I have to confess that honestly sometimes I struggle to find ideas for blogs. Then along comes social media and the ideas just start flowing. If you are a Facebook follower you may have seen a post in community discussion that talks about pride in a community. In an effort to try and instill pride, many people decided to offer their comments on how bad this community is to live in so I am not really sure if it accomplished its goal. There was a lot of discussion on a variety of topics so I wanted to cover some of them off here.
Development is usually left up to the private sector. Downtown business was discussed and the lack of traffic there was a concern. Some communities have a downtown business association that works with their chamber of commerce to create ideas, and work together on building design, themes and events.
There have been experts that have been brought to town to meet with business and offer ideas. Unfortunately we have seen little come from that at this point. Currently the Town does not organize businesses as the Chamber of Commerce currently does that and is partially funded by the town as we support the ideas of the chamber but are not the body created to deal with them. Another comment was the huge cost the Town forces on businesses to start up and that is causing issues. The current process within the Town Office to legally operate and start up a business in Slave Lake requires you to fill out a one page form and pay $140.00 per year or just over $11/month. We currently do not offer free space for businesses to operate whether they are home based or not. Currently tax payers have not given us the mandate to interfere in business or subsidize certain sectors however we do have space for rent in MRC for trade shows, events, craft fairs, etc.
The development process is another topic. Currently we have a development process that sets out rules and regulations on what you can or cannot do. If you follow the rules and read all the information, it can be a pretty straight forward process. Our process is also very similar to most other municipalities. Why, because it’s always cheaper and easier to just do what everybody else is doing. Sometimes people don’t follow the rules, don’t complete all the steps, or don’t understand the entire process. Often this leads to people spending money on things that were unexpected and unbudgeted for. This could be an error by the homeowner, the business person, or the developer. In the end, our planning department often sees people that want to bend the rules for them and make sure it costs them the least amount of money, because they didn’t know, didn’t understand, or their developer left them high and dry etc.
Unfortunately for our planning department they are often yelled at, sworn at, and generally not treated that great. Mostly because they have to enforce a set of rules that were laid out long before anyone came looking to see what they were. Now its unfortunate that this takes place and I have to confess there are lots of great people out there who don’t act this way but after witnessing some of the events that take place I have gained great admiration for our planning department and can’t believe they stay there most days. So now what happens if you don’t follow the rules? There is a consequence and a process. You have to go before a board made up of elected officials and public members, just so common sense doesn’t get lost. If your variance is greater than that or you are not happy with that decision we have another board set up with elected officials and public members who will hear you out as well. Now in order to hold these hearings we have staff that spends time collecting all the data to present all the information to the board. We also have to pay for advertising to announce to the public the variance being applied for. We have to reimburse people for taking time out of their day to attend, and in some cases there are legal documents that have to be filed and submitted and costs associated with that. We also have to pay for training for people to be able to do that. We currently don’t fund 100% of that cost out of tax payer money so we recoup from the applicant who is applying for the variance.
Now the largest variance penalty you would have to pay is about $5000.00. To put this in perspective on a $500,000 home being built this is 1% of the cost. This would be the variance fee or penalty for not following the rules and coming to appeal a decision after you already built it. You also have the option to change what you have constructed to meet the variance; however, this is rarely done. The same variance fee if you come and ask for permission before you construct is $450.00. Often the reason a person has to come see us for a variance is because of something that may have not been their own fault. A prime example may be a developer that went bankrupt or left town. Currently we don’t have a process to deal with this as it would be difficult to determine which were accidental and which were done on purpose. So we create rules, we hold public hearings where people can provide input before we make a decision and then we enforce those rules. That is not a popular job but it is currently one the public expects us to do. We could try bending the rules more often? Bending the rules for one person is easy, bending for 7000 gets pretty tough. At that point you might as well not have rules at all. This could be a direction the public wants us to take, but I am not sure whether or not that’s the best idea, nor has council been given that mandate by the people. In the end it’s like anything. There are people who agree with the process and those that don’t. Our staff is just doing their job and they should be commended for it, not thrown under the bus. It’s quite astonishing that we started out talking about pride and ended up here.