The merits of long-range planning
| Posted: Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013 06:00 am
The most emotional and sometimes controversial things an elected council can handle are development plans, appeals and public response. It’s well-known in municipal circles that if a council gets serious complaints about something, it will usually be land-use conflict. As recent as the Erin Ridge school site controversy, many members of the public feel their voices are not heard.
Most Alberta municipalities use a municipal planning commission, although their names sometimes vary. MPCs derive authority from the municipality that sponsors it, and from the provincial Municipal Government Act.
St. Albert’s municipal planning commission was eliminated by the city a few years ago, with city council effectively acting as the MPC.
Mayor Nolan Crouse was asked by the Gazette on Monday why the city went this route. He responded, “Yes, in about 2008 St. Albert nixed the planning commission that had been in place for many years. It was nixed because there was a desire to become more business and development friendly. There was a lot of concern that the commission would make a recommendation to council and council would have to hear all the information over and over again. Presenters had to line up twice and development folks had to convince a commission and then council.”
It’s a valid argument. Developers like to see things roll forward as smoothly as possible. However, MPCs have advantages too.
MPCs are drawn from elected officials, staff who provide their expert advice and members of the public at large, giving the public a direct hand in the community’s development vision.
MPCs should, in theory, be as open-minded as possible and free from political influence, a consulting body that vets applications, always keeping in mind the vision of the community.
Vision should always include growth of local business and growth of new business. Neither should be done at the expense of the other.
MPCs can and should be well-versed in the land-use bylaws and policies, and examine applications closely as to whether or not they meet each bylaw’s requirement, but also meet the vision of the community.
The MPC’s recommendations can be very useful to an elected official. While an elected official may claim the MPC slows them down, it could also be argued conversely: it speeds things up because council doesn’t have to hold numerous hearings to see if an application meets the land-use bylaw, etc. That’s all been done beforehand.
It's been several years without an MPC. Without losing sight of the importance of timely decision making, is it time to revisit that 2008 decision to determine if it's still valid?