During the May 13, 2020 Town Council meeting, Councillor Adam Walker reported that a person who had applied for development permits had sent multiple emails to Council members after submitting the applications to the Town planning department.
Councillor Walker reminded his fellow Council members that such communication is clearly in violation of Town Policy 3008-6.
These applications – for both a Development Variance Permit (to exempt a Higson Crescent house construction from compliance with existing height and setback restrictions) as well as a Development Permit (to construct three breakwaters in front of the property) – came before Council on May 13, 2020. Second Opinion QB featured a story about these contentious applications on residential waterfront property in our last issue.
Mayor Brian Wiese, instead of confirming and reinforcing this Town policy, asked staff whether Policy 3008-6 pertained to Development Variance Permits and Development Permits. [The directives included in policy 3008-6 include procedural flowcharts clearly identifying that it applies to each of the application types related to this matter.] Mayor Wiese directed his question to CAO Daniel Sailland who punted the question to Planner Luke Sales.
Then it got really interesting. Sales stated that “Whenever possible, applicants should be going through staff – that’s the cleanest process.” [Note that the policy directive does not say “should” or “may”, it states “shall”, meaning that this is not a matter of discretion for Town staff or Council.]
Sales then went on to say “There is actually no clear policy limitation that says members of Council cannot speak with or cannot correspond with [the applicant] prior to any formal input opportunities.” This statement is false.
Has Sales not read or comprehended policy directive 3008-6? Or is he trying to blur the lines for some unknown reason?
Qualicum Beach, like all municipalities, through its Official Community Plan, zoning restrictions and by-laws, sets constraints on property uses as well as on the size, character and location of building(s) on each property. Property owners are allowed to apply for an exemption which, after being assessed by the Town Planning department, ultimately can be approved or rejected by Council.
To prevent an applicant from inappropriately lobbying individual Council members while the application is under consideration by the Planning Department, the Town has a very clear policy directive 3008-6 “to provide direction to Town staff, Council, and development applicants regarding the accepted procedures, communication protocol and appeal mechanisms for development application processes in Qualicum Beach.”
Included as part of policy 3008-6 is the procedural directive that “After the submission of a formal development application, applicants shall refrain from discussing their applications with members of Council except during meetings that are open to the public ..”
Should the reader wish to view the Council / staff discussion of this matter, go to 1:03:00 in the archived video recording of the May 13, 2020 meeting .
Both staff and Council ought to be following their own rules. It appears that some Council members did not. Without adhering to rules, the danger of corruption in and of our municipal government becomes frighteningly real.
Policy 3008-6 plays an important role in preventing corruption and ethical misconduct in municipal governments. Specifically, the intent of this policy is to help preserve the independent assessment capabilities of Sales and his staff, and to prevent undue influence of or by Council.
Perhaps it would be prudent to actually expand this policy to include a sanction: “If, after submitting an application to the Town Planning Department, the applicant or his/her agent discusses the application with one or more members of Council, the application will be rejected without recourse or opportunity for re-application by that applicant for that property, and any fees paid by the applicant will be forfeited to the Town.”