LETTER: Council urged to broaden planning review process

Open Letter RE: Planning Application and Review Process published 22 April on Have Your Say PEC.

Dear Mayor Ferguson, Councillors, The County needs to make a serious commitment to public engagement. The Planning Application and Review Process published 22 April on the County’s Have Your Say page is a modest start. Except the problem with Planning in the County goes well beyond recovering costs. Consider the evidence: – adversarial council meetings – increasing levels of outrage over development proposals – one-way communication without opportunities for listening or dialogue – increasing mistrust, decreasing courtesy between citizens and councillors – protracted, conflictual planning application decisions I urge you to broaden the scope of this Planning Application and Review Process to include a serious process of community engagement. Mr. Mayor, just ahead of the vote on April 14 on the Quinte’s Isle Campground  amendment, you said never has a file been so thoroughly analysed nor the public so broadly engaged. By which I took you to mean we could be satisfied that the process was well-served. This could not be further from the truth. The OP amendment granted QIC is a process failure.

As for that 14 April meeting, I was one of the community members who attended to make good faith objections. And one of the citizens surprised to be criticized, by name, at length, by the proponent’s lawyer, and given no opportunity to respond. Council asked one single question though we were there for hours. At the end, Council gave us prepared statements, called their constituents elites against trailer parks, bullies picking on the Planning department, a mob indifferent to facts or process. I witnessed Councillors laugh openly at an elder, as she struggled with the online technology to participate in a meeting of Council. Others have made more detailed, public objections to that meeting, which I fully support and agree with.

Mr. Mayor, Councillors, this is a crisis of participation. I urge you to take it seriously.  We need you to commit to a process to engage the public.  We all know the challenges – fiscal solvency, aging population, houselessness, shortage of good jobs, environmental degradation, social equity and inclusiveness. We can harness the human capital that abounds here in the County – the creativity, the good will, the kindness of citizens. We have such a strong sense of community here. Citizens are committed to this County. We could be drawing upon people’s ability to come up with solutions, their track record of leadership and collaboration. Plus the numerous outside resources – professionals who specialize in processes of citizen engagement, universities who research it, other municipalities who’ve tried it with success.

We can do this. Let’s think big. We need to conserve resources, we need to recover costs. We can and must do that and more. We need this municipal government to take a serious look at engaging the public.

Jane Macdonald