September 25th, 2021

Council begins process of phasing out Municipal Planning Commission

By Tim Kalinowski on September 15, 2021.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDtkalinowski@lethbridgeherald.com

City council voted last week to begin the process of phasing out the Municipal Planning Commission with the intent of redistributing its governance responsibilities between the Subdivision Development and Appeal Board and the Civic Works Standing Policy Committee of city council.
“The resolution (last week) did not get rid of MPC, it started the process,” explained Coun. Belinda Crowson, who brought the motion before city council at its final meeting last Tuesday. “There will be recommended bylaw changes coming forward through consultation with the building industry and Land Development. There will be a public hearing for the public, and of course the public will have their say before any final decisions are made by the next council. This is the start of the process, not the end of any process.”
The intent is to phase out the MPC by January, but Crowson confirms the exact details of how its responsibilities and powers would be divided up between SDAB and the Civic Works SPC are yet to be worked out.
“It actually doesn’t decrease their opportunities (for the public) to speak, it just changes to whom they are speaking,” stated Crowson.”You would have an opportunity to come to the SPC, and if you don’t like their decision you also can come back in two weeks or so to council.”
Crowson acknowledged a minority of council members, Councillors Joe Mauro, Blaine Hyggen and Ryan Parker, had opposed the change, but she felt strongly that getting rid of the MPC would improve the development permit process, and make the whole process more efficient and streamlined overall.
“Having sat on MPC, virtually everything is appealed (to SDAB), which is wasting the time of developers,” she told council last week. “Time is money, and this could take two or four weeks of extra time where they could get a much quicker decision if MPC isn’t in the middle of the process.”
Civic advocate Darlene McLean responded to Crowson’s enthusiasm for change by stating the process should not be about being concerned about “wasting the time of developers,” but rather achieving a fair process which was impartial to both developers and citizens impacted by those developments alike.
“Are they going to up the standard of training, impartial, balanced training that the SDAB members receive?” she stated when asked about the proposed dismantling of the MPC. “If their only source is City staff for guidance, then I really question how impartial or balanced these decisions can be. I come from a neighbourhood (Westminster) where we were denied fair process for 15 years. For 15 years Westminster was denied going to MPC.”
McLean also wanted to know if the Civic Works Standing Policy Committee was going to have the same scope and notification process the MPC uses to help nearby residents stay informed about proposed developments in their neighbourhoods.
It is those details, McLean said, she looked forward to hearing about when the public hearing on the issue comes around later this fall.
“Not knowing the details, and not knowing exactly where the chips will fall at this point, anything that gets rid of transparency and openness– as long as those channels are kept open, that’s fine,” she stated. “But we don’t know how approachable and how open the communication is: how are public notifications going to go? We don’t know that yet.”

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