Another imaginary roadblock for the hospital

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Hissy fitIn the April 24 addendum to the agenda there is a report by the interim CAO about the hospital redevelopment you should read. It seems another council hissy fit is in the making.

Your first question should be: why is the interim CAO writing and signing a report that ought to come from the planning department? It’s a planning issue – was the planning department reluctant to submit it? Didn’t agree with the conclusions? It’s a political document and written in political language. Perhaps no one in the department felt they should take ownership of it. Planning issues should be objective, not political. To me this is suspicious.

The interim CAO’s hostility towards the hospital board, representatives and the redevelopment proposal was made very evident at the March 27 council meeting. Well, it doesn’t appears he’s softened his stance.

A Municipal Comprehensive Review (MCR)* is required if a municipality wants to change its designated “employment lands” to non-employment zoning (usually retail or residential). That isn’t the case here (read this post for more). The hospital wants similar land-use approvals provided for Georgian College.

And what’s the big deal? The proposed site is a two-minute drive from the current one, has better access for emergency vehicles, more room for future expansion and growth, serves the region better, and is on a small part of a very large bank of unused land, about a tenth of the available “employment lands” available in this town. And it won’t cost the municipality a penny.

In the background section, the interim CAO says the hospital representatives consider an MCR an avoidable obstacle. I don’t believe that is entirely true: they presented a report from a reputable and experienced planner that pointed out that the legislative requirement for an MCR is only when the municipality wants to remove lands from those designated “employment lands” – a term that is not properly defined anywhere and does not sit well with the zoning definitions in the Planning Act. But they don’t want to remove the lands from the employment category, but rather widen the definition of that category to include their use.

In a letter to the town dated March 27, the hospital noted:

CGMH notes that the Town’s 2014 Development Charges Background Study includes an Official Plan to be commenced in 2017 with approximately two-thirds of the funds for such work to be funded by Development Charges. A MCR would be inclusive in any Official Plan Work/Study and thus it is CGMH’s opinion that this portion of the work is currently planned for and funded. Further, the Town has proceeded with the MCR in any event as evidenced by the Hemson Memorandum, and therefore has already committed/expended funds for this work.

What I understand the hospital’s argument was is that the hospital – being the town’s largest employer – is a suitable use in an employment land (and the OMB has decreed that a job is a job no matter where or what type when considering employment lands). But to conform, they say the town only needs to update the definition in its Official Plan to include the hospital and related uses. Like other municipalities have done. It’s partly an issue of definition, not a high legal wrangle.

The problem derives from the fuzzy definitions in the provincial policies and legislation. I’ve written about this before. The MMAH itself says,

Employment areas are defined as: “Areas designated in an official plan for clusters of business and economic activities including, but not limited to, manufacturing, warehousing, offices, and associated retail and ancillary facilities.” Not all jobs in a municipality take place in employment areas.

Nowhere – NOWHERE – in any MMAH document does it say a hospital is NOT a suitable use in employment lands. But the town’s own OP is the real problem because it, too, is fuzzy and its wording not up to date with other tiers. As the hospital’s planning report notes (Sec. 2.4):

Neither Public Use nor Public Service Facility is a defined use in the Town’s Zoning By-law. A hospital however is a defined use and is so defined:

“The use of land or building for establishments, licensed as hospitals, primarily engaged in providing diagnostic and medical treatment to in-patients with any of a wide variety of diseases or medical conditions. These establishments usually provide other services, such as out-patient services, diagnostic X-ray services, clinical laboratory services, pharmacy services and restaurants and gift shops”.

Section 4 General Provisions subsection 4.2 entitled Public Use states “Unless provided elsewhere in this Zoning By-law, a use or government office under the jurisdiction of a public authority shall be permitted in any zone.”
The Community Services CS Zone permits a hospital use. In today’s upper tier planning documents a hospital is now termed a Public service facility. However the Town’s Zoning By-law refers to a public service facility that provide health care programs and services as a hospital.
It is also noted the Industrial Park MS-1 or MS-2 zones do not specifically permit a Hospital or Public service facilities.
Based on the above proposed Public service facilities hospital use, a use described as a hospital may not be grouped with other generic Public uses but is distinctly identified and categorized as a standalone Public use. A Zoning By-law Amendment is therefore required to rezone the subject lands from the Industrial Park MS-1 and MS-2 zones to the Community Service Exception CS-E Zone to permit Public service facilities (Collingwood General & Marine Hospital) on the subject lands.

In 2.5, he adds:

The Town’s Site Plan Control By-law identifies all of the lands within the Town to be within the Town’s Site Plan Control Area. Exceptions by land use type are listed but none of these exceptions include a hospital, community service use, public use or a public service facility and therefore the proposed Public Service Facility (Public Use/Hospital) is subject to site plan control. A Site Plan Control application is required to be submitted to the Town and Site Plan Control approval (Municipal or OMB) is required to be granted.

The planner concludes:

A Zoning By-law Amendment and Site Plan Control approval is required to be obtained from the Town of Collingwood or alternatively, the Ontario Municipal Board and if access is required onto Poplar Side Road (County Road No.32), approval of a County of Simcoe Entrance Permit is also required.
In addition subject to the status of the future owner (private of Public Authority) of the subject lands a Consent application and approval (Town or OMB) may also be required.

Not being a planner, I cannot expertly assess which argument hold the most water, but both come down to paperwork. That’s all. The town appears to be ignoring the hospital’s 12-page planning report and its conclusions. Of course: it contradicts the preconceived notions already cemented in place. And it would go against the wishes of a small group of Block supporters who don’t want to see any changes within the town of Collingwood. So the town is making a big deal of an MCR as if it was the be-all and end-all of planning and woah-the-sky-is-falling if we don’t have one.

A supportive council and administration would try to see the hospital’s point of view and explore the options that other municipalities have chosen. It would work for a mutually satisfactory end, not throw up roadblocks or have hissy fits along the way. A supportive council would have quietly said okay, let’s get the MCR done just in case and help move this process forward to keep the hospital in town.

As the hospital board chair wrote in his March 27 letter:

CGMH is aware of other instances wherein the Town of Collingwood and other approval authorities have moved forward in a proactive fashion on private land use approvals for development.

Like the development of social housing at High and First Streets where the town did a nudge-nudge-wink-wink agreement to allow commercial office space in a residential zone despite the OP and zoning bylaw.

The interim CAO’s report mentions what seem to be potential problems, but they are canards. The “need for the conversion” – it isn’t being converted. He wants to be sure the land is “not required for employment purposes over the long term.” But it WILL be used for those purposes by the town’s largest employer (duh…). At present, the land isn’t even being used and no one has proposed another use for it these past two decades. And “the re-designation will not adversely the overall viability of the employment area…” but it is proposed right beside a school that already affects the rest of the industrial zoning. The hospital won’t change that. And “there is existing or planned infrastructure to support the proposed conversion…” It’s not a conversion, just a redefinition and if you had looked, you would have seen the infrastructure was already in place.

And “the town will be able to meet the employment forecasts…” which are hokum because the town doesn’t create jobs (and this council has done everything in its power to deter them – look at the airport development they blocked). Besides, it’s only a tenth of the available “employment lands.” Surely we can meet those mysterious and undefined forecasts with the other 90%. And wouldn’t the extra, new jobs created at the hospital contribute towards those forecasts? Will those forecasts even be relevant ten years down the road when the redevelopment is planned for?

Ooh, scary: all those frightening clauses that suggest the redevelopment could be a bad thing. A very bad thing. Ooh… Nothing positive mentioned, no suggestion that these are merely bureaucratic bumps in the road, not hurdles to jump. Make it look like the town is bring dragged reluctantly into the process against its will. But these are not real roadblocks: they are imaginary, like goblins, ghosts and invisible pink unicorns. They only exist in the minds of those at the table who are determined not to let the redevelopment go ahead. The Block.

Is he trying to scare us with the figure of $50,000-$70,000? Even at the upper end, it’s not even four months of his own overblown salary. We could have saved double that this term, maybe even more, by replacing him with a permanent CAO. He can pay for it from the $750,000 a year savings he promised in his recommendation for the town to take over the water, wastewater and IT services from Collus-PowerStream (which has in fact cost the taxpayers hundreds of thousands more to operate… but he promised the savings, so it must be true…)

But in the end, it’s all just paperwork, a make-work project for consultants (consultants get a lot of work from the town, mostly sole-sourced, of course). And a few months later, the report will be gathering dust on some forgotten shelf.

If it needs to be done, then do it. It will benefit the whole town, not just the hospital. 

The other thing in that background section I noted is that he says – condescendingly – the lawyer from Aird & Berlis, John Mascarin (why he was brought in and the interim CAO didn’t use one of the town’s legal firms is a mystery but an added expense to taxpayers) “clarified” the hospital’s “understanding.” Horse puckey. Mascarin spoke at great length about expropriation (going on so long that people started leaving the meeting). Expropriation isn’t the issue at the proposed site. Nothing was clarified.

But isn’t a bit premature to do an MCR when the hospital has not yet submitted ANY planning application? That, too, was part of the hospital’s argument. The town keeps running around yelling “the sky is falling” before anything has even been requested, let alone approved.

Three of the four regional municipalities that share our hospital have given their unqualified support for the redevelopment. Only Collingwood hasn’t. Only Collingwood has put up roadblocks, brought in consultants and lawyers to battle it. Only Collingwood has harangued hospital representatives at a public meeting, been confrontational, disrespectfully questioned them like penny-ante lawyers in a TV drama. Only Collingwood has sent adversarial emails to the hospital board about their proposal.

And when the hospital’s redevelopment stalls, or the Ministry decides to move it to Wasaga Beach, who do you think will take responsibility for the mess? Not the Block.

In the end, it’s all been about The Block’s favourite pastime: the blame game. They point their fingers at the hospital: it’s their fault. Not ours.

But we all know who is really to blame for yet another fine mess, don’t we, dear reader? The Block. It always comes back to The Block.

~~~~~

* First the interim CAO labels it a “Comprehensive Municipal Review (CMR).” The actual term used in documents and online by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing is Municipal Comprehensive Review (MCR). He does use the correct term later, but I suppose CAOs are not hired for their editing skills.

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One Reply to “Another imaginary roadblock for the hospital”

  1. Consider, too, that the hospital’s presence will also generate more employment through associated medical and health businesses and operations. It makes sense to include these in the definition of employment, but sense is sorely lacking among The Block and its pet administration.