CBRM Forward Update

Last Wednesday, during your regularly scheduled edition of the Cape Breton Spectator, I reported in some detail on the planning department’s presentation to CBRM council of the updated Municipal Planning Strategy and Land Use By-law.

Except for a side bar on rooming houses, the story relied entirely on what planners told council about the new documents—I skimmed both but didn’t do the kind of deep dive I usually like to do. I have no excuse other than SUMMER.

Afterwards, I heard from a reader who had done a much deeper dive into the new documents than I had and who raised a few questions that should have occurred to me but did not, beginning with this one: why did the CBRM schedule a public hearing on documents completely overhauling its planning strategy and land use by-law for an evening in the middle of July?

The date—tomorrow, July 20 at 6:00 PM—seems purposely chosen to ensure minimal public input. I put the question to the planning department and received the following response from director Michael Ruus:

The last round of the public engagement was originally intended to be completed in the fall of 2022 with the final adoption process occurring towards the end of the calendar year. Due to the impacts of Hurricane Fiona, the last round of engagement was delayed to the Spring. Council, the consulting team, and staff have made every effort to compete the project in the timeliest fashion conscious of housing pressures and other current challenges in our communities.

I actually understand this—as I’ve noted elsewhere, for the past two years, since the Cape Breton Forward project was launched, almost any issue related to planning has been deferred to completion of the revision of these documents. That means many people have been left hanging, waiting for the CBRM to decide that the thing they want to do (build a granny suite, add a second RV or residential unit to a rural lot, create a private road) is permissible.

I see it as a case of competing goods.

Residents have had a couple of months to familiarize themselves with the draft documents and their input didn’t need to be offered in person—it could have been presented in the form of an email (the deadline was Monday) and an email can be composed and sent from pretty much anywhere these days.

Moreover, there’s no guarantee that had the Public Hearing been scheduled for September it would have been better attended (and yes, I am assuming tomorrow’s meeting will not be well attended, perhaps I will be proven wrong). Getting people interested in issues like planning and land-use when they are not actually in the process of building a house, opening a business or protesting the opening of a business is a hard nut to crack and it would probably be unreasonable to have expected the CBRM Forward consultants to have cracked it single-handedly.

Senior planner Karen Neville, in presenting the revised documents to council, said they would be reviewed after a year to ensure they were “working.” That review will look at how the documents have performed in the real world and (presumably) result in any necessary tweaks or amendments, although as a process, this is definitely not as good as having engaged citizens read your documents and flag potential problems before they become law. I’m put in mind of CBRM resident Joe Ward’s catch on the Taxi By-law, where he pointed out that the draft had inadvertently permitted surge pricing and as it happens, I have an example of a resident spotting a problem with the Land Use By-law, too.


The View

I would like to say that resident was me, but it was not—it was a reader, who pointed out to me that while council was told all four currently protected North End view planes (allowing unrestricted views of the harbor) had been carried over into the new Land Use By-law, the actual by-law said this:

I asked the planning department about the missing view planes and was told by director Ruus that this had been:

…an oversight between versions of the document and the Waterfront Overlay has been updated to ensure development on the Sydney Waterfront does not inhibit views to the water from the streets originally identified in the North End Sydney Secondary Plan. The overall approach is based on the design principles from the Sydney Harbourfront Conceptual Vision & Design.

The updated list looks like this:

A list of protected views in the North End of Sydney, Nova Scotia.


So, this story has a happy ending, but it does make you wonder about other potential “oversights” in these documents, which boiled over 300 pages of regulations into 150.

I should point out that the reader in question was generally bullish on the overhauled documents but felt the devil could be in the details and the details hadn’t been given sufficient public scrutiny.

As someone who tries to scrutinize things on behalf of the public, I realize I’ve kind of dropped the ball on this one and I’m resolved to pay closer attention next year, when the new by-law is revisited.

And that’s really all I had to say, other than to remind you that the Public Hearing on the new Municipal Planning Strategy and Land Use By-law is tomorrow (Thursday) July 20 at 6:oo PM at the Civic Centre.