Guidelines on discretion?

Dave Bartlett
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Shannie Duff — File Photo

St. John’s Deputy Mayor Shannie Duff wants city council to put some guidelines around its discretionary power.

At a planning committee meeting last week, Duff said it’s time for some guidelines to ensure council decisions are more fair and consistant.

She told The Telegram afterwards issues are arising, not only with some large developments, but with things such as drive-thrus.

Staff is currently working on a drive-thru policy for the city.

“There are a lot of areas where council is granted discretion and it’s not entirely bad because you have site-specific considerations,” Duff said.

“But my concern (for the last number of years) is that we have that discretion without really any guidelines as to how, or under what circumstances we should use it, or is there any cap on that discretion,” Duff said.

Because there are no guidelines, Duff said some council decisions are made by “who knows who, who lobbies the best, what we’re feeling on a given day (and) how well we know the site we’re talking about.”

“It shouldn’t be just arbitrary,” she added.

While drive-thrus were discussed at Thursday’s meeting, there was also a lot of discussion about allowing development on unserviced land.

Recently council voted to allow an unserviced development on large lots on Maddox Cove Road, against both the city’s own policy and a recommendation by city staff.

Now several other proponents what the same consideration and that’s posing a problem for council.

On one hand, councilors in favour of unserviced development say it’s unfair to ban people from developing their own land.

On the other, some councillors, like Duff, worry allowing such development now may mean the people who end up living there will demand services like water, sewer and sidewalks down the road — which could come back to bite future councils and city tax payers.

“There’s a need for guidelines,” agreed Ward 2 Coun. Galgay. “And hopefully by having guidelines that will eradicate any inconsistencies that take place when we have that discretionary power.”

But Coun. Tom Hann isn’t so sure.

“I don’t know how you can put guidelines or bylaws around a persons discretion and common sense,” he said.

Hann said he makes his decision based on the professional recommendations of city staff, after he’s asked questions to make sure he understands how and why each recommendation was made.

He said council has to be able to be flexible when a good development doesn’t quite fit in.

But Hann said he takes exception to any inference that discretion means shady deals go down at city hall by any on council.

While he’s happy to listen to any proponent who comes in with a project — which may not fit exactly into the current rules — Hann said he prides himself by playing by the rules.

All three councillors agree planning policies will be reviewed as work ramps up on a new St. John’s municipal plan.

They also all hope a new plan — developed by an independent chairperson and involving much public input — will address the “tension” that sometimes is created by council decisions.

It’s expected staff will have the criteria set out for work on the municipal plan by the next planning committee meeting.

dbartlett@thetelegram.com

Geographic location: Maddox Cove Road

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  • Sense and Sensibility
    September 26, 2011 - 12:09

    If the City wishes to allow people to develop their own land (and rightly so, to deny them this is to hold them at gunpoint - pay your taxes, but don't dare build a house - therefore the land is worthless) without incurring costs which will bite future taxpayers in the ass, the answer is simple - drop the municipal taxes from these properties altogether and no longer consider them part of the City of Sin Jawn's. It's only common sense that if people are paying the same mil rate as other taxpayers they are going to want the same services. So if you want to avoid this - cut them loose of both the address and the taxes. You can't have it both ways, council. You can't hold people at gunpoint, unable to develop their own land, thereby rendering it worthless, but still taxing them for it.