On Monday 30 November 2015 at Newmarket’s Committee of the Whole, councillors will debate a staff report setting out priorities and objectives arising from the Glenway Lessons Learned exercise.
Ward 7 councillor, Christina Bisanz, has been energetically pressing for this, setting deadlines for staff responses.
Table 1 of the report at agenda item 7 lists the actions to be taken when processing development applications within the Town. But there is one glaring omission. What should happen when top planning staff and councillors disagree on a development application and whether it should be approved, or not?
This is precisely the position senior staff and councillors found themselves in with the Marianneville application to develop the former Glenway golf course lands.
Planning staff boycott
Two years ago, on 25 November 2013, councillors voted unanimously to resist the development and back the residents. Top planning staff then boycotted the OMB Hearing, fatally holing the Town’s case below the waterline.
The OMB Hearing cost the Town $588,291.
To this day, we do not know when the Director of Planning told the Mayor that he could not support the Town’s position. We do not know what the Mayor’s reaction was. Neither Tony Van Bynen nor the Director of Planning, Rick Nethery, spoke about any of this at the Glenway Lessons Learned meeting on 23 June 2015. But the Director of Planning made it clear in the run-up to that meeting that he and his department could not be forced to argue the Town’s case before the OMB if they disagreed with the Town’s position (see below*). Clearly, there must be a protocol or convention that deals with this eventuality and – if it is in writing – it should be published.
Is Glenway a one-off?
All this begs the question, is Glenway a one-off or could something similar happen again? It is not impossible to imagine councillors (either in this council or, perhaps, a future one) disagreeing with their own professional planners over, say, a development in the middle of the Town’s Heritage Conservation District. If the developer appealed, the Glenway precedent suggests the Town’s own planners would boycott the OMB Hearing.
The Glenway Protocol
The “Action Plan” should contain a published protocol. I’d call it the Glenway Protocol.
It should oblige the Director of Planning to inform the Mayor and all councillors as soon as he or she has formed the view that their decision on a development application cannot be supported, setting out the steps that should be taken to ensure the Town’s view is properly and expertly represented at any OMB Hearing, insofar as this is possible in the circumstances.
As we now know, Glenway residents and others were led up the garden path on 25 November 2013 when councillors voted to back the residents. People mistakenly believed the Town and its professional staff would be behind them, 100%.
At that stage they were also unaware that the Town had previously considered buying the Glenway lands, a fact also withheld from the OMB Hearing.
The forthcoming and much anticipated Provincial Review of the OMB will have much to learn from Glenway.
* In the Glenway Lessons Learned Questions and Answers, published earlier this year, the Town’s Director of Planning wrote in response to the question: Why were no Town staff called as witnesses to support the Town's position at the OMB Hearing?
“Town staff did not play a role in reviewing the application and/or providing a professional planning opinion to Council. Council instead hired an outside planning consultant (Ms. Victor) to, in effect, act as staff on this application and to process the application and make recommendations to Council.”
"Council did not hire Ms. Victor to defend the Official Plan, but rather to process the application and provide a professional planning opinion and recommendations to Council."
"Because staff did not play an active role in reviewing and/or processing the application (other than to provide administrative support to Ms. Victor), staff could not be called upon to provide evidence on the appropriateness of the application at the OMB.”
“In the event Council had not hired Ms. Victor and instead staff had made a specific recommendation to Council, staff’s position at the OMB would have been in support of the staffs recommendations in their professional opinion, and not just to support Council’s position. For example, in instances where Council does not agree with staff recommendations, it cannot then ask staff to defend Council’s decision at the OMB and it must decide whether it wants to hire its own professional planner (as was the case here) to defend its position.”