Oro scraps planning committee
By Frank Matys Barrie Advance November 3, 2009
Oro-Medonte council has dissolved the township’s planning advisory committee.
Its five citizen appointees are no longer serving a function many consider essential for sound planning, according to council, though a former member of the now defunct group questions whether councillors ever valued their work.
“Our most significant accomplishment was trying to keep our staff in line with the Official Plan,” one said, speaking on condition of anonymity.“Well, we are not the police.”
Township council will now oversee the review of development applications, while staff studies the potential use of “working groups” to seek public input on the Official Plan review and other initiatives.
“We dissolved (the committee) with the intent of restructuring it,” Mayor Harry Hughes told The Advance.
Hughes maintains the group was created largely to work on the township’s Official Plan, which remains in limbo pending a decision on the county’s Official Plan.
However, he acknowledged the motion to dissolve was partially driven by concern over an apparent lack of unity within the group.
“The committee was not unified in terms of what they should be doing,” he said. “Some of them were strongly opposed to hearing development applications, and some of them said that was what they really wanted to hear.”
So at odds were those views that one member brought a motion recommending council disband the committee and reform it with “with members of the public who will adhere to the mandate set out by council.”
That motion was lost, though council would vote to dissolve the committee “in its current form.”
Sandy Agnew was the lone councillor to oppose the committee’s dissolution. “I wanted to maintain the public input into the planning process,” said Agnew.
How development and related matters are dealt with in future remains to be seen, he added. “In my view, there was value in having public members on there.”
A member said the committee was given “itsy-bitsy stuff” by staff. “Between them (council) and staff they think they know all the answers and they didn’t need us.”
Council will now review development applications while staff studies the potential for “working groups” to seek public input on planning matters.
Hughes anticipates one of those groups would focus on development applications, and said members of the former advisory committee would be welcome to join.
But residents are unlikely to be beating down council’s door to join one of the new bodies, says one member, noting that the advisory group was treated poorly in recent months.
The member specifically cited an instance where the advisory committee was “reprimanded” by letter for failing to follow its mandate, the result of a disagreement within the group over how a planning issue should be handled.
The letter included a warning that council could dismiss public members for “non-adherence” to the committee’s mandate.
“Who would step forward now, and why would you?” the former member asked.
In Orillia, Mayor Ron Stevens says public input on planning is invaluable.
“They separate the wheat from the chaff in terms of getting down to the crux of the (development) application and the importance of it,” he said.
That a council will at times disagree with an advisory committee is not unusual, he added.
Orillia’s PAC, for example, supported a triple-tower condominium development at Orchard Point and council did not.
The application ended up before the Ontario Municipal Board and was accepted.