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City hall’s new building boss probes charges of red tape, delays

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Cathy Dobson

Sarnia’s new planning and building director says she’s heard the “anecdotal tales” about her department frustrating developers with red tape and delays.

Now she wants evidence.

“Give me the facts and we’ll investigate,” said Jane Cooper who took on the senior management job at city hall six months ago.

“If we’ve been slow, we’ll apologize. If we made the right decisions, I won’t apologize, because if it’s something that doesn’t conform to our policies, or is a development that is inappropriate in an area, then we’re not just going to say yes.”

Since becoming the head of planning and building, Cooper has heard complaints about an historical inefficiency, and she wants to know if they’re founded.

In December, Mayor Mike Bradley asked council to authorize a review of the department, following complaints about timing, cost and other problems with the city’s planning process.

“I’ve heard it both ways. Some developers say our planning people are too fast and they want them to slow down. Others say they’re too slow,” Bradley said.

“The point is that we have a lot of anecdotal evidence and it’s time to put some science to this. I want to get at the realities and myths out there.”

Cooper arrived in Sarnia last July with 30 years of planning experience in the United Kingdom, Calgary and Halifax.  She said she brings fresh eyes to the job so it’s an ideal time for a review.

But she’s also quick to defend her staff, who work in an environment heavy with municipal and provincial regulations.

“My chaps in planning and building, they don’t sit on their backsides and do nothing all day. They’re working hard,” Cooper said.

“They have tight timelines and operational requirements and they don’t just sit around doing nothing. They are working all the time for the best interests of council and their community.”

At the same time, if there are problems Cooper said she won’t know about them unless people tell her.

The review will involve the business, building and real estate sectors, as well as public consultations, possibly in the form of a public meeting or online survey.

Chamber of Commerce president Rory Ring has already met with Cooper and said it’s a positive sign the city is reaching out.

“We hear a certain degree of frustration from entrepreneurs who want to move ahead as quickly as possible but find it challenging to engage in the (planning and building) process,” Ring said.

“This is not a witch hunt or about pointing fingers,” he added.  “It’s about understanding how we can enhance the process.”

Cooper said she and the 20-plus people in her department want to encourage development and find ways to improve.

She hopes to have the review finished and a report to council by fall.


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