Browsing the archives for the City Management tag.

Illegal Lot Creation?

Green Reality, South March Highlands

The planned 73% increase in the water and sewer rate over the next 10 years so the City can play catch-up with repairs and replacement of crumbling infrastructure is especially in the ironic in the context of the “Choosing our Future” report which advocates strongly for sustainable development.

TFDE

To see just how mis-managed infrastructure is in Ottawa, let’s examine the saga of infrastructure planning in the South March Highlands (SMH) on the west side where it meets the Carp River.

In 2010 the South March Highlands – Carp River Conservation (SMHCRC) non-profit launched a Judicial Review of the Terry Fox Drive Class Environmental Assessment (EA) with the hope the construction of the $48 Million road project subsidized by the Infrastructure Stimulus Fund (ISF) would be better mitigated considering its massive impact on the diverse and unique habitat of the South March Highlands, as well as on the Carp River floodplain.

The judicial panel decided not to examine technical evidence in which they had no expertise, and instead deferred to the Ministry of Environment’s support of the City’s decision not to issue an EA Addendum –  despite significant changes to project and environmental setting that actually reversed the mitigation measures that had been reviewed with and accepted by the public in 2004.

Basically the MoE stated to the Court that the EA Process is a “proponent-driven” process and therefore an Addendum to the Class EA was not required if the proponent didn’t believe an Addendum was required – even if the project’s eventual environmental mitigation is the opposite of what was proposed during the original EA process.

However when we look at just how fiscally responsible the City of Ottawa, as proponent, was we see that $Millions from the ISF program were spent on Terry Fox Drive Extension (TFDE) would have been better directed towards fixing crumbling infrastructure.

For example, in 2010, the City spent $48 M of public funds on a road based on a 2001 population and traffic forecast that was subsequently found by the Auditor General in 2007 to be completely unfounded.

In short, there was no valid economic justification for that spending at all.  Yet at no time in the planning process was Council advised of the need to revisit the economic justification of the TFDE spending.

Floodplain

Having decided to build a road that was not needed, the City continued to spend $Millions acquiring property on which to undertake floodplain compensation work – that could have been avoided in the first place by just keeping the road out of the floodplain in the first place.

When TFDE was first approved by the Region back in 2000, it only skirted the floodplain. It wasn’t until Ottawa City Council approved an Addendum to Class EA in 2004 that the road was shifted further out into the floodplain where it has been constructed with infrastructure money that would have better used to upgrade crumbling infrastructure.

If we are to believe what is written in Committee Reports, a memo  by the Deputy City Manager to the Chair of the City’s Transportation Committee explained to Council was that the westerly shift was to avoid a recently constructed barn valued at $60,000.  This is described in detail on page 34 of the 2007 EA Addendum.

To protect that barn, the developer of the Richardson Subdivision asked that the road be shifted into the floodplain – and agreed that he would be responsible for the extra flood mitigation costs:

Looking at the Richardson Ridge Subdivision, it appears that the developer’s request to move the road into the floodplain has resulted in about an extra 40 units being able to be built.  If these lots are were sold at an average of $500 K each, the developer’s revenue would be increased by about $20 M.

Of course the $60,000 barn will be torn down anyway as it is not shown in the plan of subdivision and is likely to be inconsistent with a suburban housing development.  It isn’t too difficult to imagine that planning staff could have foreseen the fate of the barn!

It is possible that the barn may have been deliberately constructed to justify a westward expansion of the developable land.  Aerial photos published in the Oct 2000 Environmental Study Report for the road shows that there is no barn in the path of the road.

By 2002, aerial photos show that the barn had been built even though the landowner was apparently aware of the planned road.  Appendix A of the 2000 ESR identifies that landowners, including the Richardsons, were directly notified and that they also attended the public workshops for the road.

Property Acquisition

In Ontario, the development of infrastructure in a floodplain requires “floodplain compensation” which involves creating additional flood capacity to make up for what is lost in building the infrastructure.

The 3 property acquisition reports(Broughton, Richardson, Cowick) show that, to avoid the $60 K cost of replacing that barn, the City paid  $1.73 Million just to purchase the property on which it undertook the floodplain compensation on the west side of the Carp River.  Do City managers need remedial training in financial cost/benefit analysis?

On top of the property acquisition costs, there were all of the costs associated with the excavation to compensate for the loss of floodplain storage from all of the fill that had to be placed to create the road embankment.

During the TFDE Judicial Review the City described the extra costs to build a proper road foundation for the road because of the poor soil in the floodplain. It is quite possible that for every dollar spent on purchasing property, there were $2 or $3 more dollars in extra construction costs – all costs that could have been avoided if the road wasn’t built in the floodplain.

According to the committee minutes cited earlier, the landowner agreed to pay the additional costs of shifting the road further into the floodplain.  Since the request to shift the road came from the landowner, they should have been held accountable for 100% of the floodplain compensation costs.

Yet none were assigned because the entire TFDE project was ISF funded by taxpayers at 3 levels of government.  Land acquisition costs are not eligible for that funding, but floodplain compensation costs are.

Even if the floodplain compensation costs were split 50-50 (because some of the original roadway would have impacted the flood fringe), it’s quite possible the developer’s share of costs could have been $2-2.5 Million, or more.

Instead, taxpayers subsidized more than $60,000 in costs for each additional unit of the 40 units the developer could build.  It appears that taxpayers have paid 40x over for the cost of that barn while simultaneously enabling the developer to increase revenue by $20 M!

This lack of fiscal accountability in the City’s planning department is atrocious.  If City management were held accountable by the Mayor for such bad business decisions we wouldn’t be in a situation today where taxes must be increased to pay for crumbling infrastructure.

Lot Creation

Sadly the saga of mismanagement continues and from looking at the City’s zoning webpage, it appears that two new parcels of land were created on the west side of the Carp River floodplain where the City acquired land to undertake the floodplain compensation (these are the parcels of land the City purchased from the Richardson property and from the Richardson-Cowick property).

How could these lots could have been allowed to be created in the floodplain in the first place? Creating lots in the floodplain is clearly inconsistent with the Provincial Policy Statement.

Despite moving the road into the floodplain at the request of the developer, there was absolutely no mention of the need to create lots in the Committee Report for the zoning bylaw for the Richardson Subdivision.

Under Section 50 (3c) it’s possible for the City to acquire property outside of a Plan of Subdivision or Consent process (processes that would at least require some transparent / public process):

“Subdivision control

(3) No person shall convey land by way of a deed or transfer, or grant, assign or exercise a power of appointment with respect to land, or mortgage or charge land, or enter into an agreement of sale and purchase of land or enter into any agreement that has the effect of granting the use of or right in land directly or by entitlement to renewal for a period of twenty-one years or more unless,

(a) the land is described in accordance with and is within a registered plan of subdivision;

(b) the grantor by deed or transfer, the person granting, assigning or exercising a power of appointment, the mortgagor or chargor, the vendor under an agreement of purchase and sale or the grantor of a use of or right in land, as the case may be, does not retain the fee or the equity of redemption in, or a power or right to grant, assign or exercise a power of appointment in respect of, any land abutting the land that is being conveyed or otherwise dealt with other than land that is the whole of one or more lots or blocks within one or more registered plans of subdivision;

(c) the land or any use of or right therein is being acquired or disposed of by Her Majesty in right of Canada, Her Majesty in right of Ontario or by any municipality; “

However before the City can go ahead and create lots in the floodplain (in this case, without a public consultation process), it’s decision has to be in compliance with Section 3.(5) of the Planning Act, which states:

“Policy statements and provincial plans

(5) A decision of the council of a municipality, a local board, a planning board, a minister of the Crown and a ministry, board, commission or agency of the government, including the Municipal Board, in respect of the exercise of any authority that affects a planning matter,

(a) shall be consistent with the policy statements issued under subsection (1) that are in effect on the date of the decision;”

“Section 3.1.2 of the PPS:

3.1.2 Development and site alteration shall not be permitted within:

d) a floodway regardless of whether the area of inundation contains high points of land not subject to flooding.”

Definition of floodway in Provincial Policy Statement:

“for river, stream and small inland lake systems, means the portion of the flood plain where development and site alteration would cause a danger to public health and safety or property damage. Where the one zone concept is applied, the floodway is the entire contiguous flood plain.”

Definition of Development in Provincial Policy Statement:

“Development: means the creation of a new lot, a change in land use, or the construction of buildings and structures, requiring approval under the Planning Act, but does not include:

a) activities that create or maintain infrastructure authorized under an environmental assessment process; “

Misleading or Illegal

According to the property acquisition reports for the Richardson and Richardson-Cowick properties, the City’s Director of Real Estate claims that Public Consultation was completed during the TFDE Class EA process.

Yet there is no basis on which such a claim can be made – as an example, have a look at the City’s study area map for the TFDE Class EA. The location where the lots were created are on the west side of the Carp River that are clearly outside the primary and secondary study areas of the Class E process.

Furthermore, in our Judicial Review, SMHCRC combed through ALL TFDE Class EA materials and nowhere is there any  mention of the need to create those lots – let alone public consultation on them.

This appears to be a serious breach of both municipal process and ethics.

The Planning Act is prescriptive about notification requirements – mail outs to landowners within prescribed distances of applications, posting signs and advertisements about process etc.

The City appears to have created lots in the floodplain without any required process under the Planning Act, with what appears to be a contravention of Section 3 of the Planning Act – seemingly so that taxpayers would effectively subsidize a $60,000 /unit cost to create the 40 units on the Richardson Ridge Subdivision?

Furthermore, it appears that Council was repeatedly misled by staff on the lack of both process, spending impact, and lack of public consultation.

It was only recently that the City advertised a Zoning Bylaw Amendment to change the floodplain overlay on the Richardson Ridge Subdivision and the TFDE floodplain compensation lands – as part of the rezoning associated with the Carp River Restoration Plan:

During the TFDE Judicial Review, the City successfully argued that it did not need to coordinate the floodplain impact assessment of the TFDE with resolution of the Minister’s Order about the Carp River Restoration Plan – yet when the City finally gets around to completing a transparent Planning Act process related to the floodplain compensation – the City decides to lump it in with the Carp River Restoration Plan – as required by the Minister’s Order.

How can both statements be true?

There is no evidence that a Planning Report was ever prepared by a qualified land use planner in support of the lot creation in the floodplain on the Richardson, and Richardson-Cowick property.  Nor was the proper public consultation process followed in accordance with the Planning Act.

In a recent public statement, the Chair of the Planning Committee publicly appealed to developers to be more professional when dealing with the City on Planning Matters.  Why shouldn’t we also expect the planning department act professionally by making sound business decisions, following proscribed municipal process, transparently present cost impacts, and report truthfully to Council and the public at all times?

Why should members of the public believe the contents of Committee Reports, in particular when a memo is written by a Deputy City Manager to the Chair of a Committee in which it is stated that a developer has agreed to certain costs – but there is no disclosure that actually the developer is the beneficiary of $Millions in subsidy and incremental revenues?

Is this the transparent and open government that the citizens of Ottawa deserve?

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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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Ottawa Citizen Continues to Whitewash TFD

South March Highlands

The Ottawa Citizen has put so much white wash over the Terry Fox Drive (TFD) extension project that it will soon be unsafe to drive.  Each article that they publish seems to add more white-wash than the last.

The article, “Councillor muses about Terry Fox land swap“, quotes Marianne Wilkinson as saying she wants a park, but “the road must go ahead“.

Click on each tab below to reveal why she is wrong.

Why?

There is no economic justification for spending $47.7 M on a road that will sever the eco-connectivity of the area that Councillor Wilkinson wants to create a park in.

The original justification for the road evaporated with the tech bubble in 2001.  The City’s Auditor General in 2007 found that the population projections used to justify it and several other projects were unrealistic since actual growth has been 80% less than forecasted. 

City Management agreed, yet the traffic study for the road has never been corrected, nor was Council approval obtained to continue to proceed with a project of this magnitude having no economic justification.

No wonder Council can’t balance the City budget.

Who?

According to the Census, only 26,000 people in Kanata live north of the Queensway and most of them live south of South March Highlands – Morgan’s Grant, Dunrobin, and North March being the only communities in the north end of Kanata.

Meanwhile there have been 4 roads built in Kanata to enhance north/south connectivity (in addition to the 4-land March Road) since TFD was planned in 2000:

  • Hertzberg road now connects to TFD,
  • Kanata Avenue links to Campeau and TFD,
  • CastleFrank now crosses the Queensway,
  • TFD links Centrum to Kanata south.

The City is also spending $18 M to upgrade Goulbourn Forced Road so that is will be a usable road. 

How many roads do 26,000 people need?

According to OCRI, high tech employment is lower now than it was in 2000 and is likely to be flat for the foreseeable future (click to enlarge):

Graph of OCRI: Knowledge Based Employment Showing Flat Trend

Negative to Flat 10-year Growth In High Tech Employment

With the demise of Nortel, causing its parts sold off to foreign investors, we are unlikely to see significant employment growth returning to Kanata.

Who does the Councillor expect to use this road?

How?

The Citizen chose not to challenge Councillor Wilkinson on how she expects to justify a park to the NCC when TFD extension will sever eco-connectivity to it.

Scientific studies have proven that the road severs both the existing park in Trilliam Wood and the future park that the Councillor wants to have south of the road.  The leading scientific expert on the area, Dan Brunton, has called the road a “Berlin Wall” because it creates an impassible obstacle that will kill any animal that tries to cross it.

The City’s own Forest and Greenspace Advisory Committee, consisting of an expert panel of ecological advisors, passed a unanimous resolution expressing “grave concerns about the ecological damage caused by the TFD extension”, denouncing the proposed mitigation measures as inadequate as well as the failure of the City to protect the area. 

The Ottawa Field Naturalists, Canadian Bio-Diversity Institute, Greenbelt Coalition, Riverkeeper, Ecology Ottawa, Sierra Club, Save Our Greenspace, and several other ecological and community groups have jointly issued a statement appealing that the road be abandoned.

In trying to promote a park and build a road, how does the Councillor expect to have her cake and eat it too?

When?

Councillor Wilkinson is right in asking that the NCC extend the Greenbelt to embrace the South March Highlands.  The entire area should be a park that is out of the reach of the developer-driven planning at City Hall.

However when will the Councillor drop her support for a road that is no longer needed?

When will she rescind delegation of authority to City staff that enables them to approve developer plans for this area without public review?

If the Councillor were actually opposed to development in the area she would be using every mechanism available to her to delay it. 

When will she act as she speaks?

Conflict of Interest?

One can only wonder about why the Councillor floated a $100 M price tag for the purchase of land that cost considerably less for the developers to purchase.

In 2012, the land will soon be close to worthless from a developers’ perspective when habitat protection automatically kicks in as a result of Ontario’s Endangered Species Act. 

There are 17 species-at-risk identified with the South March Highlands, many of which currently reside in lands owned by developers.  With habitat protection, it will be very difficult and costly for developers to develop this area.

At some point, Ontario’s Ministry of the Enviornment will also get serious about dealing with the Radon gas that is embedded in the granite beneath the area.  This gas will be released by any blasting done for development and is already a health hazard for existing residents of North Kanata.

Environmental mitigation for radon gas emissions will make it harder for developers to sell homes in the area.

Without the road, developers will have to rework their draft plans for subdivisions, involving costly engineering work.  And even if the road is allowed to proceed, the environmental assessment process for development in such a sensistive area should be subject to lengthy public review.

Selling the land to the NCC at even cost plus 10% makes better business sense from a developer’s perspective because it creates more economic cash flow than tying up expensive capital for diminishing returns.

It appears that the Councillor is not experienced in the art of business negotiation, so why is she batting about high price tags?   Is it because the City is too accustomed to giving developers whatever they want?

Ecology Ottawa, Do_Developers_Run_City_Hall, examined campaign funding by developers for City Councillors in the last election.  It will be interesting to see how much funding from developers goes to Wilkinson and other candidates in this year’s election.

Ecology Ottawa also tracks the environmental voting record of all City Councillors and it will be very interesting to see if there is any inverse correlation between the declining environmental grades given to several councillors and any increased campaign contributions they receive from developers in the upcoming election. 

As an example you can see from page 2 of postcard-and-grades, the Councillor for North Kanata’s environmental record has deteriorated from a B to a C-D rating since the last election.

While we are looking at the long hand of developers, we should also ask why doesn’t the City’s editorial board ever allow its reporters to challenge the road? 

Could it have something to do with the significant amount of advertising revenue from the City of Ottawa each year? 

Or perhaps the massive amount of advertising revenue from advertising from developers.  This volume is enough to justify a whole section of the paper each week called “New Homes”.

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