Public questions the validity of transparency over Official Plan and Committees



Saugeen Shores Council Chambers was standing room only and overflowing with residents who came out for the first of the public meetings that is to provide public input to the Official Plan Review.

There was no doubt that residents are concerned and some, angry over recent changes that the town has implemented when it comes to the Official Plan review.

Many of the residents appeared to be from the Southampton ward who expressed their concerns over the transparency of the process of committee member selection.  One resident (who preferred to remain anonymous) said that, “This is a very significant review that you are doing and I think you should advertise for people to volunteer for this.  This is very significant for the community and it would be appropriate for Council to step outside the selection of three people … this is not good governance.”

Jay Pausner who oversaw the meeting explained the the Town has established specific goals such as establishing housing rules of 15 unites per hectare to use land more efficiently to include areas of density, height and parking.

A resident also raised the issue of institutional usage in residential and heritage areas.  Jay Pausner replied that the Town staff wants to hear about similar issues that may be a priority for the community. “Perhaps there isn’t enough policy that provides guidance to Council and staff to provide those recommendations in a clear and understandable way so we recommend people answer the on-line survey.”

With concerns raised that not everyone has on-line capability, Pausner pointed out that various organizations will be contacted individually.

A resident also questioned the validity of the survey and that it is not user friendly.  She  also raised the concern that ‘character’ of a neighbourhood should be preserved but the definition of ‘character’ has never really been defined.

Jay Pausner also explained that the Public Advisory Committee is a Council-appointed citizen Committee of three members whose role is to review public comments received and determine if they reflect the values of the community.  According to Pausner the process should take away any influence and that the Advisory Committee can then make an objective recommendation.

The room erupted upon learning that the Advisory Committee is appointed by Council.

Amanda Froese said that the appointed-Committee approach was new and unique in order to look at the way governance is done.  “Staff said let’s get a group of people who are willing to put their names forward and who can be drawn upon for various tasks. A number of people submitted their names and who are willing to submit their views to staff.  Therefore, when staff has an item that it wants an opinion on, it can go to the list of names and Council will choose those names of people who are interested in and willing to look at that issue.”

A resident in the audience said that he felt three members was a very small Advisory Group and that it could be seven to ten to get a broader perspective of opinions.  “This is a very significant review.”

Laura Robinson of Southampton asked how citizens are to be ensured of the transparency of the process in the selection of committee members and not simply done without public knowledge.

Amanda Froese said that the group of people is a sounding board for staff to hear what the public is saying.  She said that it is a tool (advisory committee) through the Official Plan review to give a peer group for staff to listen to.  She said that the meeting was not to discuss how committees are established but to focus on the Official Plan and what priorities are wanted.

“This process is not fair, not representational and is not reflective of the values of transparency or inclusiveness,” said Gabrielle de Francesco. “For you (staff) to keep repeating over and over the same things, indicates you are not interested in listening but only how you ‘did it’ and three (members) is not representational.  If you are not willing to re-focus or re-consider, then we question the validity of this whole process.  Will you discount anything that we bring forward that are not in your line with your thinking, including our concerns being brought forward now?”

Froese replied that the town is trying to do things differently.  “This is a voluntary add-on to what the public consultation process would be without it. We will be going to the public six times to get input.”

De Francesco added that three people are not a sounding board.  “This is a very narrow vision and this is so important and essential to the community that we would like this opened to the wider community.  This (Official Plan) is going to set the tone for where we are headed in the next five years and beyond.  If we (citizens) cannot be heard at this very initial point of discussions, I really question how much you want to hear.”

“There is a big disconnect between goals and strategies and implementation strategies to even maintain derelict downtown buildings because there isn’t even a By-law to make someone maintain a building and enforce a standard,” said de Francesco.

Several areas of concern raised included health care, infrastructure and lifestyle among others.

Robinson raised the question of spending multi-dollars on ball diamonds when there is no indoor walking track to accommodate seniors, the primary demographic of the area.  “We are spending all this money on ball diamonds that seniors cannot use and, in the winter, they are then forced to stay indoors with little exercise.  How did this town decide that more baseball diamonds are more important than the needs of seniors?”

It was suggested that input from the community should have been asked for prior to the survey being developed.

To review the Official Plan presentation, CLICK HERE.

The last Official Plan was established in 2012 and took two years before being approved in 2014.  The current OP proposal is to be updated through to 2031 despite that an Official Plan is normally done for 20 years. Pausner said the proposed deadline for changes is next summer (2020) and that there enough lands available for development to 2031.

“An Official Plan should be a comprehensive vision for 20 years,” said an audience member.  If you are looking at updating only five objectives then it is being done quickly instead of comprehensively.  A review to 2031 of 11 1/2 years is not a comprehensive review.  I encourage Council to say ‘let’s step back”.  They have 10 objectives but are only looking at five to get things done quickly.  The community wants things done comprehensively and we want that 20 year plan.”

Froese said that things are changing so rapidly in Saugeen Shores that the review has to be “speeded up” and this is a five-year interim review.

Previously an Official Plan had to be completed every five years however, the Province has recently modified its policy to now require a review every 10 years.

A final comment was raised that younger people will be the future of the community. With 5,000 people coming into Saugeen Shores, younger generations will have to have their input.  “We need to hear from the younger generation whose children will be here after most of us are gone.”