The County’s Director of Planning and Development, Johan van der Bank was called upon to clarify the process for a development permit for the proposed RV site during a hearing in March 2017. (Landin Chambers/Black Press)

Leaving Stettler County wasn’t his choice, says county planner who lost his job at height of Paradise Shores controversy

Things taken out of context and he was made target in attempts to stop development says van der Bank

Stettler County planner Johan van der Bank said he was still in shock with his Jan. 7 departure from Stettler County.

“It wasn’t my choice,” he said in a phone interview Feb. 4, adding that he can’t say more as he’s bound by a confidentiality agreement.

He did, however, say that the claims against him in various media were taken out of context. He said his September 2018 rebuttal is on Stettler County’s website only and he wasn’t given an opportunity to present it.

“I was not given a chance to present this and people are ignoring it,” said van der Bank. “I’m trying to rebut the most serious claims. People are taking things out of context and trying to make me a target in their attempts to stop this development.”

The development he is referring to is the controversial Paradise Shores development.

READ MORE: Stettler County and its planner ‘depart ways’ at height of Paradise Shores controversy. His departure not connected to Paradise Shores, says Stettler County Councillor

Stettler County came under heavy criticism and was accused of fast-tracking the proposed Paradise Shores RV development along Buffalo Lake north of Stettler.

Opponents of the project obtained thousands of pages from the county through the Freedom of Information Act. In the documents, the county’s planner, van der Bank, said in a note to RV Sites Canada that the county’s process was “unconventional” trying to get it fast-tracked approval.

In his notes, van der Bank had said: “In the context of the potential benefits of the proposed development to the county, and to try to facilitate your ‘aggressive approach,’ as people perceive it, I was willing to make certain compromises to the usual process, by referring the applications out to the public before council even saw them, and by trusting that you will deliver on your commitments to undertake the necessary studies and government approvals as we moved along.”

Van der Bank said those notes were taken out of context. He also said he had permission from the CAO and council to send them out.

“Those were my private notes written to myself. I didn’t write those to the developer.”

In van der Bank’s rebuttal on Stettler County’s website, he says the accusations of bias against him were “an attempt to vilify me personally and in doing so, to cast a shadow of doubt over the process that was followed, or if these claims are not that, then they may be based on a misunderstanding of the planning and development process in Alberta and of the materials that form part of the applications.”

Van der Bank said he was wrongfully accused of attempting to influence the county’s engineer, releasing confidential information to the developer, rushed the process, cut corners, didn’t ensure all studies done and that the correct process wasn’t followed.

In his rebuttal, which has been on Stettler County’s website since September 2018, van der Bank said those accusations started in February 2018 via email and on social media.

“My work colleagues, my family and I had to endure vilification for the past seven months.”

He said he treats all applicants the same and without prejudice. He said it doesn’t mean that people the county deals with don’t run into each other at events. He said he was accused of inviting the developer for lunch and said that was taken out of context in other media reports. He was at the county office on his day off with his children and having lunch and told the developer when asked, that that was what he was doing and he was welcome to stop by regardless for a meeting.

He said development officers are invited to and attend year-end functions, golf tournaments and other functions hosted by developers or consulting firms, may play hockey or be friends or neighbours with some of the developers and consultants that they deal with in their daily work. Or, their children may be in the same grade class or on the same soccer team.

“If they are professionals and abide by their professional code of conduct, these circumstances do not affect their integrity, judgement or work. Even those Development Officers that are not registered professional planners follow a similar approach.”

Those opposed to the development obtained thousands of pages of documents from Stettler County through a FOIP application.

“It is relevant to consider the fact that the FOIP documents that are used in an attempt to cast a shadow of doubt over the process were not ‘discovered’ hidden in some inconspicuous dark corner of the county’s deleted email server,” said van der Bank. “Those documents were and still are properly filed and digitally saved under the development permit folder and the area structure plan folder. I saved these documents there myself, as file records of what I did during the application review process.

“If any member of the public wanted to view these documents at the county office during the bylaw and development permit advertising, the documents would have been made available to them without them having to file a FOIP request,” he added. “Further, the text messages on my phone are still there, I never attempted to delete anything. Has anyone stopped to ask why I would have saved all these documents? Is this something that someone would do if he or she had something to hide?”

van der Bank said some of the claims of bias against him are based on those FOIP documents and are “being quoted out of context or are being quoted only partially and if fully quoted or if the dates are followed up or if the email attachment that was the subject of a discussion was reviewed, would show that the claim is unfounded.

“I can answer each of these claims by providing the proper context of those communications.”

Van der Bank also addressed allegations against him, which he believes affect his professional reputation and character.

He said one of the FOIP documents showed that he referred to an “unconventional process” and the claim is made that this must mean something illegal was done and proof that he “rushed” the process or that he didn’t follow the correct process.

“What did I mean by that phrase? It basically meant that: a) The developer wanted to start site preparation and private utility installations early. The LUB contains very clear provisions that allowed him to move forward as long as he had the relevant information submitted to me and was willing to proceed solely at his own risk – a risk that he apparently assessed to be acceptable based on the existing statutory plans that apply to the subject property.”

To read more go to https://www.stettlercounty.ca/DocumentCenter/View/931/Materials-Package-C?bidId=

After Stettler County’s SDAB board dramatically reduced the size of Paradise Shores from 750 t0 168 lots, developer David Hamm filed an appeal Nov. 30 with the Calgary Court of Appeal.

The appeal hearing was held Jan. 23 in Calgary. The Calgary Court of Appeal has reserved its decision. The court said the decision could take a week, months or up to a year.

READ MORE: Calgary Court of Appeal reserves decision on Paradise Shores development. Paradise Shores development north of Stettler along Buffalo Lake controversial from start



lisa.joy@stettlerindependent.com

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