning advisory committee. The group will include 15 people including residents, architects, planners, a builder and a developer. Check out this quote from John Herbert, executive director of Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association.

“In a sense, the system is now rigged fairly strongly in favour of communities and residents – in other words, anti-development factions,” Mr. Herbert says. “The problem, generally speaking, with citizen participation; all these people know is they don’t want a project in their neighbourhood,” says Mr. Herbert, who expects he will represent builders on the committee.”

Take the quotes from Fobert and from Herbert together and it’s not hard to see why many residents are cynical about the municipal development process in Ottawa.*

By way of counterpoint, I’m reminded of the great observation from planning activist Jane Jacobs: That the people best equipped to understand urban complexity are “ordinary, interested citizens.”

I know there are some residents who approach planning with a “Never In My Backyard” attitude, but they are a minority. Many activists and concerned residents (myself included) approach the process with an open mind and a desire to work constructively to build a great city.

(*For what it’s worth, I’m sure that not every developer shares the views of these two individuals – but they’re certainly not the only ones who think this way.)


2 thoughts on “COMMENT: Recent articles give insight into developer perspective (and it ain’t pretty)”

  1. This quote from John Herbert and the OBJ profile of Fotenn present perhaps the worst face of our local development industry. It’s distressing that Fotenn sees its biggest challenge as “helping cities move forward by getting projects approved in the face of community resistance.” What’s more, what is in the public interest appears to be theirs to determine, after having accepted the “vision that has been stated by a municipality” unless, of course, they see appealing to the OMB as more advantageous.

    Seeing community voices as the enemy is the wrong approach, making the wrong assumptions. Unfortunately, all too often the authorities (elected and non-elected) accommodate or even abet the approach.

    There are other, more enlightened views, including in the development industry. They deserve our support. The Fotenns and Herberts do not.

    To her credit, Planning Chair Jan Harder strongly countered John Herbert’s assertion in the Globe & Mail article.

    1. Erwin, thanks for your comment. You’ve put this far more eloquently and succinctly than I could.

      I do agree with you – there are many people in the development industry (builders, investors, architects, planners, consultants) who have more enlightened views and do genuinely care about collaborating and consulting with residents.

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