Pass council debates planning authority in scrappy session
Shootin' the Breeze — Crowsnest Pass council vigorously debated the future of the municipal planning commission at chambers Feb. 28, pitting the MPC’s council representatives against elected officials who want to spur development.
The MPC decides on applications for subdivisions and developments considered discretionary uses as per the municipality’s land use bylaw. The MPC also decides on applications to vary the bylaw’s development standards when variances are too big to be decided by municipal development officers, according to Johan Van Der Bank, manager of development and trades.
Alberta municipalities need development and subdivision authorities, according to the Municipal Government Act, but the act doesn’t require MPCs.
Affected residents and developers can challenge MPC decisions at Crowsnest Pass’s subdivision and development appeal board, whose volunteer members include one councillor.
Council can scrap the Pass’s MPC and delegate its authority to the municipality’s development department, which wouldn’t affect the development or appeal processes.
The City of Lethbridge has taken this approach, along with Parkland County and other municipalities in the Capital Region, according to a staff report attached to council’s Feb. 28 agenda.
Mayor Blair Painter praised the report for “offering us a different perspective on how we are handling our [development] decisions.”
The MPC meets once a month and its agendas often fill up quickly, putting deferred applications on hold for at least a month.
“That really cuts down on the opportunity to have a project move forward,” Painter objected.
Coun. Dean Ward, who sits on the MPC, argued for the status quo, noting that council recently scrapped committees in charge of the Pass Pool and municipal protective services.
“I don't want to get to the point where every part of this municipality runs purely through this room,” he said from his council seat.
Painter countered that dissolving the MPC wouldn’t exclude the public from the subdivision and development process.
“We wouldn't be taking away a committee for the sake of taking away a committee. This would be taking away a committee so that our community can move forward and do what it needs to do,” he said, calling Ward’s comment “a bit of false information.”
“It’s not false information,” Ward shot back, with Painter insisting, “It’s totally false!”
Ward then called for council to break for an in-camera session, citing the need to protect personal privacy and personnel matters under Section 17 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
Council reconvened 15 minutes later, at which point Ward clarified that, “Every time we take away a committee, we take away a bit of public involvement.”
Coun. Dave Filipuzzi, who also sits on the MPC, suggested that some councillors may not fully understand what the MPC does.
Coun. Glen Girhiny, who sits on the subdivision and development appeal board, retorted that the board was recently asked to adjudicate a development permit that never came before the MPC.
“When I see something like that come to me on an appeal board, I gotta say, ‘What exactly do you do?’ ”
Painter then motioned for staff to report back on how the MPC operates.
“I’d like to know how many items are typically on their agenda. And how many hours do their meetings run? I know it’s two, but as Coun. Fillipuzzi said, there are some on this council who might not know,” the mayor remarked.
Coun. Vicki Kubik broadly concurred, asking how many MPC agenda items are typically deferred.
When all was said and done, council unanimously supported Painter’s motion.
The MPC’s next scheduled meeting is at 2 p.m., Wednesday, March 22.
Laurie Tritschler, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze