By Miriam Ostermann, Associate Editor
A hand-me-down approach of senior staff teaching new employees without a policy in place is being dismissed, as a new conduct is being introduced to provide transparency, assure consistency and decreased risk with developers, and comply with the new changes to the Municipal Government Act (MGA).
The Town of Strathmore currently does not have a Development Permit Processing Policy. Earlier this year, the Development Services Review outlined various shortcomings with town approaches to initiating and tracking development permits – necessary for development in Strathmore. According to town administration, managing the permits proved troublesome in the past, particularly due to inconsistently processed development permits, and a lack of tracking and transparency.
While the policy provides standards to ensure uniform treatment and accountability, the process also follows upcoming changes to the MGA that requires municipalities to lay the cards on the table and render processes and policies public.
“This is really a good step forward for infrastructure and development services in Strathmore,” said Ryan Roycroft, assistant director to the Town of Strathmore’s infrastructure and development services.
“There’s no sort of formal documentation or process that’s been adopted by council or even consistently recognized by staff. So the proposed policy here is important for two points of view: one is with that larger drive towards professionalization of transparency, but as well the new amendments to the Municipal Government Act that council will be hearing of will require that municipalities will publicize all of their processes, all of their policies, and specifically publish them on websites.”
Roycroft added that currently the town advertises discretionary use permits, but failed to advertise all permits in the past. The policy demands the town advertise every permit issued in the newspaper.
Following council’s request for staff to review the development permit policies back in July, administration returned to council chambers during the regular council meeting on Nov. 1 with a recommendation for council to adopt a Development Permit Process Policy 6608.
While staff and council members showed excitement about such a policy coming to fruition, some councillors requested clarification and stated concern regarding overall risk, accidental paragraphs left in the policy that stated a shift of power to the chief administrative officer in approving template agreements and was removed during the council meeting, as well as the allotted 14-day time frame for external and internal agencies reviewing the development permit application – to which the timeline is somewhat flexible as long as communication is established.
“There is very much about this that I like; I like the certainty that it gives to developers primarily,” said Councillor Denise Peterson. “The only other issue that I have is in our envisioning – at least mine I can’t speak for council specifically – I don’t always think that reducing risk, although it’s desirable, is conducive to innovative development.
“One of the things that I see other communities doing very successfully is allowing for great negotiation within the development process,” added Peterson.
Although town administration is aware the risk cannot be eliminated completely, they remain optimistic the policy will provide assurance to developers in providing fair and matching service without additional changes throughout the process.
“Staff certainly agrees that risk can’t be removed from the development process. What we’re looking to do is remove from the perception of risk that staff will change the rules halfway through the game,” said Roycroft. “Developers, of course, take on risk, market risk, construction risk, even political risk. With regards to council approval, the former risk that was really raised during that development services review and what came up again and again was this concern that goalposts were shifting part way through processes and that’s the sort of risk that staff really want to remove by publicizing our process.”
Councillor Bob Sobol, who shared Roycroft’s excitement, was also concerned about current ongoing development and the impact of the changes. Administration assured council that provincial government protection would be extended to the developer in such cases.
Council voted unanimously to accept the policy as information, and to redact information in the policy pertaining to a shift of power to the CAO from council in regards to templates. Furthermore, council passed another motion to adopt Development Permit Process Policy 6608 on Nov. 1.