The city of Sherbrooke announced on Tuesday morning that it will be taking at least another year to sort out its long-awaited overhaul and harmonization of zoning bylaws and provisions. Though public consultations were scheduled to be held on the subject this past June, the city elected to move them back in light of more than 450 requests for modifications submitted by developers and individuals within the city since the existing proposal was first moved
“We want this process to be applicable, simple, and realistic over the next fifteen years,” said Nicole Bergeron, City councillor and President of the City’s Urbanism Committee. “To take one year more in order to get a result that is a better fit, we think is wise.”
At the moment the City of Sherbrooke is served by a patchwork of sometimes conflicting zoning laws that were haphazardly combined at the time of municipal union in 2002. The laws, according to Bergeron, date back to 1987, and are no longer suited to the needs of the city.
“This exercise will serve to harmonize the City of Sherbrooke. It could serve to avoid costs to the city and developers as well,” the Urbanism Committee President said. “Though it seems like we’re moving backwards, that is only because we are listening to what people have to say and want to work to make the project better.”
Bergeron said that the ideas that have come forward from the population have been both interesting and constructive and said that she sees this development as a positive one in terms of making sure that the bill eventually passes.
Michael Howard, Director of the city’s Urban Planning and Development Service said that the new delay comes at a minimal cost, mainly centered on the reprinting of information materials.
“The time we have spent on this is not lost,” Howard said. “This is a project we have been working on that we will be improving, so it’s not really a question of lost money.”
The urban planning director suggested that some of the material to be reprinted might be shifted online as a cost saving measure, but said that the additional costs would range between $10,000 and $15,000.
Bergeron pointed out that the city’s last attempt at an urban plan was defeated in a 2007 referendum and said that the result of that defeat has meant that a huge amount of time, energy, and money being committed to amending the city’s patchwork of laws. Ultimately, she said, the hope is that one polished piece of legislation will result in fewer amendments needed in the future.
The current bill, 1100, will be withdrawn at the next meeting of the City Council, to be significantly revised and tabled again as bill 1200 in May of 2016. Public consultations on the new bill will then take place in all six boroughs of the city the following June, with the hope that the bylaw can be changed in a way that is satisfactory to as many people as possible before a final decision has to be made.
Deputy city clerk Line Chabot said that as opposed to the usual legal procedure with a new zoning law, in which affected residents must request a registry to express opposition to an idea, the registry for bill 1200 will be automatic because it applies to everyone in the city. Over the course of four to five days in November of 2016, a registry will be held at the Sherbrooke City Hall. If that registry is signed by more than 2.5 per cent of eligible voters, then the city will have to hold a referendum on the matter.
“It’s a major operation,” Chabot said. The Clerk could not offer an exact number of people needed to set off a referendum as the figure will be based on the electoral list at the time the legislation comes before the council, but suggested that it would be between 2,000 and 3,000 signatures.
3,189 people signed the registry that kicked the 2007 referendum into gear. That exercise in democracy cost the city more than $700,000 on its own, not taking into account cancelled development projects.