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Editorial: Fair’s fair

Danny Williams, who heads the company leading the Galway development, is going to court over treatment by the City of St. John’s.
Danny Williams, who heads the company leading the Galway development, is going to court over how his development is being treated by the City of St. John’s. — Telegram file photo

 

If former premier Danny Williams feels he has a legal case against the City of St. John’s, he should be allowed to make that argument in the courts, and not be required to surrender that right. If he feels his Galway development is being treated unfairly, he should be able to make that case, too.

The fact is that everyone who deals with city staff should get the same standard of care and attention.

It shouldn’t matter if you are developing a massive 5,000-home development or if you’re building a four-house subdivision on a cul-de-sac — or even if you are an individual homeowner looking to build a fence: the city should be even-handed with all.

Williams has said the city wants him to sign 16 separate development agreements, and has delegated city staff to make those agreements. He maintains he’s being treated differently because the city wants him to agree to have disputes go to arbitration, rather than to the courts. And he says the city is hiding information from him and arbitrarily refusing to allow him to proceed with work on his project until development agreements are signed and other work commitments are completed.

If Williams is being treated demonstrably differently than other developers in the city, then that should be addressed and rectified.

For a developer already facing the fallout of an economic downturn, it doesn’t sound like much fun.

If Williams is being treated demonstrably differently than other developers in the city, then that should be addressed and rectified.

That being said, the standard for how developments should be treated in the present should not necessarily be defined by how they were treated in the past. Urban planning is a moving target: it changes and develops — and hopefully improves, learning from past mistakes. St. John’s has clear examples of how there have been mistakes in the past.

Williams clearly understands that the past is not a great guide for the present; in his own sworn affidavit in the court action, he points out, “the reality is the city has a history of a lack of standardization, and in fact has approached commercial developments within the city in an ad hoc and arbitrary manner.”

What has to be understood is that it may well be council’s job to make the final decision on approving the agreements, but council staff are the ones with the knowledge and expertise needed to do the preliminary work, establishing whether development agreements meet the basic standards of the city’s criteria.

The first goal should be determining what the city needs to do to protect the interests of all of its citizens into the future. The second should be to ensure fairness across the board.

If that’s what Williams wants, too, then that’s a fine starting point.

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