Loss of planning appeal support centre ‘an outrage’ by Allan Benner

A good article:

The St. Catharines Standard
February 28, 2019

Loss of planning appeal support centre ‘an outrage’
Allan Benner

John Bacher, an environmentalist who works with the Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society, stands on the edge of farmland in Niagara Falls that he helped save from development in 2015, in this file photo. He’s concerned that the province’s plans to eliminated the Local Planning Appeal Support Centre (LPASC) will make it more difficult for people to stand up against developers to preserve agricultural and environmentally sensitive property. – Peter Power, Special to The Toronto Star

Without the assistance of a year-old agency designed to help them through the planning appeals process, members the Preservation of Agricultural Land Society fear people may be “very hesitant” to stand up to developers.

Gracia Janes, spokesperson for the Niagara-based organization — formed primarily to protect tender fruit lands from development — said the provincial government’s decision to shut down the Local Planning Appeal Support Centre (LPASC) that was established in April 2018 “will definitely affect people wanting to go forward” with development appeals.

A notice was posted on the LPASC website last week advising people that the provincial government is closing the agency, giving it until June 30 to wind down operations.

“Effective immediately, LPASC will no longer be accepting new requests for professional services from the public. During this wind-down period, LPASC is committed to continuing to serve, to the best of its ability, those clients who have retained its services,” the statement said.

Janes said the provincial agency helped level the playing field between developers and residents hoping to protect their neighbourhoods — as well as groups such as PALS that are trying to save agricultural land, environmentally sensitive areas and heritage properties despite limited resources.

Although environmental consultant and PALS member John Bacher has had considerable past experiences navigating through the development appeals process, he said he, too, has benefited from the assistance provided by LPASC staff.

For instance, he said, the agency helped him obtain “suppressed” documents from the Ministry and Natural Resources regarding the Riverfront Community development (formerly Thundering Waters), while he was launching an appeal of the project last summer.

Niagara Falls city staff, at the time, said the documents were not provided because the MNRF concerns expressed in the letters had already been addressed.

But Bacher, whose Local Planning Appeals Tribunal case regarding the $1.6-billion mixed use development is scheduled to resume on March 6, said “it is clearly an outrage to shut down an agency which revealed important documents in the public interest, which were wrongly suppressed.”

He said the province should be investigating why the letters were not included in documents provided to him in the first place, rather than “shutting down the agency that provided them.”

Gracia Janes said the LPASC was established in April 2018 as part of the former provincial government’s efforts to resolve problems under the previous Ontario Municipal Board that made it “very difficult to stand up against that without your own planners, your own experts and your own lawyers.”

Prior to the changes enacted by the previous Liberal government, she said, being involved in an OMB appeal “was a confrontational thing, dominated by the lawyers.”

But as a result of the work done by LPASC staff, Janes said citizens groups are better able to negotiate the planning appeals process “and they don’t have to have a lawyer.”

The NDP’s municipal affairs critic, Niagara Centre MPP Jeff Burch also criticized the LPASC closure, accusing the Progressive Conservative government of “stacking the deck” against people who hope to appeal developments.

“Doug Ford is once again doing favours for his friends by dismantling an office set up to help everyday Ontarians navigate the complex planning appeals process. The Local Planning Appeal Support Centre gave local communities a fighting chance when facing off against wealthy developers trying to ram unreasonable proposals through the municipal planning process,” Burch said in a statement.

“This is only going to make it harder for everyday Ontarians to protect their quality of life when developers try to take advantage of people to pad their already-deep pockets. Everyday Ontarians deserve to have a say in how their communities grow, and they shouldn’t have to face wealthy developers and their teams of high-priced experts on their own.”



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