Minister promises to move Witless Bay Town Plan forward

   Municipal Affairs Minister Eddie Joyce will meet with the seven members of Witless Bay council this week to discuss implementing the long delayed Town Plan.
   The move follows the completion of a Commissioner's report that was ordered by the previous Municipal Affairs Minister following a plebiscite last fall that heavily favoured an earlier incarnation of the Town Plan over one that was altered by the current council. The earlier version, call Plan A on the plebiscite ballot, protects the traditional development rights of property owners near Mullowney’s Lane and several other parts of town. Plan B would see those areas zoned as Conservation. It also calls for larger lot sizes in several places in the community.
   For now Joyce is not tipping his hand as to which way he will move on the report. However Mayor Sébastien Després served notice last week that he will challenge the decision if the minister endorses the will of the voters and moves to register Plan A. Després maintains the plebiscite was illegal.
   "The plan is to meet with the Town and give them a copy of the Commissioner's report and then release the report to the public," Joyce said. "And once we release the report to the public and give the Town a chance to mull it over... government then is going to make a decision with whatever feedback we get and however it goes."
   Asked whether the results of the plebiscite will carry a lot of weight since as many people voted in it as did in the last council election, Joyce said, "Everything is going to be looked at, absolutely everything... We're going to take everything into consideration when we make a decision."
   Joyce is aware that council is deeply divided over the issue. "I think the whole issue is complicated," he said. "That's where towns have to come together and try to compromise. I did get a briefing and I did go through the whole scenario and the whole sequence of events, dates and times and most of the things that happened with it, so I'm well aware of the whole scenario with it. And so what I'll do is wait until I meet with the town and release the copy of the Commissioner's report and we'll take it from there as to what we're going to do. But definitely it makes a difference and I know that there's been a lot of things said to each other and a lot of things happened."
   Joyce is anticipating the matter will be decided "in the very near future. I don't mean in the next two or three days, but this will not be dragging on for the next year or so or the next six months,” he said. “There will be a decision made and then we can take it from there. I understand what the people went through - I understand all that - but there will be a decision made on it in the next little while."
   As for complaints by both sides that the Department of Municipal Affairs has been unclear and wishy washy in it's handling of the dispute, which is dragging into its fourth year, Joyce suggested there is an onus on members of municipal councils to try to come together and he if can help that process, he is willing to do it.
   "I won't shy away from decisions that have to be made and the department won't shy away from trying to help municipalities," Joyce added. "This is a prime example this Witless Bay one. This has been going on (for a while) and it's causing a lot of tensions in families and a lot of households. I'm inheriting this (issue) in Witless Bay and no matter where you go, there are certain people who are going to be upset with the decision. But there has to be a decision made and I hope there is some compromise, but if not, a decision has to be made. There is an active council there now with seven members and I hope all of the issues are resolved with conflict of interest and the other things, and I hope they will make a decision. But if they don't, there has to be closure to it somehow so the town can move on."

Posted on January 18, 2016 .