De­vel­oper slams for­mer plan­ning chief

Danny Che­drawe says the re­cently fired Bob Bjerke showed poor lead­er­ship by not meet­ing with him.

The Coast - - THE CITY - BY JA­COB BOON

One

of the city’s big­gest de­vel­op­ers says he was snubbed by HRM’s ousted plan­ning chief, which is one rea­son why Danny Che­drawe doesn’t think Bob Bjerke was up to the chal­lenge of lead­ing his depart­ment.

Last week, chief ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cer Jacques Dubé dis­missed director of plan­ning and devel­op­ment Bjerke af­ter three years on the job and with lit­tle ex­pla­na­tion. The abrupt staffing change came as a sur­prise to council, city hall staff and the public.

Che­drawe, the pres­i­dent of West­wood De­vel­op­ments says Bjerke is a “de­cent guy” but “not a great com­mu­ni­ca­tor.” De­spite his com­pany’s large port­fo­lio of projects, Che­drawe says he only re­cently sat down with Bjerke.

“You’d think the chief plan­ner would want to meet with me to try and in­flu­ence what I’m do­ing,” he says. “It just shows he was more on his desk. A po­si­tion like that, you’ve got to show strong lead­er­ship…I didn’t know what his vi­sion was for the city, be­cause he never com­mu­ni­cated to me.”

Bjerke coun­ters that nar­ra­tive. He says he spoke with Che­drawe many times at public events and in­ter­nal plan­ning ses­sions, but does ad­mit it was only in the last few months that he sat down for a closed-door meet­ing about the de­vel­oper’s spe­cific con­cerns.

“He has a very se­lec­tive mem­ory,” Bjerke says. “I’ve al­ways met with peo­ple when they asked.”

The for­mer plan­ning chief also dis­putes the ac­cu­sa­tion that he never com­mu­ni­cated his vi­sion. Bjerke says he put a lot of time into build­ing re­la­tion­ships be­tween his depart­ment and the devel­op­ment com­mu­nity, as well as at­tended reg­u­lar meet­ings with de­vel­op­ers and the mayor, spoke at public events and pro­duced mul­ti­ple re­ports out­lin­ing the depart­ment’s plan for HRM’s growth. “I think it would be dif­fi­cult to say there isn’t a clear state­ment of vi­sion.”

The dif­fer­ence may be who the mu­nic­i­pal­ity is com­mu­ni­cat­ing its vi­sion with. Dur­ing the last few years, the plan­ning depart­ment has in­creased the pro­fes­sional stan­dards and tech­ni­cal stud­ies used to in­form its de­ci­sions, says Bjerke. Along with those changes have come ex­ten­sive tech­ni­cal and public con­sul­ta­tion for projects like the Green Net­work, In­te­grated Mo­bil­ity and Cen­tre Plans. So it might not be how much he en­gaged with the devel­op­ment com­mu­nity, Bjerke sug­gests, so much as that his depart­ment started en­gag­ing with ev­ery­one else.

In an in­ter­view con­ducted a day af­ter his de­par­ture, Bjerke told The Coast his deal­ings with Hal­i­fax’s “strong and ded­i­cated” de­vel­op­ers were al­ways “very pro­fes­sional.” Nev­er­the­less, he was fa­mil­iar with the “dy­namic” of de­vel­op­ers com­plain­ing about HRM’s plan­ning process even be­fore start­ing his job.

“There will al­ways be com­plaints, and that’s not unique to this mu­nic­i­pal­ity,” he says. “Ev­ery­body would like things to be done faster, but it’s also about mak­ing sure you get the right out­comes as much as it is the speed of the process.”

Speed has been a rou­tine com­plaint from those in the pri­vate sec­tor—and by proxy some coun­cil­lors—about the city’s plan­ning process. Bjerke says his for­mer col­leagues have been mak­ing progress de­creas­ing ap­pli­ca­tion time­lines while labour­ing un­der a very am­bi­tious plan­ning agenda with ag­gres­sive dead­lines.

But Che­drawe re­mains unim­pressed. He claims the in­cred­i­ble amount of devel­op­ment hap­pen­ing in HRM has caught the plan­ning depart­ment off-guard. Re­gional council has a “moral obli­ga­tion” to “open the pipe­line” and al­low more hous­ing devel­op­ment, Che­drawe says, but the city has been hi­jacked by “elit­ists” like the plan­ning ad­vo­cates in the Wil­low Tree Group.

“They do not have strong lead­er­ship and strong vi­sion right now guard­ing the ship,” adds Che­drawe. “There’s a lot of frus­tra­tion out there.”

Ac­cord­ing to the de­vel­oper, that frus­tra­tion boiled over and put Bjerke on the chop­ping block. “Was it jus­ti­fied or wasn’t it? I can’t an­swer that” Che­drawe says. “But it’s a shame, be­cause that’s not go­ing to fix the prob­lem. The prob­lem comes from council down.”

Bjerke’s still keep­ing quiet on the de­tails of his de­par­ture, but tells The Coast it came as a sur­prise and he’s look­ing at his op­tions.

THE COAST

West­wood’s re­de­vel­op­ment of the Ben’s Bak­ery site has been de­layed two years wait­ing for the Cen­tre Plan, says Che­drawe.

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