Full time heritage planner first step to a Conservation Heritage District designation for Mt Nemo plateau

By Pepper Parr

February 22, 2014


There will be a heritage planner – a full time heritage planner but getting the position secured was easier said than done.

The question in front of city council as they worked their way through the budget was: how much did they want to spend on a heritage PLANNER – $206,000 or $103,000.

The city already has a heritage planner who spends half of her time on heritage matters and the rest of her time on other planning work; she is swamped.  She gives the city far more time than she gets paid for and has done a lot of superb work.

Heritage has become a sort of favourite flavour of the moth in this city.  The Heritage Advisory Committee is much more active – at times they think they need a full time planner.  When the decision was made to go forward with the idea of a Conservation Heritage District for the Mt Nemo Plateau the work of the heritage planner suddenly got much bigger.

The question then was – how much staff resource are needed?  For some reason council wanted to get right into the weeds on this one.  They first talked in glowing terms about the job the current heritage planner has been doing and then began to map out her career for the next ten years until they were told  that wasn’t council’s job.

It was about 15 months ago that rural Burlington began the discusion about what it wanted to be. Some things were clear – others not as clear. The early draft of a vision got put on a huge board and for the most part the community liked the look of what they had said to each other.

Council had gotten into the weeds on this one the way they do far too often.  For a bit it looked like they were going to start running the department.  Should the current planner become full time on heritage? a full time role and contract someone for an additional half day; no that’s not good use of human resources.  OK look for someone within the department and have them pick up the development work the planner was doing – the rationale for that view was that development is off so there must be bodies in planning with nothing better to do.

General manager Scott Stewart who signs off on everything that comes out of planning, struggled to get a grip on all the ideas flying around when the city manager pipes up with his position:  it isn’t pretty.

“You don’t Jenna, she does; she decides what she wants to do.  You have asked us to manage – then let us manage; that is not your job; this is not the type of discussion we should be having; you have me here to tell you things like this.”

A heritage planner was critical if a Conservation Heritage District bylaw was ever to get passed. First part of that effort got through a Standing Committee.

The proposal to think about turning the Mt. Nemo Plateau into a Conservation Heritage District which is just at the information gathering stage will require a lot more of a planner’s time.  That file has the potential to become a lot messier than it would at first appear – when individual land issues are on the table get ready for noisy meetings.

Councillor Taylor is a big advocate on for making the plateau a conservation district – he wanted the planning resources available.

While council was digesting that blast from the city manager, Scott Stewart the general manager invited the Director of planning to “take it outside” where they worked out the possible time/task splits

The proposal was to have 1.5 heritage planners – then it looked like they were looking at two planners.  Then there was a tussle over what this planner would be doing.  The issue was where the planner was going to come from and the amount of work that was going to get created by the Mt. Nemo Conservation District task that is now on the table – or look as if it is going to be on the table.

A motion to hire more people failed, the amended motion to make the existing half time planner into a full-time position and distribute other work she was doing within the existing staff compliment passed 6-1 with Taylor voting against the decision made.  He wanted more in the way of human resources than his colleagues were prepared to pay for.

Residents look at a large map of their community during a Rural Summit more than a year ago. That meeting was the genesis of making the Mt Nemo Plateau a Conservation Heritage District.

Some members of council wanted to know why staff just didn’t do the staff allocation.  It was a new position – they were moving from a half time heritage planner to a full-time heritage planner and that was a decision council had to make, explained director of finance Joan Ford.  What Ford was trying to say in a polite way was that council had to decide on the expenditure – staff would then decide who should be doing the job.

Councillor Meed Ward said she had “difficulty with the process that got us here”.

Was the spend going to be $103,000 or was it going to be $206,000 and would the new position be added to the base staff compliment or would they go outside and contract with someone, or would they look within the planning department and find someone who wasn’t all that busy.

Councillor Lancaster thought the city was moving too quickly on this file. Her view was that council needed to be more reflective and to take some time.  But that wasn’t the view that Councillor Taylor brought to the horseshoe.  The Conservation District would be in his ward and he is fully aware as to just how powerful the people in North Burlington can be.  They were the folk that hung in and fought the Nelson Aggregate quarry expansion.  Those people know how to dig in and for them a Conservation District would solve a lot of their concerns or they think it will.

It took $2 million out of the legal department’s budget to pay for the tear long tribunal that decided the Jefferson Salamander was important and that an expansion of the existing quarry should not be permitted. It was rural Burlington residents who were the force behind that battle – they were not to be trifled with.  The expansion to the quarry was going to be in the lower part of this topographical map

Councillor Dennison said that “we didn’t ask for this, we don’t need to get all gung-ho about it.  He wasn’t all that keen on the “foremost specialist the city hired to do the first cut of the research presented at the January meeting.  Get ready to see this as a file that becomes very contentious.

At the community event in January city planner Bruce Krushelnicki explained that a Heritage Conservation District was created through a bylaw passed by the city.  No one else has any input on that bylaw he explained.  The city can pass a bylaw to create something and they can revise that bylaw anytime they wish.

What the planning department has to do is do the research necessary to figure out how best to craft a bylaw that will stand up to scrutiny – and at the same time ensure that the community wants such a bylaw and understands the ramifications.  There are both ramifications and consequences – some of them unintended.

Once e a bylaw is in place it tends to take on a life of its own – which is what the rural life advocates want to see.

Making that happen requires a lot of hard work, a lot of research and a lot of public opinion massaging.

The first battle was to get the planner in place so that some of the early research work could get done.

There will be a planner, working full-time on heritage matters.  The planning department will figure out a way to reallocate day-to-day work in the department.

Our significant seven weren’t seen at their best on this issue and they needed the sharp rebuke from the city manager to remind then what they were supposed to be doing.

At times one wonders how we manage to stay out of serious trouble.

Background links:

Rural Burlington figures out what it wants to be.

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