Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Riches of embarassment for council…
more taxes for the rest of us

From the London Free Press:

A freeze on development that's cost London city hall about $220,000 to defend has been quashed by Ontario's top court because council pushed it through in secret.

In a unanimous ruling this week, the Ontario Court of Appeal struck down a bylaw that froze development on Richmond Street near the university and ordered the city to pay the legal costs of the developer that challenged it.
In January 2004, city council met behind closed doors to discuss a hastily contrived bylaw preventing development along Richmond Street between Huron and Grosvenor streets, a four block stretch, in response to RSJ Holdings Inc's plans to build a four-plex rental unit at the corner of Richmond and Cheapside, prompting complaints by local residents. The purpose of zoning bylaws, rightly or wrongly, is the general management of land use, not the targeting of specific projects for promotion or prevention. Not failing to recognize the litigious potential of an arbitrary decision to subvert this legal purpose for political reasons, council received its staff land use report in a secret session.
When they later resumed in public, there was no debate about the freeze. The bylaw, along with 31 others, passed in eight minutes.
As it was later discovered, a vote on the bylaw had already taken place behind closed doors according to affidavits signed by Coun. Roger Caranci and Controller Bud Polhill, a potential violation of provincial law.
Those circumstances led the appeal court to reject the city claim it had met in-camera to get advice from the city solicitor about potential litigation. Even if the developer was certain to go to court, that didn't justify shielding a report about land use rather than litigation.

[…] The city has so far paid $108,000 for Siskind-Cromarty lawyer Jim Caskey, $40,000 in legal costs to the developer and $17,500 for the legal costs of Controller Bud Polhill and Coun. Roger Caranci, who signed affidavits for Patton. The final tab for Patton will also be paid by the city, an amount he estimated at $50,000 to $60,000. Those expenses don't include the drain on city lawyers, who told the courts they invested time equivalent to $53,400, some of that part of Caskey's bill.
The developer's case rests on greater merit than the city's decision to conduct public business in secret, but a victory over arbitrary authority is difficult enough to come by these days by any means. Failing to recognize that council already possesses riches of embarassment over the issue, city staff may be recommending that it acquire more:
The price tag might grow further still. Lawyer Alan Patton, who represented the developer who challenged the bylaw, says city solicitor Jim Barber told him he'll ask council to seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.
What principles can the city invoke in appealing this decision? The right of council to decide public issues in secrecy? The right of taxpayers to be gouged for council's misguided decisions? We can only hope that council has some sense of when it's had enough.


Little Tobacco said...

to put it simply, the money is not coming out of their pocket so why the hell not appeal? It appears that the decision by council was for political reasons rather than good governance... what a surprise. Give me a government that governs rationally rather than panders and my complaints will certainly decrease.

MapMaster said...

It appears that the decision by council was for political reasons rather than good governance...

Well put, if rather an understatement. Controls on a four-block stretch of one street? Completely political, no matter what the land use study contrived by staff says, after the politicians realized they needed one.