Planning mindset needs an overhaul
We were outraged to read about the city’s new initiative to give developers their own ambassadors.
This speaks to the current attitude in the planning department — that they work for developers. Already developers are on a first-name basis with city planners; they meet regularly and chat informally about how best to craft their proposals. Meanwhile, residents are left in the dark, our voices largely ignored, as the city repeatedly shows its preference for development, whether good or bad, at the expense of the community. This culture needs to change.
While councillors may be ambassadors for their communities, they are the only ones acting on our behalf. Meanwhile, developers, who have vested and limited interests in our communities, already have the attention of the planning department and they engage lawyers, planners, architects, engineers and others to promote and justify their applications. These justifications then become the salient planning documents used by the planning department, planning committee and council.
Even the procedure at planning committee meetings is structured in their favour. The proposal is presented with all the bells and whistles, the community representatives have five minutes to speak, and finally the developer has the last word — generally refuting what the community has said and justifying the application.
In other words, the balance is already heavily weighted in favour of development when there is conflict with community.
To pay, at taxpayers’ expense, city employees for even more assistance with developers‘ applications only adds insult to injury. Community organizations and residents are not opposed to all development, but surely it is reasonable to expect opposition when development is significantly different from the zoning bylaws and official plans so laboriously worked out by city planners with input from countless hours of volunteer community effort.
The planning department should work for the residents of this city, not the developers. We should be seen as their clients, not the developers. Community concerns and considerations should be given more weight than the financial interests of the few.
Is municipal planning in Ottawa now so short-sighted and self-interested that community values are so easily dismissed?
Indeed, it is the beleaguered volunteer communities across this city who are in need of ambassadors.
Chad Rollins, president, Action Sandy Hill
Liz Bernstein, president, Lowertown Community Association
John Dance, president, Old Ottawa East Community Association