By Dr. Karen Pappin
Painful, once again, was the city council meeting on Tuesday night.
The mayor started the meeting with a moment of respectful silence.
He then proceeded to silence the taxpayers of Vermillion Lake Road, Gordon Lake Road and Bradley Road who pay more than a quarter of a million dollars in annual taxes.
These taxpayers arrived with signs protesting a planning committee decision to approve a rezoning for the former Club Richelieu summer camp on Vermillion Lake.
Teen Canada Addiction Recovery Centre has purchased this property. Teen Canada had applied for a rezoning to facilitate their program. Puzzling as to why they would close a purchase before rezoning had been approved and it leaves questions as to how they manage other aspects of their not-for-profit business.
The mayor stated that opponents — taxpayers — could not hold their signs because it would interfere with the decorum of council.
In other words, the mayor defied free speech (signs), a basic democratic right — apparently a city policy, but not a Municipal Act policy.
It gets worse. Fern Cormier, chair of the planning committee, spoke in justification of the committee’s decision to approve and none of his statements were relevant to consideration of the voice of the taxpayers, except a critical and incomplete list of conditions placed on the approval that Teen Challenge needs to meet.
When Guido Mazzda, the chief city building inspector, gets through with building codes for upgrades to an old barn that once was a domestic rabbit breeding space, Teen Challenge will be back to council for dollars to “help” them comply to code.
Coun. Geoff McCausland, also of the planning committee, began an oration reflecting on Barbara Hall’s (the former Ontario Human Rights commissioner) quote about the non-right of residents to choose their neighbours.
What he did not state was that this was not a human rights issue, but a building code, septic/water supply issue — that is, environmental issues — to the taxpayers of Vermillion Lake and area.
He also neglected to says Barbara Hall has long since retired as commissioner.
All this in spite of Coun. Gerry Montpellier’s opposition to the rezoning in his ward, stating that more than 250 taxpayers signed petitions against the rezoning and the only letters of support received were not from area taxpayers.
So, the distraction of politics continues at city hall, with decisions based on questionable facts and a kind of insider trading mentality.
If decisions were made in the context of thorough due diligence by staff and the politicos, they would have found out last summer that a local purchaser approached Club Richelieu. This purchaser was researching costs for upgrades and was told by the building department the costs to upgrade would be in the neighbourhood of $500,000.
So why didn’t the planning department communicate with the building permits department to look at any possible concerns with the building before recommending rezoning for this property?
Is staff also distracted by planning committee politics? Or are they also guilty of talking over taxpayers’ voices? Voices who know the property and are very aware of what requirements are lacking to serve a Teen Canada client base.
And where was the Club Richelieu? Were they just anxious to dump the property knowing upgrading costs and ignoring what the surrounding base of taxpayers knew already?
And why would Teen Canada close a property deal without conditions regarding building code compliances and simply expect a rezoning approval? Stayed tuned on this one. Bets are on that Teen Canada will be back at council asking for financial support to comply to code, using the emotionally vulnerable issue of a drug epidemic and addiction to let distraction politics once again provide distracted decision-making by council.
The real issue of distraction politics is this: talk a lot at the taxpayers to avoid hearing the taxpayer voices.
My conclusion is this: “If council continues to believe 1+1 = 5, they can be sure this project is on its way to yet another Local Planning Appeal Tribunal hearing. And the taxpayers will be paying costs for not having their voices heard or respected.
Dr. Karen Pappin is a local concerned citizen.