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Does Pelham really need to hire another planner? Take a look at our neighbours, says the Town

In response to a spate of stories recently on land use and planning issues in Pelham—plus CAO David Cribbs’ assertion that an overhaul of the Town’s zoning bylaw, dating to the 1980s, is overdue—the Voice received the following from a reader:

The Town initiated the process of updating the zoning bylaw back in 2015, when they retained the services of Municipal Planning Services and The Planning Partnership. I am not sure of the resources budgeted, but $75,000 would be typical. The consultant clearly completed a substantial amount of work, as evidenced in the three drafts issued in 2016 and 2017. A copy of the third draft can be found online.

The draft was presented to Town Council on August 31, 2016, as part of a workshop. The whole agenda for this meeting can be found online.

Through 2018, it was typical to find this wording in the June/July/August 2018 Monthly Report of the Community and Development Planning Department:

Municipal Planning Services and The Planning Partnership have been retained for the purposes of writing a comprehensive zoning by-law that conforms to the Town’s Official Plan, 2014. A second workshop with Council was held on February 16th, 2017. Staff have received a revised draft of the Comprehensive Zoning By-law from the consultants in August. It would be appropriate to circulate the draft Zoning By-law to agencies for review and comment.

It is not evident that the department circulated the draft or ever reported back to Town Council.

It is surprising to read that the Town now seeks to hire a planner to create a new zoning bylaw that in actuality already exists. It would be interesting to learn how the business case supported hiring a full-time permanent position to complete work that is already done. Was the business case part of an agenda that is publicly available? How much money was paid to Municipal Planning Services and The Planning Partnership for the unused document? Are they still under contract to complete the work?

While the reader declined to be identified, the facts and questions posed were straightforward, and appeared to originate from a person or persons acquainted with Town Hall’s inner workings.

We put the queries to CAO Cribbs, who provided the following response:

It is correct that a company called Municipal Planning Services, as subcontractor to the Planning Partnership, conducted $71,482-worth of work over a period of five years in working on a zoning bylaw update. The work was never fully completed, but will be relied upon as a starting point for the work that will proceed later in 2020. Much has changed in the planning world since Municipal Planning Services began the undertaking back in 2013.

We suspect that too much is being made of the position’s job title of “Policy Planner.”

While the focus of the position will be planning policy work, as with most municipalities, the Town of Pelham has a steady stream of work to keep each of its Official Plan, its Zoning Bylaw and its Site Plan Bylaw current. Beyond that, there are always one-off issues that are raised by Town Council and the community, along with emerging trends that require attention and amendments to the Town’s Official Plan or other documents.

In addition, as a result of changes to provincial legislation and plans, the Official Plan and other documents need to be amended to bring them into compliance. The five-year review of the Official Plan is also overdue. There has been a two-year moratorium on the Community Improvement Plan program, and there needs to be a review and evaluation of this program conducted before the moratorium expires to determine what the next steps should be. The Downtown Master Plan for Fonthill and Fenwick also need to be reviewed and updated. In addition, there is the need to have someone available to respond to policy initiatives of other government entities that impact on Pelham—whether it is Regional policy matters, provincial policy initiatives, or policy initiatives of other agencies.

The Policy Planner will be working on far more than the zoning bylaw and there has been a significant gap in the delivery of this function in Pelham in many years.

For comparison purposes, here are equivalent planning staffing numbers from some fair comparators in the Niagara Region:

NOTL

One Director of Planning, one manager of planning, one senior planner, two “Planner Iis,” one entry-level planner, one planning technician.

Lincoln

One Director of Planning, one associate director of planning, one policy and development supervisor, one planner, one planning technician.

Thorold

One Director of Planning, one manager of planning, two senior planners.

Pelham (currently)

One Director of Planning, one senior planner, one planner.

The best comparator is NOTL as far as population size and growth, and that municipality literally has twice as many planning professionals. Thorold is a reasonable comparator, and after this hire the two municipalities will have equivalent planning staff. By any reasonable measure, the addition of one planning professional to the Pelham team is sorely needed.

All residents should celebrate the fact that the Town experienced a 3.35% rate of levy growth in 2019. That means that the value of new construction has increased the assessed value of buildings in Pelham by 3.35%, all of which required work by Town planning staff in order for the construction to have been lawful.

Anyone familiar with the community can see the large number of new houses being built, the “For Sale” signs on numerous pieces of vacant land, and from those things can understand that there is a lot of planning and development (and policy!) work to be done in the coming months and years. Staff are grateful to Town Council for recognizing this human resource need and look forward to welcoming a bright and talented person to the team in the coming weeks.

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