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$1M spent on official plan but few seem to care

BY TRACEY DUGUAY tracey@northernlife.
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BY TRACEY DUGUAY

Aside from the 75 people who provided input, or the 100 or so who attended seven public meetings, does anybody really care the city just released the second draft of its official plan?

Better yet, what exactly is an official plan? How does it affect the average Joe or Joan on the street?

Simply put, an official plan answers questions about how land is to be used in the City of Greater Sudbury. It?s a collection of policies, nested in goals, objectives and a broader vision, designed to guide development into the future, explains Paul Branscombe, manager of community and strategic planning for the city.

?It does sound simple on the surface, but it?s complex and for that reason it?s hard for people to get a grasp on what it is,? Branscombe says.

Mention the phrase ?land-use policies? and a collective yawn can be heard around the city. But, if residents dig past the jargon and technical gobbledegook, the official plan is quite profound in terms of what it says about the future of Greater Sudbury.

And, given that it has a 20-year life cycle, with an eye on major updates every five years if needed, the plan will not only impact this generation, but the children of tomorrow as well.

If that?s not enough to peak interest, how about the fact taxpayers have coughed up roughly $1 million over the past four years to fund development of the official plan.

?We estimated over a three-year period an average of $250,000 a year and the plan itself was about $250,000,? Branscombe says.

While that amount may seem excessive to the 60 percent of Sudbury residents who work for less than $10 per hour, as recently reported, it?s important to keep in mind the sheer magnitude of the project.

The creation of an official plan is mandated by the Province of Ontario under the Planning Act of Ontario. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing enforces the legislation and ensures the plan is evaluated every five years to see whether it needs to be updated.

The last official plan in Greater Sudbury was created in the 1970s when regional government was formed. It was formally adopted in 1978. During the 1980s, a number of detailed secondary plans were completed to address the needs of the outlying municipalities.

All the plans have been updated periodically through the years, but the process was becoming cumbersome, and there were too many policy variations across the various plans.

?The reason to do it now is because it?s very, very old.? Branscombe says.

Following amalgamation in 2001, it became clear a new plan was needed for the entire vast geographic area that makes up the City of Greater Sudbury.

?We had more plans that we could keep up with,? Branscombe says. ?If I had the other plans in here, they?d stack up that high (indicating a height of a foot or more), I?m not exaggerating.?

While the idea to create a new official plan was conceived shortly after amalgamation, the ?nuts and bolts? work on it began in 2003.

While the creation of a new plan is a major undertaking, fortunately, city staffers didn?t have to start from scratch because they were able to draw from the old plan.

?We looked at the opportunity to be consistent across the city in policy and we identified things from the old plan we wanted to carry forward to the new plan and we put that in this bundle,? Branscombe says. ?And, we also looked and said OK it?s a new plan, what do we need to do to make this a fresh document and to move the community forward.?

The plan was built around six key vision statements taking into account not only land-use requirements for the city, but also social, economical and environmental philosophies. The key vision statements are:

- Greater Sudbury is a modern, vibrant and diverse community.

- Greater Sudbury is a ?City of Lakes.?

- Greater Sudbury is a green community.

- Greater Sudbury is a healthy and sustainable community.

- Greater Sudbury is open to business.

- Greater Sudbury?s Downtown will be developed and sustained as the vibrant hub of a dynamic city.

In order to ensure the official plan adhered to these statements, the planning department worked with other department within the city - like parks and leisure, transportation, infrastructure, etc. - to create background studies and plans.

According to Branscombe, one of the most common misconceptions from the public about the official plan is that it specifically identifies where a new building, parking lot, or subdivision will go - sort of an ?X-marks the spot? - but that?s not how it works.

?Often the question we?re asked is ?Well, what are you planning? and what people are thinking of is a vacant piece of land and a plan that shows a building or a parking area, something that shows action or an implementation rather than guidelines,? he said.

A series of public meetings whereby citizens can view and provide comments on the second draft of the official plan begin this week. Following the public sessions, any additional recommendation or changes will be incorporated into the document, and it will be presented to council sometime in
April.

Once council reviews it, and either requests further changes or adopts the plan, it will be sent to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing for its review.

?If we have one desire, it would be for people to have a look at it and read it from front to back to get a good understanding of what it is all about,? Branscombe says.

Copies of the plan are posted on the city?s website at www.greatersudbury.ca and there are CD versions, available by calling the city at 671-2489.

As well, hard copies of the plan are available at the Citizen Services Centres and local libraries.





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