Browsing the archives for the Subdivision Approval tag.

There is no Good Way to Execute a Bad Idea

Green Reality, South March Highlands

It appears that the City of Ottawa has two standards for engaging public consultation – one for East end citizens and another for the West end.

In Navan, the City will engage the public through the consultative Schedule C Environmental Assessment process when a development proposes a major water drainage area diversion across a watershed boundary that threatens environmentally sensitive wetland at Mer Bleue and an important woodland at Notre-Dame-des-Champs.

Yet in an identical situation in Kanata (where KNL is proposing a water diversion that threatens the National Capital Greenbelt, South March Highlands, and the Kizell Provincially Significant wetland) the City has cancelled plans to engage the public through a Schedule C EA, because it will allow KNL to conduct a pre-approved Schedule A/A+ EA involving no public consultation at all.

Worse the City has made this bad decision:

  • Against the professional opinion of 4 licensed water resources engineers who have all recommended that a Schedule C EA be done;
  • Against the objections of the National Capital Commission who is against a water diversion that would impact the nationally significant Greenbelt that lies downstream;
  • Against the objections of the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority who is against a water diversion because it is contrary to the official Watershed Plan which is supposed to guide all development in both watersheds;
  • Against the provincial guidelines for development planning and storm water management that state that development should be planned on a watershed basis;
  • Contrary to KNL’s Conditions of Draft Subdivision Approval that requires conformance with the Watershed Plan;
  • Contrary to KNL’s Conditions of Draft Subdivision Approval that requires public consultation prior to any phase of development – which has NEVER occurred;
  • Ignoring the public safety risk to a nuclear isotope processing facility that lies on the floodplain less than 500 m downstream from Beaver Pond Dam.  According to a recent CEAA study, water infiltration is a recognized nuclear safety risk at that facility.

Is the planning department so inept that they seemingly apply two different standards in Ottawa?  Or is there another hand at work behind the scenes that has corrupted decision-making?

How can the City’s Planning Committee, allow such bad decision-making to be perpetuated?  You can ask the Chairperson yourself by emailing Peter.Hume@ottawa.ca .

If Mayor Jim Watson is sincere about improving the City’s consultative process he would ensure that all citizens be treated fairly by his administration.

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MNR Proposal Abdicates Responsibility for SAR

Green Reality, South March Highlands

The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR)’s current regime for managing approvals for permits affecting Species-At-Risk (SAR) is already flawed and the proposed changes described in the Environmental Bill of Rights Registry (EBBR 011-7696). make the situation worse – not better.

The current regime is based on providing a process for approving an activity that might harm SAR, or SAR habitat, that is based on an emphasis that mitigates impacts.

  • This is based on a false presumption that mitigation is always possible.
  • Most permit applications are granted if the mitigation for the SAR in question is relocated to a different ecosystem (i.e. moved, transplanted, or seeds replanted).

The existing Approvals process completely ignores the ecosystem implications of a permit by focusing too narrowly on the SAR in question and not on its relationship to the ecosystem it resides in and contributes to.

No vegetation or wildlife (or humans) exist in isolation of other living things.  Each has an impact on the other and within a natural ecosystem, these impacts are beneficial, balanced, and necessary for the whole – otherwise the ecosystem would be different.  Ecosystem change is usually caused by a dis-balance caused by an external event such as human activity, disease, fire, flood, or invasive species.

Instead of (a) requiring a burden of proof that mitigation is possible and (b) ensuring that broader ecosystem effects are included in this process, this proposal makes matters worse by continuing the MNR’s policy of ecosystem piecemealing via regulation.

The breadth of exemptions in the proposal is unreasonably broad because it includes all already approved or planned activities that might damage habitat.

  1. Encompassing all activities is unreasonable in scope.
  2. The proposal does not take into account the fact that approvals (such as a PTTW or CoA) have been granted in the past by agencies without regard to impact on SAR.  These agencies granted their approvals under the expectation that the MNR would fulfill any SAR-related approvals. If the MNR abdicates responsibility, then there is no consideration for SAR under any prior approval granted by any provincial ministry.
  3. The definition is so vague as to allow virtually any activity to quality – for example proposed plans of subdivision approval that have not yet been approved under the Planning Act.  This would remove what little protection exists for all 22 SAR documented in the South March Highlands.

The MNR’s rationale for grandfathering so many activities & exemptions is so dubious as to completely lack credibility.  How will the grandfathering and creation of so many exempt activities that damage habitat contribute to the overall benefit of SAR?

While it is apparent that the MNR seeks to shrink its job in the face of insufficient funding by McGuinty, the creation of so many exemptions will create an unsustainable workload for the MNR to manage the enforcement of compliance with.  Any alleged violation would require considerably further substantiation and validation of prior approvals by other agencies.  In my view, not performing such validation would constitute environmental negligence on the part of the MNR.

The proposed exemptions would also create two classes of SAR (existing and new) which has no reasonable basis in the Crown’s primary obligation to protect all SAR.  This also creates a legal liability for the province in view of recent Federal Court ruling on the fiduciary obligation of the Crown to provide such protection.  Protection of critical habitat is a duty – not a government discretion.

The Federal Court ruling sets a precedent that all levels of government must follow.  In Ontario, this duty is also enshrined in the Environmental Bill of Rights.

The proposed changes amount to abdication, not modernization, and should be opposed.   The Coalition to Protect the South March Highlands, Carolinian Canada CoalitionOntario Nature, and the David Suzuki Foundation have already expressed their opposition to this.

If you also oppose this, please make an individual posting to the EBBR.  Type in the 011-7696 Registry Number in the search box.  Search for and select the proposed change to bring up a description of it.  From there it takes less than 5 minutes to click on the Submit Comment button on the right side of the screen and to fill out the form or to cut and paste your comment.

Feel free to use any or all of the above via cut-and-paste if you wish.

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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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