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A closer look at role of Planning and Development

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Local Government Week was promoted by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, the Association of Municipal Managers, Clerks and Treasurers of Ontario and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario as a time for the public to learn more about municipal government.

This is the fifth and final article in a series describing the roles and responsibilities of council and the four town divisions (Administration and Finance, Community Services, Operations and Facilities, and Planning and and Development).

The main function of the Planning and Development Division is to protect the health, safety, and well-being of the residents of the Town of Fort Frances.

The division tries to ensure an orderly pattern of growth within the community, and protection of property and building values, by the employment of regulated and good land use planning and building practices, as well as fair, equitable, and consistent enforcement of the town’s bylaws.

Within the Planning and Development division, there are three departments:

•the building department;

•the planning department; and

•the bylaw enforcement department.

The building department is overseen by Chief Building Official Rick Hallam, who also is Superintendent of Planning and Development. The building department is responsible for the administration and compliance with the Building Code Act and its regulations—the Ontario Building Code—for all new construction, as well as renovation, alteration, and addition to existing buildings, primarily to ensure all buildings constructed in Fort Frances are safe and healthy environments for residents and visitors to live, work, and play.

Hallam performs a statutory function (duties required by provincial statute) and is bound by law not to deviate from the Ontario Building Code requirements, and has a statutory obligation and responsibility to enforce the Building Code Act. These duties cannot be overriden by administrative or political direction.

If a building official is discharging his duties in compliance with the act and code, it is unlawful for any person to interfere with this process.

Some of duties of the Chief Building Official include, but are not limited to:

•processing building permit applications;

•reviewing applications for compliance with applicable federal, provincial, and municipal laws;

•inspection of work related to building permits; and

•issuance of various orders under the act to ensure code compliance.

Municipal planner Faye Flatt is responsible for the administration of town’s official plan and zoning bylaw, both of which are legal tools and have parameters that guide her.

The official plan is the main policy tool available to municipalities and planning boards. The act defines the official plan as a a document approved by the minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing containing objectives and policies established primarily to provide guidance for the physical development of a municipality, or a part thereof, while having regard for relevant social, economic, and environmental issues.

It is a policy document of council that sets out how land should be used within the municipality.

The official plan is not “set in stone” and it has some built-in flexibility which provides council and staff some freedom of interpretation when making land use decisions.

However, in making these decisions, council and staff are required to follow the plan, ensure all infrastructure conforms to the plan, and ensure that all municipal bylaws, especially the zoning bylaw, comply with the official plan.

The zoning bylaw is a precise document used by the town to regulate the use of land. It contains very specific and legally-enforceable regulations which specify permitted uses (such as residential, commercial, etc.) and the required standards (e.g. location and size of building) within a zone.

Simply stated, any new development or construction that fails to comply with the municipality’s zoning bylaw would require that the application be denied.

An applicant does have the opportunity to seek relief from the zoning bylaw through other processes administered by the municipal planner.

Some of the services provided by the municipal planner include:

•providing advice on zoning amendments;

•receiving applications for official plan and zoning bylaw amendments;

•preparing and providing notification of public meetings for amendments;

•preparing draft bylaws for amendments to official plan and zoning bylaw;

•advising council on the needs for site plan control, co-ordinating site plan agreements, and monitoring any development under site plan control to ensure compliance;

•administering the Local Improvement Act process; and

•working in concert with the building department to ensure orderly and appropriate development.

The bylaw enforcement department consists of two full-time officers, Dave Egan and Arlene Byrnes, who work to ensure all town bylaws are properly adhered to. (The town also recently hired Patrick Briere as interim bylaw officer.)

Officers, upon being notified of, or discovering, a contravention of any town bylaw will first attempt to resolve the issue in a non-confrontational way, but if necessary, progress to the laying of charges or writing of tickets, whichever is the most expedient or appropriate for the circumstances.

If necessary, officers can provide expert witness testimony in court regarding any charges they may have had to lay under their mandate.

Some of the functions of bylaw enforcement officers include:

•enforcement of all Town of Fort Frances bylaws;

•processing of unpaid tickets to court;

•receiving and responding to resident complaints involving bylaw contraventions;

•trapping and removing nuisance bears;

•reviewing and recommending amendments to existing bylaws;

•maintaining the efficient operation of the animal pound; and

•acting as liaisons with the OPP.

The Planning and Development executive committee consists of Superintendent Rick Hallam, and Couns. John Albanese (chair), Andrew Hallikas, and Rick Wiedenhoeft.

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