ECoB wants the city to allow more time to ensure the widest deepest public input on Official Plan is achieved.

News 100 yellowBy Pepper Parr

April 4th, 2019

BURLINGTON, ON

 

ECoB – the Engaged Citizens of Burlington have been watching how the city has decided to engage and consult on the re-assessment and review of the Official Plan.

To complete the work being done ECoB believes the city will have to allow more time and money to get the job done right.

ECOB logoIn a letter sent to their membership ECoB set out their concerns and asked for feedback from the membership.

It is essential to note that ECoB was treated with shabby disdain by two of the 2014-2018 council members; one of the two lost her seat, the other, Paul Sharman who held the ward 5 seat because the vote was badly split, has yet to find the decency to admit that he was wrong and support the organization going forward.

ECoB has grown from the outstanding success they had with the Mayoralty debates followed by the “conversation” on the Performing Arts Centre at which people got a close look at how their Mayor did when she went up against Oakville Mayor Rob Burton.

Aldershot debate

The Aldershot All Candidate debate filled a church hall to standing room only. The event was sponsored by ECob.

The organization is now focusing on how and to what degree citizens will have input on the Official Plan that is being re-assesed and revised.

What is clear now is that ECoB has earned a seat at the table; a situation the city has recognized.  It is now up to the ECoB members pay attention, keep informed and grow the membership of the organization.

ECoB’s Update on Burlington’s Official Plan Review

“ECoB’s executive and ward committees have been busy in recent months. We will be sending you the first of what will become a monthly newsletter in the next few days.

“But first we wanted to update you on one of the most important things happening at City Hall right now. The Review of Burlington’s Official Plan, which is being reassessed by the City Planning Department following the Region of Halton’s request for certain changes, is now underway. The entire process of review has a very short timeline, and needs to be approved by Council by March 2020.

ECoB engagement“Citizen engagement is the term commonly used for public consultations which offer citizens the opportunity to participate in meaningful ways in the decisions, actions and processes which shape their community.

ECoB pre-engagement

“Pre-Engagement is the consultation undertaken by the Planning Department to seek input from various groups on the best form for Citizen Engagement on the Official Plan Review.

ECoB’s Role in ‘Pre-Engagement’

“The Planning Department has been undertaking a ‘pre-engagement’ exercise in recent weeks in preparation for a new round of Citizen Engagement on the Official Plan. This engagement will relate solely to downtown Burlington.

“The intention of the pre-engagement was to consult with various groups to make sure that the citizen engagement that is carried out for the OP Review is done right.

“Those consulted at this stage included Citizen Advisory Committees, the City ‘Charter Action Team’ (an advisory group tasked with overseeing implementation of the City’s Engagement Charter), ECoB and Hamilton-Halton Home Builders Assoc.

 

  • The Planning Department has provided us with a summary of pre-engagement. Download it here.
  • The Planning Department’s Draft Engagement Plan. Download it here.
  • Download ECoB’s Response to the Pre-Engagement summary and draft plan.

“ECoB welcomed the opportunity to meet with the Planning Department and provide its ideas regarding a good engagement process. It also welcomes the desire by the City to carry out more rigorous engagement processes than have been seen in the past.

ECoB’s Concerns About Weaknesses In Engagement Plan.

“Nevertheless, there remain concerns about the Draft Engagement Plan and the results of the Pre-Engagement exercise. These are set out in detail in the links above.

“These weaknesses are caused by two constraints – time and money.

“While ECoB acknowledges the urgent need to complete the review and for Burlington to have a new Official Plan, we also believe that it is essential that the most rigorous engagement process possible is undertaken. For the City to provide the Planning Department with a budget too limited to carry out adequate engagement is a fundamental mistake, and risks repeating the mistakes which have made the OP Review necessary. Likewise, if an additional month of engagement would guarantee substantially more rigorous results, that month would be a worthwhile delay. As it stands now the primary citizen engagement that will take place will be in a period of approximately 6 weeks: late August and October..

“Above all, the engagement must reach out beyond traditional public meetings and website questionnaires, which are limited by the self-selecting nature of participation. Many groups – commuters, young families, teenagers, new immigrants – will never participate in traditional engagement exercises. The most important part of the process is to form a representative snapshot of public opinion which ensures the results reflect potential differences in age, gender, ethnic background and more. This requires attempts to reach citizens at home and in ways which don’t require them to ‘opt in’ to participation.

“We therefore urge the City Manager and Council to do all they can to provide more resources, and if possible more time, to the Planning Department to complete as rigorous and representative an engagement exercise as possible.

“From both a symbolic and practical perspective, it is essential the city demonstrates the extent of its commitment to rigorous engagement as part of the Official Plan Review.”

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5 comments to ECoB wants the city to allow more time to ensure the widest deepest public input on Official Plan is achieved.

  • Tom Muir

    Rolland,

    Pepper wrote “In a letter sent to their membership ECoB set out their concerns and asked for feedback from the membership”.

    Where in the letter sent to their membership did ECoB ask for feedback from the membership?

    I’m a member and got the letter, but I was not asked for feedback. Or I can’t find the ask.

    Can you help?

    I have never been asked by ECoB for feedback on the engagement. I didn’t know anything about what was done or said by ECoB in the name of the membership till now.

    I know of the Shape document and have referred to it and tried to use it myself in past efforts at engagement, but the city has never responded to any of these, including those of other folks that I know of. I have lots of written evidence from many past efforts.

    Frankly, in my experience, they don’t know how to engage seriously beyond telling us what they want to do. They have their things to do and their ways of doing them.

    For serious issues, they can’t see themselves doing things different. They usually have all the answers to what citizens question and want, and why staff have to do this, and why they can’t do that.

    In their engagement process description, staff said; “In order to achieve success the project team must transparently:– educate and communicate the givens – the plan must conform to provincial policy.”

    Okay, that’s been the trump card problem for resident engagement all along and the previous Council went with this, and always told us that the province was making them do what they were doing in the OP. Now, Planning is telling us again that this is a governing rule, “a given” of engagement.

    However, since the provincial policies don’t specify exactly what that means in concrete, mandatory metrics. Or at least not yet, as provincial policies are changing as we speak, not fully known, and may change more in the near future. But for present purposes that’s a digression.

    These provincial policy documents also acknowledge that local official plans are the most important vehicle for implementation of provincial policy. With changes in the wind, this is also another uncertain digression.

    This means that staff may have a measure of discretion and control here, so structured effectively, public engagement can find leverage in this.

    I suggest a 2-stage engagement. In stage 1 staff seek to find what people want but not in a form where individual residents talk one on one with individual staff and this gets filtered by staff and interpreted. An open forum where people speak in plenary can be broadcast and recorded so all thoughts are heard by all.

    Then, this input is taken away for staff response to all points made and a public accounting is made of what they found.

    In stage 2, staff makes their draft determination and recommendation report of what they want to do, explicitly including public input, and this is again put out there for public review and comment.

    In other words, the public gets another voice on staff draft report decisions, staff have to respond again to this public review, and staff is held accountable for what they do.

    So there are two steps in the back and forth engagement of the public as a whole, not just one where the public gives isolated opinions to individual staff who filter and interpret, and this comes back as decisions.

    This is supportive to the sentiments expressed by ECoB above – “While ECoB acknowledges the urgent need to complete the review and for Burlington to have a new Official Plan, we also believe that it is essential that the most rigorous engagement process possible is undertaken.”

    The top category of engagement, which is empowerment, is a model target. In my view this requires that policies enacted in the new OP must be controlling and limiting – a height limit is a height limit, a density limit is a density limit, zoning by-law standards are standards. The means to enforce the OP must be built in.

    The opposite of controlling policies, which I refer to as “facilitating” policies, can be easily seen in the OP as it is riddled with “notwithstanding clauses”, and “site specific exception” clauses. Pretty much ever application that I am familiar with in the city comes forward with asks for these exceptions and in fact, an escape from the controls of the nominal, permitted OP.

    Almost nobody asks for nominal permissions any more, but there is no limiting policy for control.These appear to be the source of the over-development applications.

    I think that this entails serious pitfalls, and needs to be reviewed closely, and revised to remove developer incentives to use it to try and get innumerable variances, amendments, and non-compliance specifications with the base OP and zoning by-law permissions that normally pertain to the development application.

    I am concerned that this device allows developers to turn every application into an argument, and an arbitrary negotiation, attempting to get more than what the OP permissions are as written and intended to apply.

    To me, this means that the OP is turned into an outright bargaining instrument, and not in keeping with an objective rules document intended to control and plan how the city develops.

    The purpose of objectivity in the OP policies and rules is to restrict and limit arbitrariness, and argument, in any development application the developer chooses to apply this site specific exception provision to.

    If each application is considered on a site specific exceptions basis then the planning control intentions of the OP are lost in a sort of arbitrary interpretation, redundant argumentation, and chaos.

    The City cannot allow itself to consistently enter into negotiations for ever more than OP permissions on every application, that then chews up all the timeline to an appeal to LPAT. You will know that the province has recently decided to reduce the time limits for decisions before appeal to LPAT/OMB is triggered.

    The fix is in drafting an OP that has controlling policies that do not lose control in showing how decisions conform with provincial policies. Provincial policies are mandating what we can do, then to deliver these policies the city OP policies can mandate what developments have to do. To conform with the first, the second is needed.

    Revisions to the definition of intensification and the open-ended entry into site specific exceptions and notwithstanding clauses are the place to start to get needed policies in place.

    Your appropriate concerns, translated to action, need to include this policy consideration. That policy process is what will determine whether the new OP is any different from the old, and whether the city we really want can truly emerge from the new OP.

    More time and money alone will not suffice to remedy bad planning policy decisions.

    • Roland Tanner

      Thanks for your comments Tom. I’m in the middle of my work day so can’t reply in detail, but you raise many good points. ECoB develops iti positions and policies in the same manner as any non-profit. Our key method is by members participating at ward committees, and the the executive discusses and decides on the correct approach to take with regard to advocating on any particular issue. All members (in fact all residents of Burlington) are welcome to comment and provide input at any time, and do so. One of the things we’re working on right now is more frequent newsletters to our supporters to keep them informed and encourage them to participate. As a volunteer org, it’s sometimes hard to find the time!

      We focused on time and resources for our comment on the OP Review engagement because those are the two elements which are ruling out most of what we would consider the ‘best’ (and at least quasi-scientific) methods of engagement. That can be fixed if the will from council and City Manager is there. They should be encouraging the planning department to go above and beyond, and providing the resources they need.

      I certainly share with you the experience of the City’s attempts at engagement in the past. I really do think there is completely honest desire to do better, but it is still very constrained by time and money. I think the public can help persuade the city that it would be money well spent.

      As for the OP … enforcing limits would be a great start, I agree. That sort of advice would be a great product of the engagement process itself. And we also have to be realistic about what the OP means. The best OP in the world (or the worst) has very little value in the current provincial planning environment. It is, sadly, the ‘start of the conversation’, as you say, and developers assume that every development will go to LPAT/OMB.

      Drop me an email if you’d like to discuss further.

      • Tom Muir

        Rolland,

        I was in the middle of something myself and when I saw this I wanted to agree to talk more as I’m off tomorrow till Sunday. Anyways, I drafted some text and then typed too close to the reply box edge and it vanished. Watch out for that as you can lose a lot. I’ll try again.

        What I was saying is basically we have till March or longer to get the policies for control right and never mind trying to second guess the province or developers. We cannot yield to the pressures of speculations on what “reality” is for a Plan.

        If things keep being changed then no one will know what to do and what kind of reality rolls out from the mess created. So let’s do what we want.

        If our present staff can’t do this, then get new staff. Hear this Mayor and City Manager Commisso?

        And to hell with the LPAT/OMB as it is short staffed, already backed up, the grounds for deciding are shifting under their feet, and if developers get too greedy it will just get plugged. Going back to OMB rules will pretty much guarantee something like this.

        That sounds to me like a good idea to gum up the works.

        How much fight do we have in us to protect our community and city development?

        What’s this part of our freedom worth?

        Enough for now, so later.

  • david barker

    Questions:-

    How many members does the ECoB have?

    What democratic process does it employ to determine its policy positions?

    Editor’s note: A quick look at the ECoB web site would show that: “ECoB has over 600 residents on our mailing list. We are an incorporated non for profit organization with a constitution and by-laws, required by law to have an AGM. We have an elected board of directors with a representative from each ward committee, a chair and co-chair, a treasurer, secretary, and 2 members at large.
    Our mandate is citizen engagement and when necessary bringing forward issues that will affect residents.”

    • Roland Tanner

      David, you are welcome to contact us direct with any questions as well. Our email address is info@engagedburlington.ca. The positions ECoB takes with regard to Citizen Engagement are not controversial, and amount in large part to the advice provided by the Shape Burlington committee in 2010. Getting citizen engagement right is a difficult task – we acknowledge that – but of paramount importance in an age where people are increasingly distrustful of the political process at every level.

      Editor’s note:

      The Shape Burlington report is available on the Gazette web site. Just enter the words Shape Burlington in the search box.

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