Council to create new committee
Orillia city council will be forced to form a new committee this year, familiar to many who have hung around city hall in previous years.
A planning advisory committee (PAC) will be formed in 2017, thanks to the passing of Bill 73, which received royal assent last December. That legislation states single-tier municipalities not located in a territorial district are required to constitute a PAC that includes at least one member who is neither a councillor nor a staffer.
When the previous PAC was disbanded, the public consultation process became more developer-driven, explained Andrea Woodrow, senior planner.
“The onus is more on the developer to host an open house for certain type of developments,” she said.
The process shifted, and the public meetings on planning applications are usually prior to regular meetings of council. Those meetings wouldn’t go anywhere with the new committee in place.
When Coun. Ted Emond served as mayor in the 1980s, a PAC was part of the municipal make-up. He noted there will be a significant difference between that committee and the one forthcoming.
“The planning advisory (committee) made decisions on applications; they’d review it and decide go or no-go,” Emond said. “This planning advisory committee is purely advisory. It will just express an opinion to staff, and staff will incorporate that into a report.”
That’s certainly how staff sees the new committee operating. Rather than add a time-consuming extra step to the planning process, the PAC would be given the chance to provide comments on an application when other committees of council are consulted.
Those comments will be taken into consideration by council, just as comments from the public and other committees are. But, since the committee will be a planning body, if council was ever to disagree with its suggestion, that could pose an interesting scenario for the city if the issue was brought before the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). Director of planning Ian Sugden wasn’t too concerned, however.
“An appellant who liked more what the PAC said will try and use that in their favour,” Sugden said. “It’s all just part of the overall information ... to be considered.”
Councillors learned of the need for a new PAC at a special council committee meeting this week.
At the same meeting, potential changes to the OMB structure were discussed as well. Committee recommended staff send a number of comments on the proposed changes, including support to move away from de novo hearings (where the previous decision of a council on a matter is essentially ignored by the board) and to streamline and modernize the OMB process, removing red tape.
One change to the system Emond hoped not to see was a reliance more on the lay testimony of special interests over expert-supported good planning. He’s worried NIMBY interests might overrule council decisions.
“We’re encouraging the Ontario Municipal Board to take public opinion into account,” he said. “The issue is ... the only public opinion that, typically, we’ve heard is the opinion that’s negative against and involves the immediate neighbours.”
The recommendations of committee will come before council at a future meeting.