Coun­cil over­re­acts to IRAC de­ci­sion on condo pro­ject

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - EDITORIAL -

One can un­der­stand the frus­tra­tion of Char­lot­te­town City Coun­cil. It feels that an un­elected body, such as the Is­land Reg­u­la­tory and Ap­peals Com­mis­sion, should not have the power to over­rule coun­cil.

But the city should also un­der­stand that it doesn’t have the mo­nop­oly on right and wrong. That’s why we have ap­peal bod­ies so that in­di­vid­u­als or busi­nesses can make their case be­fore an in­de­pen­dent group.

For ex­am­ple: A re­zon­ing or build­ing ap­pli­ca­tion is re­ceived at city hall, plan­ning board con­sid­ers the pro­posal, a pub­lic meet­ing is held to hear the pros and cons and coun­cil meets to con­sider a rec­om­men­da­tion. A vote is held and the ap­pli­ca­tion is ac­cepted or re­jected.

And that should be the end of it — or so coun­cil sug­gests.

But there is usu­ally some­one up­set with the vote and they have the right to ap­peal to IRAC. So then we have a de­lay, more money is spent on ap­peals and lawyers, and even­tu­ally the com­mis­sion ren­ders a rul­ing.

Coun­cil ar­gues IRAC is se­cond-guess­ing the de­ci­sion of a demo­crat­i­cally elected body. And it wants it to stop.

The is­sue was res­ur­rected dur­ing a meet­ing Mon­day, in­flamed by IRAC’s re­cent de­ci­sion to over­turn a city coun­cil vote on a pro­posed con­do­minium de­vel­op­ment along the Belvedere golf club.

Coun­cil voted unan­i­mously to ask the pro­vin­cial govern­ment, through the Fed­er­a­tion of P.E.I. Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, to amend the Plan­ning Act so that IRAC can only up­hold a coun­cil de­ci­sion or re­turn the mat­ter back to coun­cil for fur­ther con­sid­er­a­tion. It seems that coun­cil con­sid­ers it­self vir­tu­ally in­fal­li­ble.

The mayor does have a point when he says this ap­pli­ca­tion had been with IRAC for a year and a half be­fore they made the de­ci­sion. The com­mis­sion must act in a time­lier man­ner.

Coun­cil is tak­ing things too far. Its power isn’t ab­so­lute.

For ex­am­ple, look at the House of Com­mons, the supreme law-mak­ing body in the coun­try. Leg­is­la­tion can be ap­pealed to the Supreme Court which oc­ca­sion­ally throws out a bill, mostly for vi­o­lat­ing the Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms.

As Char­lot­te­town Mayor Clifford Lee ad­mits, coun­cil­lors usu­ally vote ac­cord­ing to feed­back from peo­ple in the city or their ward. Does that mean that the most vo­cal opin­ion is the right one?

Coun­cil should be bas­ing de­ci­sions on its of­fi­cial plan, zon­ing, rules and reg­u­la­tions . . . and do the right thing. Be­ing loud doesn’t mean it’s right. You make enough noise and ex­pect coun­cil to re­spond with a favourable de­ci­sion? That is why we have ap­peal bod­ies.

Coun­cil and Mayor Lee have to ac­cept the fact they are not al­ways right. There must be an ap­peal body so that in­di­vid­u­als or busi­nesses can seek jus­tice else­where when nec­es­sary.

And re­ally, why are the mayor and coun­cil get­ting so up­set? In the vast ma­jor­ity of cases, coun­cil makes the right de­ci­sion be­cause very few per­mit de­ci­sions are ap­pealed and only a minis­cule num­ber ever get to an IRAC hear­ing.

Over the past 10 years, there have been more than 6,500 per­mits is­sued by the city’s plan­ning depart­ment.

In 20 cases, the per­mit was ap­pealed to IRAC and only 10 of those ac­tu­ally got to a hear­ing. In five of those cases, IRAC over­ruled coun­cil’s de­ci­sion. In the other five, the com­mis­sion up­held coun­cil’s de­ci­sion.

So, five times out of more than 6,500 per­mits, a de­ci­sion was over­turned by IRAC. And this is why coun­cil gets it­self into an an­gry frenzy? It’s a tem­pest in a teapot. Get over it. Belvedere golf of­fi­cials had ar­gued be­fore coun­cil that the condo de­vel­op­ment is crit­i­cally im­por­tant to the fu­ture of the course. Doesn’t that ac­count for any­thing with coun­cil?

Does the city have no re­grets at try­ing to kill the old­est golf course on P.E.I. which pro­vides a green space jewel in­side the mu­nic­i­pal­ity?

Coun­cil­lors, keep on do­ing a good job. Most of the time, you get it right. But not al­ways.

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