by Nadia Gray
Since the public Council meeting regarding the building of 168 units in the place of the 20 units originally approved for the property at 215 Reuben Cres., Kemptville, I have tried to understand why our Mayor and Council did not opt for transparency with residents. Why did elected officials ignore the concerns of residents and treat them as not important enough to answer? Why for a second time in dealing with a major transformative project, with immense impact on our downtown and on our community, did this group of elected officials not answer important pertinent questions posed by affected residents?
Questions multiply. Isn’t it our community and tax dollars that Council was entrusted to manage? Well perhaps the Municipality website was a good source to consult to try and understand the “process” and “objectives” for planning, and the criteria for allowing development or zoning changes by Council and Municipality employees. Some information caught my attention.
Do you know what DRT stands for in the governance structure of North Grenville? On the NG website DRT is defined as: “North Grenville’s Development Review Team (DRT). It is intended to offer a one-window approach for developers to pre-consult on the technical, engineering and planning approval requirements for their proposals. DRT allows the Municipality to manage the growth and development of the community in an efficient and comprehensive manner.” Did the developers in this project consult as outlined? If both the developers and the Municipality did the required due diligence for planning, why could Council not answer the questions posed by residents? Or why would a project be sent to the Counties level without the basic scope of costing and responsibilities being already outlined and agreed?
From the website, it seems as if the DRT should support effective and thorough project “review and management” from the perspective of how projects will impact the residents of North Grenville, and the strategic planning objectives enunciated for their Community’s Future Direction, while considering the best fit of existing and new developments. BUT…Does it in fact do this or intend this for the constituents? How is the voice of NG Residents/ taxpayers represented and supported? Normally, is representing that voice expected to be the primary responsibility of our elected Council? Is it an effective governance practice for the Mayor and Council and our taxpayer paid staff, to spend time and resources defining planning/management processes, if they do not appear to use them or consider answering residents’ questions?
From the NG website, it seems an extensive bureaucratic process exists for supporting the North Grenville Development Review Team: The “DRT includes representatives from 1. The local Conservation Authority, 2. United Counties, 3. Staff from the Municipality’s Planning & Development Department, 4. Public Works Departments, 5. Parks, Recreation and Culture Department, 6. Emergency and Protective Services, and 7. Corporate Services. Coordination of external and internal partners allows for coordination of comments and direction ahead of a development application. This includes the drafting of a pre-consultation letter to guide the developer in the submission of their complete application. This eliminates the potential for conflicting and overlapping advice, and results in comprehensive, timely planning recommendations and approvals.”
Was this demonstrated in the public meeting or in the decision making process for the development slated for the property at 215 Reuben Crescent? Given the claimed and elaborate process for managing developments, why were there no answers regarding questions from residents before and after the public meeting? Why not provide facts regarding who will pay for what impacts on: water, sewers, roads, traffic, parking, schools and other possible outcomes on existing infrastructure? Given the 8-fold expansion of the scope of the project, should the Council not have asked and answered these questions before approving the project? Why increase the density standard for this project and the entirety of NG at one fell swoop?
How can we understand? Without answers, the actions and explanations by the Mayor, Council and senior planning staff do not make sense. The question left hanging is: “Would the developers be responsible if upgrades to infrastructure were needed?”
Why did the Mayor and Council not delay their decision to ascertain answers and communicate the information to residents in a subsequent meeting? What is accomplished by this project for the community?
The answer from North Grenville Director of Planning and Development was, “Infrastructure needs will be assessed through the county’s site plan control process.” Was the infrastructure not first thoroughly assessed before this project approval by North Grenville Council to ensure North Grenville requirements were met? Is it effective project management if such needs are not assessed before the Counties meeting? The Director also noted, “And any upgrades will be at the cost of the developer”. What is the authority for staff to say upgrades will be paid by the developer, if the Mayor and Councillors did not provide this answer? What are the management processes to ensure appropriate well-defined plans and appropriate costs? Or is it enough to have decisions presented to the Counties level without defining which costs will be borne by whom?
Reading further from the NG website, perhaps an unexpected explanation is offered. The explanation lies in the planning criteria chosen by the Council: “Focusing on Client Service rather than ‘regulation’”. Why make this choice when there isn’t a balance between both client service and regulation needed for an effective, efficient management/fiscal outcome, just as a balance is needed between what exists in our community and defining changes to meet new outcomes for development? A balance between both would seem logical and needed.
From the NG website: “DRT has helped to position the Municipality as an active partner in the growth and development of the Community and a preferred place to do business. Focusing on Client Service rather than “regulation” gives North Grenville a competitive advantage over other communities.” But what outcomes or information is available to support this claim? Are these words on the website reflected in reality?
How will Council allow for consultation on the planning being done now for submitted transformative projects for the future in our community? Do fellow North Grenville constituents agree it is an opportune time to say, “let’s discuss the standards and regulations for our community’s future”?