Township council has made it clear, they are all about public engagement.
A motion by Coun. Charlie Fox (pictured below) to terminate the process currently underway in Brookswood/Fernridge for an updated Official Community Plan (OCP) was quickly shot down by other council members, many whom underscored their support for public engagement.
Fox’s motion comes after reading a letter published in the Times, and its online comments, from some residents who are calling the process a waste of time and money.
He says some citizens have questioned the selection of the individuals on the Brookswood Community Planning Team, have alleged that the process is corrupt, are making “fake Facebook” pages, and are asking that the planning process be stopped.
“The process needs to continue — if it’s going to continue — with integrity, and we need to know that the public is behind it, and we need to know and look forward to the process having a constructive outcome,” he said.
“But at this point in time, if this is the way the public feels, I don’t think that that can happen.”
Fox also said he finds it ironic that his motion was made the same day council received their first summary on the OCP update from staff and the consultant, MODUS.
Coun. Angie Quaale said that while she shares Fox’s frustration, she is hopeful the process will lead to an OCP that both the majority of council and the community will support. She wants the public to be clear that two of the major concerns that have been brought up — hospital and school capacity — are not part of the OCP itself, and cannot not be included in it.
“If those two conditions are what it’s going to take for the community to accept the OCP, we’re never going to get there, because they cannot be included in the OCP — it is not something council controls,” she said.
Quaale said she is in favour of continuing with the public engagement in Brookswood/Fernridge, as it is “absolutely the most comprehensive and inclusive process ever undertaken in the Township.”
Coun. Blair Whitmarsh, who is a Brookswood resident, said that the Township is currently involved in two processes. One is creating a long-term plan for what Brookswood/Fernridge will look like, and the other is working with the current 1987 plan in place until the new vision is finalized.
“We have a current plan, and we have the responsibility as council to both live in the future — where we’re heading in the future — and manage the day-to-day business that we have,” he said.
“Just like all of us do in our homes, we plan for the future, we set aside money to build things in the future. We have a vision. But we still have to everyday go out and manage the daily business of our lives. And that’s the same thing here. We’re managing to the 1987 plan.
“I am pleased with the process we are going through, I think it is a great process, I hope everybody comes out and gives lots of input.”
Coun. Petrina Arnason believes that cancelling the process would send the wrong message to those who have been acting in good faith.
“This is not the time to jettison the plan. I think that the expectation of the community would be crushed if we were to do that at this time,” she said.
“I think we owe it to the community to say we are going to stick with what we said we were going to do, and to acknowledge those who have spent a lot of time and a lot of energy in a very thoughtful process to try and make their community a better place.”
Coun. Kim Richter said she was “saddened” that council would even entertain such a motion.
“This is a very highly contentious issue, it has been from the get-go. But to even consider putting forward a I’m-going-to-take-my-toys-and-go-home motion like this is, totally undervalues, underestimates the importance of public input,” she said.
“And let’s face it, in contentious issues, we won’t reach consensus. But there will always be a majority. And it may come down to a 5-4 vote on this.”
Councillors Bob Long, David Davis, Michelle Sparrow and Mayor Jack Froese all made similar comments, stating they want the process to continue.
In the end, Fox said he was pleased his motion sparked that kind of dialogue.
“I do hope, at the end of this, that we do have a good plan. I absolutely hope that, too,” he said.
“I hope it’s not a waste of taxpayers’ money and we’re sitting here one year from now, in the summer of 2017, with a plan that goes down the tube. And I can say — I’d be the only one that can say — I told you so. Because that may well be the case.”
Fox’s motion was defeated 8-1.