November 20, 2013

Development decisions ‘defensible’ says CAO

As published in The Erin Advocate

The Town has admitted to some “discontinuity” in its management of the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP), but long delays in the process will not put Council at risk of having its decisions overturned by the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), says CAO Kathryn Ironmonger.

Her comments are in a letter to Shelley Foord and Liz Armstrong of Transition Erin, after questions were raised about the SSMP process at a recent Council meeting. Councillors referred the questions to their lawyer and Project Manager Dale Murray of Triton Engineering.

The Town expects to complete the study by next June, and “does not anticipate that the Town's position in any future Ontario Municipal Board process relating to any development applications will be compromised,” said Ironmonger.

“Council is entitled to make decisions for the municipality regarding when, where and whether or not to implement any particular servicing options for the Town and the Ontario Municipal Board does not have the authority to change or overrule the Town's decisions about such servicing issues.”

Foord said the Town’s letter was “not adequate”, since it “danced around” the issues and ignored some of the questions Transition Erin had raised. For example, Foord had asked whether the action plan suggested last May by Water Superintendent Frank Smedley would be pursued, but this was not mentioned in the letter. The group is working on a more detailed response.

Ironmonger said the Town appreciates the public’s involvement in the SSMP process and expects that Transition Erin and the Concerned Erin Citizens group will provide “important perspectives” through their membership on the Liaison Committee.

Foord had asked who has been in charge of supervising the SSMP process over recent years. Ironmonger said while Council has ultimate responsibility, the CAO manages oversight and may seek the advice of Murray, who has been the Town’s Project Manager “throughout this project”. There is also a Core Management Group, including Town and Provincial representatives, Murray and Matt Pearson of BM Ross, but it has rarely met.

“Unfortunately, due to the retirement of the former Town Manager [Lisa Hass] and the hiring of a new CAO [Frank Miele], there was some discontinuity in the Town's oversight management of the study process,” said Ironmonger. “The new Town CAO apparently believed that the draft report was much closer to being complete than it was in fact and expectations were raised at the public meeting that the report was close to completion. It was soon realized by Council that those expectations were not realistic.

“It is not unusual that studies of this scope and magnitude take longer to complete than originally anticipated and it is not unusual that unanticipated costs result in the need to modify the original budget for such studies.”

Murray has told council that during much of the work done by the consultant, he was not instructed to be involved. He has been active this year, advising Council of deficiencies and working with BM Ross to plan completion of the study.

Both Murray and Pearson have urged Council to decide soon about where housing development will occur, but Ironmonger said the current draft of the SSMP report contains insufficient information to make such decisions.

“If Town Council determines that there is capacity to service new development and obtains the necessary approvals for one or more sewage treatment options, the location of such new development would be the subject of the planning process under the Planning Act,” she said.

“Those decisions would be made by Council at the appropriate stage in the process and be subject to provincial plans and policies and to the public participation process requirements. I expect that Council will make decisions on any development applications in a reasonable and defensible fashion.

“This report will be making recommendations for the future of the Town relating to sanitary servicing, water supply and transportation issues. The question of how much assimilative capacity is potentially available in the West Credit River will also be comprehensively addressed.

“Perhaps the most fundamental decision facing Council will be whether or not to pursue an Environmental Assessment approval process for one or more servicing options. Other issues that may require Council decisions include questions such as how servicing capacity should be shared between Hillsburgh and Erin Village; how much capacity is required for servicing existing rather than future development; what costs would be associated with different options; and whether those costs will be funded by existing development or new development.

“These are important decisions for the future of the municipality that require full and complete information and public consultation before Council can reasonably decide them. It would be premature for Council to make such decisions on the basis of the existing information available.

“BM Ross will be providing analyses of different servicing options in the final report based on certain assumptions and development scenarios. The consultant has been seeking some guidance from Council about the scenarios that should be analysed to ensure that they cover the full range of reasonable options.

“The decision on whether to pursue any particular servicing option and the decision on where development will ultimately be located will be made by Council, after considering all relevant input. There will be no predetermination of these issues in the SSMP study.”