The chairwoman of Kelowna’s Advisory Planning Commission is defending the work and role of the body in considering development proposals for the city in light of incoming Mayor Walter Gray’s public announcement that he wants the commission scrapped.
Leanne Spanza, who was appointed to the commission three years ago, called it a great public platform for initial review of development proposals, one that offers council a non-biased evaluation of projects early in the process.
“The quality of life in a city is directly linked to the quality of its buildings,” said Spanza, adding its volunteer members take great pride in not only evaluating projects but also in giving the public an early opportunity to comment on proposals.
“We are providing a value-added service.”
On Monday, during his mayoral inaugural speech, Gray surprised many by announcing the city will review the role and need for all city committees, with an eye to scrapping some of them. But he singled out the APC as one he believes should be axed, saying money and staff time savings could be realized by getting rid of it and without it, development proposals could be put in front of council, and sent to public hearing, faster
In place of the APC, Gray is proposing a design panel, to be made up of volunteer professionals, that would look only at the design of some proposed developments.
While Spanza welcomed the call for a design panel, she said the APC currently looks at much more than just design.
Under the current rules, all proposed developments must go to the APC prior to city staff presenting them to city council.
But city manager Ron Mattiussi said over the years, Kelowna’s APC has taken on a role that is not specified in its terms of reference, or one that exists in many other communities—holding what amounts to early public hearings.
“I have taked to my counterparts in other communities and they have said “You do what?” said Mattiussi relating the surprise of other city officials to the public participation Kelowna’s APC allows.
But Spanza defended that participation, saying the opportunity for the public to express its opinion about a proposed development early in the process is one of the strengths of Kelowna’s APC.
Gray said he feels the role of APC here is not clearly understood by many in the community and that is another reason he wants to see it gone.
“While the APC has served the development review process and the city council well in the past, I believe it’s time to do things differently,” he said in his speech.
Spanza said she was concerned there was no consultation with commission members or city staff prior to Gray’s public announcement.
“I was heart broken,” she said. “I only heard about it on Twitter Monday evening as Mayor Gray was delivering his speech.”
The APC is one of 14 committees, commissions and panels and task forces that city staff will be asked to evaluate with an eye to eliminating to save the city money.
While some, such as the the board of variance and the parcel tax review panel are statutory requirements by the province and must exist, others, including the accessibility advisory committee, the agricultural advisory committee, the airport advisory committee, the audit committee, the Communities in Bloom committee, the community heritage commission, the council remuneration task force, the housing committee, the public art committee, the women’s and community advisory committee and the youth advisory committee, are all subject to the review.
Spanza said she plans to talk to Gray and other members of the new city council about the APC’s future, noting she hopes to find some support, particularly among those councillors who have served APC and as such can appreciate the work it does.