After thorough research here are my findings and conclusion about the Municipal Planning Commission (MPC).
What Didn't The MPC Do?
Over the last few months, there have been multiple reports in the Gazette of various proposals for real estate developments. One of those proposals, the Braeside neighborhood condo development and land swap, has been controversial due to the perceived impact that this would have on the community, including safety concerns, lack of consultation, possible impact on land value and loss of access to park areas. A common response by residents and even some council members is that this is a prime example of why the MPC is needed.
This notion that the residents of Braeside would be better served by the MPC in the case of this development is false since the past MPC did not handle the amendments to the Municipal Development Plan (MDP) and Land Use Bylaw (LUB) which would be required for this development to go ahead.
What Did The MPC Do?
As outlined in a City report from 2015, at one point, “St. Albert had a Municipal Planning Commission (MPC) that acted as the Subdivision and Development Approving authorities and an advisory body up to 2005. It was retained until 2008 as an advisory body on the Municipal Development Plan, although it did not meet after 2005. At that time, there appeared to be a need for an non-partisan advisory body that would act on behalf of the City and its residents in a public consultation process. Eventually, the MPC was eliminated in 2008. The City report goes on to indicate that the elimination of the MCP resulted in reductions in development waiting times due to the removal of various bureaucratic obstacles and inefficiencies in communication between City Council and the MPC. A significant majority of current municipalities do not utilize an MPC.
Life After The MPC
The elimination of the MPC did not result in random approval of projects. The 2015 report indicated the following:
“There are currently six professional planners employed by the City, plus two candidate members working towards full certification through the Professional Standards Board. In all their work, including recommendations and decisions, RPPs are expected to adhere to the Code of Professional Practice outlined by the Canadian Institute of Planners and, in Alberta, to the Code of Professional Conduct outlined in the provincial Professional Planner Regulation. This regulation also establishes a Discipline Committee with whom complaints may be filed.”
Due to ongoing concerns with various development proposals, a 360° review of the MPC was performed in 2016. It included detailed research and analysis of various data related to the MPC as well thorough interviews with City Council, developers, city administrators, and residents of St. Albert. The review confirmed that the reintroduction of an MCP is not likely to add any significant additional costs to the city despite an additional 20% in administrative work.
Citizens interviewed as part of this review were generally in favor of the MPC. They indicated that it would provide increased accountability, transparency and engagement into the process of subdivision development.
On the other hand, developers, city planners as well members of City Council felt that an MPC would add significant time and bureaucratic barriers to development and might hinder business in St. Albert. There was also concern about the inefficiencies that it might introduce and a general satisfaction with our current procedures. It was noted that there have been multiple efforts over the years to make the current process as efficient and responsible as possible with avenues to express the concerns of residents, city planners and any other interested parties.
Where Do I stand?
Upon review of the factors mentioned above, I do not support a reinstatement of the MPC at this time. Despite the potential benefit, the issue is whether the lack of an MPC has resulted in any significant damage to our community. The answer is no. The elimination of an MPC in St. Albert has resulted in significantly positive growth to our city compared to any problems that it might have caused.
What about the concerns of the residents that are impacted by development? It appears some did not feel listened to and that their concerns were sometimes dismissed outright by city administration. I firmly believe that this needs to change. Respectful, transparent communication which takes into consideration every resident’s concerns must be the norm during any major change that can impact our neighbourhoods. To that end, if elected, I will work hard to personally respond and address any perceived transparency/accountability issues in relation to public hearings regarding new development. This is a goal that every council member should strive to.
St. Albert has undergone many positive developments over the last few years. Let us keep this momentum going. Please feel free to contact me regarding this issue. I would love to hear your feedback!