Burlington a “banana republic”? At least one well informed citizen suggests that’s what he saw at a Committee of Adjustment meeting.



By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  May 22, 2013.  The surprise wasn’t that Jack Dennison, Councillor for Ward 4,  lost his application for a severance and several minor variances to his property on Old Lakeshore Road but how two members of the Committee of Adjustment conducted themselves.  We will get to that.

Dennison was applying for a severance to his property that would allow him to create a separate lot on which a two-story house could be built.  He required permission to sever the property and needed a number of variances as well.

A staff report did not recommend the application.

The vote went 3-2 against Dennison with Chair Malcolm Ramsay, members Grant Newbury and Robert Bailey voting against and members Dave Kumar and Sam Sarraf voting for.

Burlington’s Committee of Adjustment. All appointed by city council to serve a four-year term. From left to right chair Ramsay, members Bailey, Newbury, Kumar and Sarraf.  Peter Thoem, also a member was absent.

Five members of the community delegated starting with Dave McKay who gave the committee an overview of how Roseland got to be the community it is today.  He was  followed by Diane Gaudaur, president of the Roseland community Association who set out the case for saying no. Gerhard Gerber who lives right across the street from Dennison talked about the impact the requested severance would have on the streetscape which was a major part of the opposition to the application.

Christine Dwivedi followed with a very, very lengthy presentation during which the chair asked if she had anything new to add.  Mrs. Dwivedi stuck to her guns even though it was clear that at one point she had the members of the committee following her and taking in the many trenchant points she made but after more than an hour it was clear she had gone too far.

During her delegation we did learn that Dennison attempted to buy 10 feet of the west side of the Dwivedi property for $120,000.  Mrs. Dwivedi also reported a nasty dispute over work Dennison had done when he installed a new in-ground pool.

With the clock past 10 pm legal counsel for the Roseland Community Organization summed up the reasons for not granting the severance which included an Ontario Divisional Court ruling which is a binding decision.

Applications like this include levels of detail that can be mind numbing and that was certainly the case Tuesday evening.  There were some very interesting points made and they will be covered in detail at a later date making them part of the community record.

 The process has the applicant stating their case, the members of the community who oppose the application stating their case.  The applicant is then given an opportunity to rebut whatever those opposed have to say.

It then goes to the chair who asks each member if they have questions.  Once all the questions of the member of the Committee of Adjustment have been asked each is then asked to make their comments.

It is at this point that members of the Committee make it known if they are going to support or oppose the application.

The chair then polls each member individually to hear them say publicly and for the record that they are supporting the application or opposing that application.

Last night three opposed, two supported – one member was absent.  Peter Thoem, a former council member was absent – spending his time at Point Peelee watching birds.

Other than the lengthy presentation made by Mrs. Dwivedi , the hearing was like any other that is contentious with significantly different views on either side.

Councillor Dennison neighbour Christine  Dwivedi and lawyer Mark Nicholson prepare to delegate at a Committee of Adjustment hearing.

Where things went off the rails Tuesday evening was when committee member Sam Sarraf began to ask his questions.  He first directed a question to David McKay on what the boundaries of the community were and then literally fired a bunch of questions at city planner Jamie Tellier who was on hand to answer technical questions and support the report staff had prepared.

There was question after question on specific definitions.  Sarraf had clearly prepared and was directing Tellier to specific parts of the Official Plan and having him read them aloud.  On several occasions Sarraf  asked Tellier: “Would you not agree.”  It became clear that Sarraf had an objective and he began to move from being a committee member asking questions to a person advocating on behalf of the applicant.

At one point Sarraf asked a question on a piece of evidence that had not been introduced by anyone.  He asked if the property Dennison was seeking to sever was not at one point three separate lots.  Where did Sam Sarraf get that information?  Did he research the issue?  And if he did – why would he do that?  His role is to be an impartial adjudicator who hears evidence presented and makes decisions on the merits of the evidence and adheres to the procedures used by a Committee of Adjustment.

Dave Kumar had questions that were related to how this matter would be seen and treated by the  Official Plan.  His question was very technical, not something that would normally come from a person with a financial background. Kumar’s questions were also beginning to take on the tone of an advocate.

Committee of adjustment members Bailey and Newbury stuck to the issues.  They asked questions of staff that were intended to clarify a point.  Bailey had very few questions, Newbury asked for some clarification relating to the original design of the lot when it was first put together.

When Chair Ramsay was about to ask the members of the Committee for their comments, which is the time they get to say if they intend to support the application, Sarraf suggested to the chair that any decision be “deferred” until the applicant had a chance to return and address some of the issues raised, particularly relating to what any house built on the severed lot would look like.

Things like this are done for the applicant by the applicants agent.  It is not the role of the committee members to suggest possible actions for an applicant.

There was a time when Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward once advocated for a constituent at Committee of Adjustment.  The city’s Solicitor was brought in to read the rules to what were then newbie Council members.  Might be time for the city Solicitor to have a chat with the boys on what’s kosher and what isn’t kosher in terms of ethical behaviour.

It  was a long meeting, the room was far too warm and everyone was getting tired.  The hands of the clock were getting close to 11:00 pm and Chairman Malcolm Ramsay was letting things slip a little.

Jack Dennison usually goes all out for what he wants. Did he go too far at a Committee of Adjustment meeting on Tuesday?

One observer with experience in matters like this wondered why the chair did not move the meeting into an “in camera” session and have everyone clear the room and once the doors were closed, turn to the two members who were offside by a country mile and ask them: “What the hell is going on here?”

Was there collusion between Sarraf and the applicant?  That was certainly a question on the minds of many as they talked after the meeting.

While Dennison was reading his comments he was working from a document he had not made available to those opposed to what he was asking for.  In quasi-tribunal hearings such as Committee of Adjustment opposing parties make documents available to each other.  In higher “courts” lawyers are required to do so.

When Dwivedi was making her presentation she asked that Dennison not be given a copy of her comments because he had not shared his.  The chair didn’t disagree with Dwivedi but once the documents were in the hands of the committee members, Sarraf immediately passed a copy to Dennison who was sitting next to him.

There was the sense that these two guys were part of the same team.  It smacked all of that small town, old boys network stuff.

Both Dave Kumar and Sam Sarraf have run for public office – both in Ward 5.  Sarraf ran in 2006, Kumar in 2010.  Kumar is also a former city hall employee where he worked in finance.

The political class tend to hang together in Burlington.

Councillor Jack Dennison’s application to sever his property was not approved by Burlington’s Committee of Adjustment.  Two members of the committee came very close to becoming advocates for the application.  Did this amount to collusion?

When running for public office Sarraf said he had completed five years study at Mohawk College in both Construction and Civil Engineering he worked from 1983 to 1999 as a Land Surveyor and was responsible for surveying many of the development projects in Burlington during that period of rapid growth. These included The Maple Community, Mapleview Mall, Tyandaga, and Millcroft communities as well as The Orchard.

In 2000 Sarraf  became Project Manager & Planner for a local Engineering consulting firm and was instrumental in the development of several residential and commercial projects and subdivisions in the GTA including the environmentally sensitive Oak Ridges Moraine.

Kumar ran in Ward 5, hoping to succeed Rick Goldring who was running for Mayor in 2010.

Running for public office is noble – it isn’t easy work.  Those elected or appointed are in place to serve the people of the city –they are not there to serve their own interests or those of their chums.

Last night we saw what one observer described as what he expected from a “banana republic”.  “I never thought I would see that in this city”.

This observer added that Burlington needed an Ethics Commissioner.  That would put us on the same footing as the Senate in Ottawa.  Would that help us keep our Best City ranking next year?

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