Committee of Adjustment Organizational Review: City of Ottawa
Changes are coming to the City of Ottawa Committee of Adjustment. Here is what you need to know:
On March 11th, 2022, the City of Ottawa’s Committee of Adjustment used part of their budget surplus of $170,000 to fund an organizational review, which was completed by KPMG in January 2023. The report discussed the findings of an in-depth review of Committee processes by KPMG which included 30 hours of engagement with 68 stakeholders, three online surveys with over 100 respondents, a review of over 90 documents, leading practice research into five other jurisdictions, and six design workshops. Stakeholders engaged included City Staff, community associations, and leading industry representatives, including Q9 Planning + Design.
Overall, the report found that the City of Ottawa’s Committee of Adjustment was a highly functional organization with timelines regularly met, good working relationships, responsiveness to public and applicant inquiries, and a well-executed transition to virtual meetings. The report also identified a number of challenges facing the organization including the increase in application volume and complexity, late planning staff reports, expectations for more easily understandable applicant- and public-facing resources, and misaligned mandates between Committee of Adjustment management and decision-making authorities. These challenges result in increased staff workloads, more adjournments, difficulties with staff retention, and public and applicant frustration.
To address these challenges, the report provided 17 different recommendations categorized into five different layers:
1. Services and Processes
2. Organization and Governance
3. People and Culture
4. Public Hearings
5. Information and Technology
Some of the key recommendations of interest are:
· Standardized approaches to agenda management and using consent agendas
· Standardizing the comment process and streaming more complex applications
· Implementing a more rigorous review of application completeness
· Eliminating evening hearings
· Providing staff and applicants more time to review staff reports
· Adding three new jobs to Committee staff
· Adding a fourth panel to address applications from high volume panels
· Using the anticipated Land Management Solution to allow for paperless submissions and real-time application tracking
Currently, consent agendas are only used by Panel 2 and Panel 3. Standardizing this along with creating consistent criteria for when specific types of adjournments are required will help reduce hearing durations and improve applicant experience. Similarly, by streaming complex applications to more senior resources, more realistic timelines can be provided that can decrease adjournments and improve predictability. Improved applicant and panelist experience can also be incurred by more rigorously reviewing applications for completeness at intake. This can also contribute to fewer adjournments.
Furthermore, by eliminating evening hearings, the Committee could improve staff, applicant, panelist, and public experiences of the Committee process and contribute to better satisfaction. Currently, the Committee is considering Panel 2 to Tuesdays at 1:00 PM, which would be the same as Panel 1’s timeslot at 1:00 PM on Wednesdays. Panel 3 would then keep its current 9:00 AM slot on Wednesdays or change to Tuesday mornings. This change is expected to roll out in the spring once each Panel is reconstituted with new appointments. Hybrid hearings may also be rolled out in the spring.
The Committee is also recommended to provide more time for applicants, panelists, and the public to review staff reports, with the aim of providing staff reports online by the Friday before the hearing date and encouraging commenting agencies to directly reach out to applicants to resolve issues. By doing so, the Committee could see fewer adjournments, better applicant and public experience, and improved transparency, as applications can have issues resolved ahead of time instead of at the last minute.
Additionally, the Committee could add a fourth panel (in the longer term) and add three new positions (a third Deputy Secretary-Treasurer, a Digital Services Officer, and a Senior Committee Coordinator) which could improve the Committee’s capacity and help it meet statutory timelines, reduce hearing times, and improve organizational resilience.
Finally, the Committee, through its anticipated Land Management System (LMS), can begin to process paperless application submission and payment along with tracking applications in real time. This modernization would improve transparency and save applicants time and money in printing and submitting physical copies of applications.
The table below shows the list of recommendations along with the specific action items included in the report to facilitate the changes and expected timelines. More detail can be found in the report.
The full list of recommendations is included in the report, which can be found here along with the City’s transmittal, found here.