Report by David Godley: Community Consultation, Development Permit System

I’ve recently posted a report by Steve Nazar regarding a PDS (Development Planning System) meeting that he attended.

The following text is by David Godley; it concerns community consultation in the City of Toronto, and the Development Permit System:

 

Introduction

Congratulations to the Planning Department on taking the initiative in presenting the Development Permit System (DPS) to the community.

The DPS has the potential to be an innovative planning mechanism.

I am not fully aware of all the proposed details, permit systems in other areas and how much flexibility there is within the Planning Act.

Anyway here are my preliminary comments which are also intended to be an overview of the issue outlined at the community meeting.

Community Meeting

I attended the public meeting on the draft Official Plan amendment to initiate a development plan system.

The meeting was the first of four prior to a decision being made by Council in June.

It took place at the Etobicoke City Centre between 7 and 9pm March 18 2014. An open house was held prior.

A draft Official Plan Amendment was provided.

Joe D’Abramo, an experienced and senior member of the planning staff made a presentation and fielded questions on how the system could work.

In contrast to the Local Appeal Board meeting the previous evening, where staff were neutral, this was a tell and sell.

The positive sides were emphasised and it was up to the audience to bring forth concerns.

Development permit bylaws would replace zoning, minor variances and site plans entirely and would be applied on a neighbourhood basis after extensive community consultation.

The whole city would be designated as potential and priority for a Development Permit Bylaw (DPB) would be dependent on Council in conjunction with the community and staff.

Tree permits and community contributions under Section 37 would also be transferred to the system. Details of everything would be written into the DPB, a control mechanism.
Land division (severances) would continue to be dealt with by the Committee of Adjustment.

Brampton have a permit system for a commercial area and of course the Niagara Escarpment has had such a system from the 70s although mostly for rural areas.

The bylaw would set precise maximum and minimum limits on development ie maximum 10m height or minimum 15m frontage. There would be criteria for shadowing and control over placement on the lot and a variety of other matters.

A development permit would be required for specified development in the DPB and conditions could be applied.

DPBs can be appealed to the OMB (or possibly a Local Area Body if established) by anyone involved. However a development permit application can only be appealed by the applicant, as with site plan control currently.

Comments

The current system of zoning and variances has always been blunt. Even Michael Goldberg agrees with this!

It was originally based on protecting property rights. For such a system it worked sort of reasonably well for planning for a number of years but more recently it has become much more development oriented. No more guide of 10% for minor variances and minor can mean major according to some lawyers. Applicants, Committee of Adjustment Members, Planning Staff and particularly the Ontario Municipal Board, aided by development lawyers, have all been pushing boundaries.

Pro development forces seem to be overwhelming; the community who are the real customers, have little influence.

Committee of Adjustment

There are good people on city staff, Committee of Adjustment, City Council and the OMB; there are also people who need more direction.

The push for development is on the doubtful assumption that more development means lower taxes. The development industry in Toronto is heavily subsidised by property taxes for infrastructure and for a greater number of people will need more public services.

Higher density though has the edge in providing services efficiently.

Proposed development often undermines neighbourhood character and the public have to spend time out of their working day to defend their turf. It can be very costly protecting the street atmosphere at the OMB.

The public are often ignored, intimidated, frustrated, and sometimes angry. This has generated lack of confidence in the Committee of Adjustment, City staff, Council and especially the OMB.

The potential DPS benefits are that:

It is a process where Issues can be resolved early so a permit can issued quickly.

It is proactive rather than reactive.

It is more collegial than adversarial.

It is is sensitive to local matters.

It is stronger aesthetically which also means economically.

It is plan-led rather than application-led.

Reset TO

So “Reset TO, Towards Neighbourhood Planning”, a planning Department publication, is enticing (www.toronto.ca/planning/reset, dps@toronto.ca, 416-392-0170)

This appears to be a reverse direction to the harmonised bylaw which standardises zoning and has been over a decade in the making; bringing zoning into conformity with the 2006 Official Plan appears not to have started but would be implemented through DPS.

Scepticism among the community is healthy. There was plenty of that at the meeting.

Among the issues identified are:

1. Lack of involvement by the public for 5 years on development permits.

A new house next door or an extension requires input from impacted neighbours.

Without neighbourhood consultation, planners would be making technical decisions in a community without knowing detailed concerns which are often critical to a neighbour.

Neighbourhood Consultation

The neighbourhood would not be aware what development was about to take place. Planning decisions on interpretation and criteria will need value judgment in which the community would not be involved.

The community would not have the same appeal rights as an applicant.

2. There is the possibility that DPS processes will be co-opted by development interests as in the beginning of the Mimico Secondary Plan.

Pressure to speed the process may result in less community participation.

Also there is the possibility that a bylaw may stifle development to too great a degree.

3. DPBs will be more complex than zoning bylaws.

It will be time consuming to prepare plans for so many areas and presumably would take time away from other planning initiatives.

To avoid impact on property rights it will probably be necessary to take the requirements of the zoning bylaw as a base and fine tune them and add to them.

Reinventing the wheel would take even longer. The whole process rolled out for the City would take decades.

4. It may be difficult, probably next to impossible, to reach consensus on such detailed documents.

5. There appears to be little flexibility for special cases, which were the reason why variances were originally used to modify strictured zoning bylaws.

Conclusion

In my 40 year career I have always supported community focussed planning and strong civic engagement.

I have always supported a development permit system which is more comprehensive than the complex broken up systems we have with different control tools.

I have favoured more aesthetic controls which lead to increased economic activity and an increase in the quality of life.

I support plan led development rather than the application led planning we have now.
I always support trying to reach planning solutions through consensus.

While there are benefits of a development permit system there are practical disbenefits which need to be aired and analysed further.

Flexibility

In particular there needs to flexibility built into the system. But most importantly the community needs to be fully engaged perhaps through a stakeholders committee as a representative of the community during the preparation of the DPB.

It is essential for the community to be involved in the development permit stage too through notification, comment and some form of overall control or rights to challenge.

This could perhaps be done through Community Boards (like New York’s) as envisaged by City of Toronto Act or by OMB appeal.

Recommendation

The draft official plan should be amended to reflect the need for flexibility in the process and elaborate and strengthen public participation policies.

The public participation policies in the Official Plan are weak. I know because I did a revamp of them for the Official Plan review although I have never heard back or do I know whether the policies will be changed.

I would not support a DPS without protections for the community at the development permit stage.

If the DPS is to be implemented I would suggest that a pilot study be done with willing hosts. So far we are in uncharted territory.

Pilot Study

Information from the pilot study would be reported back to Council with a further review of the DPS before proceeding any further.

An objective analysis needs to be carried out to weigh the pros and cons of various modifications and using other systems.

Recalibrating the existing system may prove more effective especially if the Planning Act is changed and Community Boards could play a role.

Thank You

Planning staff have done good work so far but there are challenges ahead.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to comment and to Ms Keesmat for replying to my previous email on process so promptly, almost spontaneously during the weekend! See Appendix.

Yours truly
David Godley
Toronto

Appendix

To: Jennifer Keesmaat, jdabramo@toronto.ca, Hailey Toft

Thank you for introducing the Development Permit System (DPS) to Toronto and gathering community feedback.

I attended the Etobicoke open house and community meeting.

I am a strong supporter of plan-led planning and a community oriented approach.

I also favour development permits over zoning in principle. The trick is how to change.

I will be making a submission on the DP System soon but this is about interacting with the public.

The meeting the previous evening on Local Appeal Boards was quite a contrast in approach.

The planning department were neutral and provided little objective analysis.

The meeting was drifting to “why are we here” if we are just replacing one process with another.

Fortunately Councillor Vaughan saved the meeting by putting across a number of positives for the change.

We needed the Planning Department to give us the pros and cons without necessarily supporting the idea at this point.

Ward 6

The DP System meeting was tell and sell. This is like all the community meetings in Ward 6 on major development over the last decade or so.

Previously we had the Lakeshore Planning Council (LPC) which acted as a Community Board.

The LPC even held community meetings on behalf of the City of Etobicoke and Metro Council.

I am also a strong supporter of Community Boards which were in the amalgamation act but never implemented.

These would go a long way to dealing with current difficulties.

Where the project or idea e.g. harmonisation bylaw, is seemingly steamrollered there is usually tension and reaction.

My view is that the community and each member of the affected neighbourhood is the client. Development and those applying for it implement a community plan.

Mississauga

I have been to meetings in Mississauga where the Planning Department join with the participants in resolving plans.

The atmosphere is refreshingly calm and good dialogue ensues.

Our planners may be more sophisticated but they are also more pressured by the development and political pressures.

Some planners may break their code of conduct so as not to threaten their jobs.

I have sensed a strong lack of confidence in the Planning Department which is spilling out at some of the meetings and has clearly been built up over the years,

With planners like Alan Theobald and Mike McCutcheon and many others you have the base for a more community oriented planning.

Validation

At community meetings it is always necessary when fielding questions from those who are sceptical with Validation, Rationalisation and Finalisation.

The opinion of a questioner or commenter is presumably genuine and should be acknowledged with a “that is a good question”, “thank you for raising the point”, “I can see where you are coming from”, etc

Answer each question with a rational answer giving both sides of the issue. If they continue to challenge accept their comment and assure that it will noted and considered.

Participants may lack of knowledge or have prejudices but if they have taken time to attend and learn or put across their point of view, they should be respected.

They are entitled to be emotional and perhaps eccentric but professionals paid for by the community are not.

Acknowledgement

Out of courtesy every written submission should be acknowledged and an explanation of the next step given. I never received an acknowledgement of my LAB submission.

Surprisingly the OMB complaints system is good at acknowledgement but their downfall is actually responding to complaints.

To reach consensus on neighbourhood plans is surprisingly successful when stakeholders sit around the table, but to achieve consensus on a D P Bylaw will be next to impossible as it will have to be so detailed.

The community are therefore concerned that the Planning Department will interpret the best option and own the plan.

In Hamilton we prepared a plan for the stakeholders after a number of meetings with them which was then put forward to the general public.

If the Planning Department disagreed with an aspect of the plan it would comment to the Planning Committee. This happened on a few occasions within a respectful atmosphere.

I wrote earlier this week and left a voice mail message for staff dealing asking for a simple clarification with DPS. After 3 working days I have not heard anything.

With any change of system there needs to be a change of culture within the City for it to be successful.

I hope the community and the Planning Department aided by politicians can form a constructive partnership in the future.

I am confident as leaders of the Planning Department this can be achieved over time.

I am hoping to receive at least an acknowledgment!

David Godley
Toronto

[End of text written by David Godley]

 

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