Browsing the blog archives for July, 2010.

City Auditor Finds That Staff Is Soft On Developers

South March Highlands

Misquoted

The Ottawa Citizen completely mis-quoted my letter to the City of Ottawa’s Auditor General.

The Citizen’s headline “No audit for South March development” is inaccurate –development in the South March Highlands has already been audited as part of the AG’s review of the Development Review Process and the City’s performance has already been found questionable.  The real headline should have been the one I used for the title of this blog posting.

City Management in agreeing to pull up its socks has effectively admitted that City staff are soft on ensuring that developers meet the pre-conditions of subdivision development.

In my letter to the city Auditor General, I did not (as misquoted by the Citizen) “charge that the developer was refusing to meet a number of required conditions” even though that may be true with respect to conditions applicable prior to starting any phase of development or construction. 

I questioned why it took 1,567 signatures on a petition and a motion by City Council to require staff to do what they should already have been doing all along – enforce oversight on a developer meeting the pre-conditions of subdivision development.  I charged that planning staff were lax in the oversight, validation, and verification of conditions of subdivision.

I pointed out that the City’s Greenspace Master Plan identifies this area as one of the most significant natural areas of the City and that anything less than strict attention to the conditions of subdivision approval and applicable environmental studies would be irresponsible as well as in violation of the City’s Official Plan.

I stated that this situation was far from acceptable and questioned by the Mayor has not held the City Manager accountable for this incredible and ongoing failure.  The Auditor General replied that his audit of the Development Review Process had already turned up similar issues and that Management had agreed that these needed to be addressed.

In my follow up letter to the Auditor General I asked that the results of his audit and that the improvements being made by Management be made public.

The full text of my original letter and my follow-up letter can be found on the other tabs of this post.

July 28 Letter To AG

Mr. Lalonde,

The Planning Act requires municipalities to oversee development applications for subdivisions.  Yet 1,567 signatures on a petition were required to ensure that City Council passed a motion on July 14 to direct staff to do what they should already have been doing all along – enforce oversight on a developer meeting the pre-conditions of subdivision development.

At a public meeting held the following night, it was obvious that planning staff had not read in detail the preconditions of subdivision development, nor could they explain why so many conditions were unmet given that the developer has already developed prior phases.  Staff were unable to produce any details or copies of the documents that were supposed to be approved, nor were they able to identify which plans must have updates prior to each phase of subdivision, nor could they identify the approval status of the storm water management plan.

Furthermore, it appears that City staff have become so lax in the oversight, validation, and verification of conditions of subdivision, that the developer, KNL/Urbandale,  has become upset about the City starting to exercise their duties and has filed a complaint with the OMB.

In conversations with city staff and with city councilors I am told that this lack of practice is to commonplace as to be accepted as normal business as usual.   Yet it is far from normal, and it is even further from being acceptable.   It is a mystery why our Mayor has not held the City Manager accountable for this incredible and ongoing failure. 

The area where this subdivision development is occurring is identified in the City of Ottawa’s Greenspace Master Plan fieldwork study as containing 3 of the most significant natural areas in the City.  Anything less than strict attention to the conditions of subdivision approval and to the applicable environmental studies (such as the Special Study conducted by the City in 2004) and subwatershed management  plans would be irresponsible, as well as being in violation of the City’s Official Plan and the City’s statutory obligations.

The area is so sensitive, and residents are so opposed to its development, that this subdivision has a special condition (Condition 11) that requires the developer, prior to each phase of development,  to produce and maintain a communications strategy regarding development plans, schedule, and status.  This condition has NEVER been met and staff cannot explain why they have allowed any development to proceed to-date without it having been met to the City’s satisfaction.

Will you conduct an immediate operational audit of this situation?

Regards,

Paul Renaud

July 30 AG's Response

Good Afternoon Mr. Renaud

 Thank you for your email and your interest in this file.

I have reviewed your concerns.  In our audit of the Development Review Process, we have identified similar issues to yours.  My understanding is that Management is addressing them.  Finally, all my resources are currently assigned to complete my 2010 audit plan.

For these reasons, I do not plan do conduct an operational audit of the project.

Respectfully,

Alain Lalonde CIA, FCGA
Auditor General
City of Ottawa

July 30 Follow-up

Mr. Lalonde,

How may I obtain a copy of your findings and the steps that Management claims to be taking to address them?

We are obviously concerned about the possibility for gaps between the audit of the overall process and the failures of this project to-date.  Since you do not intend to conduct an operational review of this specific project, it is only by comparing the project issues that we have encountered to the results of your audit that we can be assured that further gaps do not exist.  For example, as they might arise in the handling of environmentally sensitive development projects.

Also, understanding the remediation plan proposed by Management is important to satisfying the concerns of citizens that the steps Management is taking will be sufficient as measured in terms of this environmentally sensitive project.

Regards,
Paul Renaud

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