No aspect of conflict is as simple as either side would like it to be. Developers aren’t bad people seeking to get rich quick, selling the sky and killing local communities, just as community residents who oppose development aren’t all anti-change, fear mongering, selfish isolationists as some would like to portray them.
The reality is any opportunity for change to occur involves giving and taking. How it is decided who gives and takes what is largely dependent on where a decision gets made. Ontario’s laws typically require planning decisions to be made by local municipalities inline with provincial policy statements. There are a number of appeal mechanisms and processes outside of municipal decision making, but this is where all projects either receive initial approval or rejection.
It is fascinating how opponents of projects organize so quickly and with such intensity compared to supporters of projects. It is naive to believe that anywhere in Ontario where there is a community association speaking out against something that there aren’t as many people or more who are in favour, or indifferent to what is being proposed.
The challenge with community consultation and demonstrating public opinion is engaging all area residents — something proponents and opponents routinely fail to do, or do well.
The reality is it takes more than a piece of mail or invitation to a public meeting to truly engage communities. The inability to engage supportive residents or those who are indifferent consistently means proponents and opponents find themselves at loggerheads as municipal decision makers fret the cost of defending whatever decision they make at the OMB.
There is a better way to community engagement that involves outreach before, during and after the formal planning process begins at the municipal level. Having the right strategy going into such a process provides a developer with greater certainty of approval, and ensures the community as a whole is both represented, heard and respected by the process and the outcome.