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Blatchford for All: Council to Discuss Affordable Housing in the City’s Largest Land Development Project

I posted most of my thoughts on this to Facebook earlier this weekend. Since then, the media coverage of this weekend’s Homeless Connect even has focused on Edmonton’s current demand for affordable housing. Also, I took a good look at the Executive Committee agenda for this week. While the Blatchford Redevelopment Advisory Group may be looking to keep a limited definition of affordable housing in the community’s plan, it’ll be a hard position for them to defend. The city’s affordable housing strategies and related advocacy are both on Council’s agenda before Blatchford, and they involve the expanded definition city administration wants included in Blatchford.blatchford

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From Edmonton’s Social Housing Regeneration Advisory Group.

 

 

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Affordable housing in Blatchford – Report to Council’s Executive Committee
housing2
From Edmonton’s Affordable Housing Strategy


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A report going to City Council raises concerns over affordable housing in Edmonton’s new Blatchford development. – CTV Edmonton

This of course comes two weeks after the city launched the http://nonmarkethousing.ca campaign: ” By providing Affordable Housing (including: supportive housing, supported housing, social housing and independent living affordable housing) in all areas of the city, lower-income households are able to live where they choose and remain close to family and friends, rather than being forced to move away to other neighbourhoods when life cycle or health needs make it necessary to seek Affordable Housing.

From the report to Council: “Nonetheless, given the demonstrated need for affordable housing in all its manifestations it is recommended that a more expansive definition of affordable housing be used. A more expansive definition of affordable housing also better reflects Municipal Development Plan policy:
4.4.1 Ensure neighbourhoods have a range of housing choice to meet the needs of all demographic and income groups and create more socially sustainable communities.”

We need more housing choice across the city, not just concentrated in a few neighbourhoods. The defintions of affordable housing in the housing campaign they launched this month are all in demand. It was just last month that Council was discussing and publicly venting about an affordable housing crisis and wanting it as a federal campaign issue. If Council’s not willing to do this in the largest project for which the City of Edmonton will ever serve as developer, then they’re sinking their own cause and providing the ammo that’ll be used in the next NIMBY explosion over a project down the road.

From nonmarkethousing.ca; “Research in Alberta has shown in studying communities with and without Affordable Housing that property values do not vary over time due to the presence of Affordable Housing developments.”

Clearly the Blatchford Redevelopment Advisory Group disagrees with the city’s awareness campaign if they’re willing to state in a public report that the expanded definition of affordable housing will scare developers off to neighbourhoods where these projects aren’t a certainty. That’s a problem for Council’s advocacy campaigns, hopefully it factors into their questions.

A ‘market’ solution to our affordable housing crisis

Edmonton and Calgary are struggling with a lack of affordable housing, while Calgary’s shelters run at capacity with winter looming. Both cities are also grappling with the infrastructure and transportation costs of on-going urban sprawl and the servicing costs of new neighbourhoods.

Alberta’s big cities need affordable housing, and they need infill development that can attract families to the urban core. Both cities also have development industries that have grown and sustained themselves on the large margins of cheap suburban land and development.

The Premier has stated that he wants a market solution to Alberta’s affordable housing problem. The situation doesn’t need ideology, it needs concrete plans, of the sort that we didn’t see in this by-election. It needs housing starts; affordable homes and rental units, in places where a car isn’t a necessity to live. With some initial support, the non-profit sector could put the housing that Alberta’s cities need, on the market.

A few examples:

It’s called the Quint Development Corporation. Founded by residents with the support of government, it’s been building affordable housing in Saskatoon for almost twenty years.

It’s called the Central Neighbourhoods Development Corporation and was founded in 2007 to help revitalize inner-city Winnipeg neighbourhoods.

“A community development corporation (CDC) is a not-for-profit organization incorporated to provide programs, offer services and engage in other activities that promote and support community development. CDCs usually serve a geographic location such as a neighborhood or a town. They often focus on serving lower-income residents or struggling neighborhoods. They can be involved in a variety of activities including economic development, education, community organizing and real estate development. These organizations are often associated with the development of affordable housing.” – Wikipedia

I received my introduction to the concept of community development corporations while volunteering time to work on Edmonton’s Transit Oriented Development Guidelines for the EFCL. The city had brought in a consultant to speak to TOD, best practices, affordable housing, etc. The part that stood out to me was on affordable housing and how, in their experience, most affordable housing around transit/light-rail in the U.S. was being built by non-profit development corps.

For us community volunteers in attendance, the idea stuck, and we suggested it for inclusion into the final report for Mayor Mandel’s Community Sustainability Taskforce. Non-profit organizations that with some initial seed money, could take on a role building infill and affordable housing in some of Edmonton’s older neighbourhoods. The suggestion unfortunately wasn’t included in the Elevate Report, but it’s still being pursued.

With the development and housing issues that Edmonton and Calgary are currently facing, it’s an idea that we should begin discussing on a provincial scale.

Initiating non-profit redevelopment agencies in Alberta’s cities isn’t just a way to help boost housing stock and increase neighbourhood density. They’re an avenue for community development; giving residents a chance to help guide the built-form of their neighbourhoods and educating residents on the trials and costs of building in older communities.

Our older neighbourhoods also struggle with derelict properties, and there are few legislative tools for municipalities to take action on them. A derelict property sees its municipal taxes decrease, while becoming a blight on the community. A new cities charter may or may not give municipal councils tools such as tax levies to encourage redevelopment of a property. Having a community-owned developer who’s ready and willing to purchase and rebuild a problem property into an asset for the community, helps regardless.

Between Government and ‘the market’ there’s a way to help build affordable housing, transit-oriented development, and alternatives to urban sprawl. It’s worked in the U.S., and it’s worked in other provinces. Community league volunteers have been talking about it for years. It’s time for MLAs and Councillors to do the same.

Almost an Action Plan

The City of Edmonton has unveiled its draft “Infill Action Plan” this week. 24 ‘action items’ to spur and facilitate (re)development in Edmonton’s mature communities.

You can find the complete document by scrolling down, or clicking here.

Given the development-centric nature of this plan, I’d expect that it’ll have more of a real-world impact on neighbourhoods, and a shelf-life far greater than the “Elevate” report – The end, and seldom heard of, product of Mayor Mandel’s Community Sustainability Taskforce. The creation of which included a great deal of planning & development discussion, much of which was never seen in the final product. (I had the opportunity to work on the taskforce’s development committee, along with five years spent on the EFCL’s Planning & Dev committee’s… Whose work is chronically under-represented, but I digress.)

After a quick read-through, and a slower second look, my initial thoughts:

 

Action 1
Develop and implement an infill communications strategy to share information clearly and widely, and to enhance communication between the City, builders and residents. This will improve the way the City shares information about infill with Edmontonians, help clarify how and where people can be engaged with the infill process, and encourage more discussions about new housing and change in established neighbourhoods.

The devil is of course in the details, but unless you live in a community with an active league, with an even more active civics director – You’re probably not going to see much advocacy or analysis of planning and development issues in your neighbourhood. Done well, this is a bonus for residents and volunteers.

 

Action 3
Offer a publicly accessible online tool that helps residents and builders visualize what could be built on a lot in an established neighbourhood. This will increase residents’ and builders’ general understanding of the Zoning Bylaw’s rules related to infill and the development potential of a property by visually communicating what sorts of new development may occur on a site that is zoned a particular way.
Action 4
Require notices about development permits to be posted on site to let everyone know what will be built and who to contact for more information. This will help keep community members informed about change in their neighbourhoods, direct them to the right people for more information, and support better relationships between the City, citizens and builders. Both good ideas. An online visualization tool however would hopefully include an analysis of sun/shade impacts for increased heights and lot coverage, abutting traditional existing structure.

Both good ideas. An online visualization tool however would hopefully include an analysis of sun/shade impacts for increased heights and lot coverage, abutting traditional existing structure.

 

Action 6
Pilot an “infill Action Advisory Group” made up of citizens and stakeholders whose role would be to provide objective advice on infill related matters to City Administration. This will improve communication and help build trust between citizens, builders and the City, bring a broad a range of perspectives into infill projects and processes, and provide an opportunity to learn from a new approach to engaging Edmontonians in advancing infill development.

I would say that the city actually already has one – in the EFCL’s planning & dev committee. The committee regually meets with city officials, developers, and through earned experience, its elected volunteers gain the knowledge to understand, and professionally & completantly analyse planning proposals.

 

Action 9
Support and work with partners to hold infill design awards or competitions in order to encourage more creative infill design and foster an ongoing conversation about what great infill means for Edmonton. This will catalyze innovative infill projects and ideas, foster dialogue around the design of new housing, and promote a wider discussion about residential infill in Edmonton for residents, builders and the City.

I think I read something about this once. 

 

Action 13
Develop an infill specific information resource to provide residents and builders with easy access to information related to how the City plans for, assesses and responds to drainage needs in established areas, and what people can do to address issues or concerns on their own lots. This will help answer residents’ questions related to
drainage improvements and planning, as well as provide options for individual actions that address drainage issues on private lots.

A frequent complaint community league volunteers have heard is that of drainage. Of the small bungalow which now finds itself flooded from runoff from a new, larger abutting development.

 

Action 17
Reduce barriers to building row housing in the RF3 (Small Scale Infill) zone by removing location restrictions and changing the site regulations currently limiting this form of infill on RF3 lots. This will make row housing easier to build by simplifying the approval process, responding to growing market demand for row housing, and may help increase affordability in older neighbourhoods by supporting more housing options.

When amended during the last set of residential zone changes, RF3 in several ways became the dog’s breakfast of zones – So it’s probably not surprising to see a push for its widespread use. At the time, community advocates (unsuccessfully) asked that the amendments be sent back for further work, siting:

RF3 Zone Amendments:

Send the RF3 Zone Amendments back to the Administration for more work.
There are a number of concerns with the RF3 zone which need to be addressed, including:

There will be difficulty in retaining any single detached housing in RF3 neighbourhoods, given the proposed Permitted Uses (which trump ARPs) and the proposed minimum site width regulations for 2-to-4 unit housing. If a variety of housing is the major goal of the Infill Guidelines, then there must be a way to ensure that at least some single detached housing is retained.

There is inadequate minimum site width for corner flanking row housing. The Infill Guidelines state, “Where Row Housing is developed on flanking lots, the lot should have an adequate width (min 20.0 m) to provide each unit with a private outdoor amenity area, and to maintain privacy and sunlight on the adjacent property.” In contrast, the proposed bylaw requires a mere 14.8 m site width for RF3 row housing, which is the same as two- unit housing. (This must be a mistake!) Plus there is no requirement to have an additional width requirement for the end corner row housing dwelling to accommodate the larger corner setback .

The Site coverage for RF3 Row Housing has been changed to the RF5 coverage of 45% (from the 40% coverage in RF3). Such a dramatic change should require a rezoning to RF5.

In addition, we trust that Administration will be adding a regulation which will indicate that, “Mechanical systems shall be located to ensure that noise does not impact adjacent residences”, as recommended in the Infill Guidelines, and directed by Council. We recommend that the mechanical noise regulation apply to all lots, not just narrow lots.

A widespread push for the use of RF3 zoning can be questioned – At the sime time Council is pushing for development certainty for newer neighbourhoods, permissive uses make it difficult to establish statutory development guidelines and vision through Area Redevelopment Plans in older ones.

Action 18
Revise the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay (MNO) of the Zoning Bylaw to reduce barriers to small scale infill and improve the approvals process. This will help support more infill across the wide diversity of Edmonton’s mature neighbourhoods, increase predict-ability and reduce the adversarial nature of the approvals process, provide more design flexibility, and encourage infill development that responds to the context of a property.

For this suggestion to have made it into a draft plan, specific amendments to the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay must have been proposed. To development regulations, public consultation and appeals processes – specific proposals should be included, as approval of the action plan does compell administration to bring them forward to Council.

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The plan contains suggestions to be heralded, those that require caution, and all need to be laid out in detail and in a thorough consultation process.

What’s it missing?

Something big, and a suggestion that has put forward since the development of the Elevate report. The kind of development model with a record of success in Canada and the U.S. and the sort of thing we should absolutely be pilotting if serious about meeting quotas for infill development.

Community Development Corporations

Non-profit entities, started with a seed grant that are led by community board members. In targeted areas of a city, they take on redevelopment of underutilized, and derelict properties. Building attractive housing and amenities, that yield a return sufficient to fund future projects. It’s an idea the consideration of which deserves an action item.

 

Draft Infill Action Plan

It’s not “crap”, it’s just not very good.

molson

I promised myself at one point this past winter, that I’d make the time to head down to the Molson Brewery and spend some time taking pictures of brick, and masonry..and history. Passing by the site today, I see that a dismantling of the Molson sign has begun. It might have started a while back, but I noticed it today. If were moving forward with an unpopular development proposal for the site and expecting media cameramen to make an appearance, I’d probably pick this as a good time to have an iconic feature removed from view.

Folks in Oliver have a great community league. It’s active, it’s engaged, it’s forward thinking, and it’s home to the next generation of volunteers on which the future of the community league system will depend. As a community league civics director, and as a member of the Federation of Community Leagues Planning Committee, I’ve been impressed by how they’ve approached the proposed redevelopment of the Molson Brewery over the past year.

Identifying concerns with the site’s proposed rezoning, it’s amenities, and a lack of residential uses on a downtown property along a major transit corridor; The Oliver League has connected with all the right people. They’ve held community meetings. They’ve developed positive recommendations and have been ready and willing to work with city planners and the property owner to develop something positive for the area, for downtown and for the preservation of it’s history.

And today Council passed a proposed rezoning which pretty much ignores all of that. The kind of decision that ends with volunteers leaving forehead sized dents in the fabric walls outside Council Chambers.

The Mayor and Council that famously promised “no more crap” didn’t exactly pass crap today. They just did what they’ve frequently done over and over again, in simply accepting what was deposited at their door. Councillors are meant to be the keepers and dreamers of a city’s vision, someone else could be the status quo rubber stamp society.

It’s the legal role of the Sustainable Development department to process applications to rezone a property. And herein lies my challenge to the next Council that will take shape at the end of October.

Rebuild the road that leads to you.

It’s the job of planners to prepare zoning applications and bring them to Council. They don’t have to like them, and they don’t have to recommend them, they simply have to prepare them for Council’s consideration. Outside of that, our planning and development process is open to a world of change. We don’t hire individuals trained to simply process applications. We hire educated, professional urban planners. Minds that can interpret and articulate a city vision. That can work with engaged stakeholders and incorporate input from all sources into a recommendation for Council.

Council could have sent today’s rezoning application back to city administration for reconsideration. Or city administration could have gone to Council with an additional alternative proposal, built collaboratively with all interested parties, and with our planners’ own sense and vision of what they want for the core of our city.

Voters will pick new faces for Council in October. Which of those, if any, will take on the role of changing the face our city’s administration. The city has hired some excellent individuals to work in it’s sustainable development department. Encourage them to come to Council with more than cookie-cutter proposals built on narrow vision and input. Developers in Edmonton aren’t known for being particularly experimental or open to taking risks. Don’t be afraid, current and future Councillors, to say ‘no’ once and awhile, and show them that the risk they perceive, might just be a great development that a community wholeheartedly wants.

Edmonton Molson brewery site rezoned amid controversy – Edmonton Journal

Edmonton city councillors approve controversial Oliver plan – Metro Edmonton

Controversial rezoning of Molson brewery site approved by council – CBC News

 

Councillor Anderson, Terwillegar, and Elevating the Plan to End Homelessness

Simons: Homeless-housing project has Terwillegar Towne in an uproar

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I appreciate that Councillor Anderson is eager to support a housing development that can put a roof over the heads of some families in need. However, I question the wisdom using such a project as leverage to oppose the plan to end homelessness which he and his Council colleagues have so strongly supported.

Might I suggest that the Councillor instead look at one of our mature communities such as Canora (home to JP health and wellness). A community which has lost children and families. A community which houses it’s fair share of our city’s and even our province’s socio-economic issues. A community which would no doubt welcome a multi-unit to house families in need, which could help to preserve mature neighbourhood community schools. t

Or perhaps this mature neighbourhood resident should simply sit back an accept that city-vision of some Councillors has a blind spot, in need of a political ophthalmologist. That blind spot being the centre of what could well become a donut city. A city that spends millions on infrastructure for downtown catalyst projects, but lacks the will to stand up for the communities which have grown over the past century around downtown.

Like or dislike JP Health and Wellness’s proposal, they’ve done an impressive thing here. They’ve taken a step to provide those in need of help with support options outside the core communities where so many addictions and issues have been fed. They’ve taken a step to provide families and those in need with a housing option in a part of the city that could not only help to provide a fresh-start, but help to keep those individuals nearly their family members who may well not live in the core.

Like or dislike JP Health and Wellness, they’ve forced us to talk about the future of our city.

Are we a donut city? Will we become one? A city of suburban enclaves; low-density communities short on amenities and welcome only to those who own a vehicle (a necessity to get anywhere) and their own home. A city which carries the weight of a large portion of Alberta’s social challenges, which then concentrates issues and troubled individuals in the downtown area and a number of specific core communities.

Donuts are bad for you, and our city deserves better. The plan to end homelessness doesn’t need another project in the same neighbourhoods. It needs a mix of solutions across the city. It needs communities to accept that they have a responsibility to accept some of our social issues. It needs Councillors who believe in building communities, near the core or elsewhere, that aren’t enclaves for those who can afford to buy a home and a car or two.

To suggest that a subsidized project in Terwillegar for families would be preferable is absurd and a slap to the face of our core communities. The same issues regarding the lack of local amenities and transit options would still apply, and the change would serve only to calm the nerves of reactionary individuals. I also doubt that they’d find a project proponent as committed as JP Health and Wellness is to addressing these issues.

Consider giving your support to the project Councillor Anderson. Council does have power here, and it should go into providing the amenities that a diversity of housing options and demographics require in all corners of the city. In the meantime Councillor, if you want to focus on famility-friendly housing options, consider putting some of that energy into supporting family-friendly development in mature communities. Unless that donut thing sounds good to you. Then fight against this, and our own visionary documents such as the Elevate report and the plan to end homelessness..

Edmonton Votes 2013 – ‘A Regular Contribution’

It’s the voters of course, or the 30% who do vote, who play the king-makers in civic politics. The path to voters in a civic election, free from party politics, is individual name recognition at the ballot. It’s evidenced in the near overwhelming deference given to incumbent civic candidates in Edmonton, and to those challengers whose past professional lives put their names out in the public domain on a regular basis.

Signs, small and large on lawns and public property, Canada Post mailouts, closets and trunks filled with printed materials, pens, pencils, re-usable bags and other swag – These are marketing tools of a campaign that drive recognition of a candidate. They cost thousands to produce and to get into the hands of voters.

Even those who have established name recognition on their side will spend $50,000 or more before October’s election.

The Journal’s Elise Stolte has done some great work (links below) breaking down the numbers from 2010, and some the early outreach efforts to campaigns by Edmonton’s development community.

Cash for campaigns: Winning a seat at City Hall requires lots of dollars from development-friendly donors

The data: Do developers play kingmaker in civic politics?

Fund raising at the civic level isn’t easy, I know, I’ve tried it. Municipal contributions, in large numbers, come from the development industry. Which in Edmonton is well represented by power-houses like the Urban Development Institute and the Edmonton Home Builders Association. As well as large-scale players such as Stantec, Qualico, Rohit and so on.

They build homes, multi-units, business spaces and towers and take a large part of the time and efforts of Council and Civic Adminsitration. From individual zoning bylaws, to land-use plans, visionary planning documents, municipal development plans and so on.

These are groups and industry representatives that have regular access and key stakeholder status with Council and Administration. That often outnumber other groups or community reps in a city boardroom. That are regular, and large dollar contributors to some municipal campaigns, and that can easily tilt a Council race in one direction through campaign contributions.

To candidates out there, I won’t say not to take a contribution if it’s offered. . It takes money to get elected, to advance a good platform, and that’s a personal decision that some individual campaigns and candidates will have to make.

I will say however, that those contributions do nothing to drive public debate or discussion. Nor do they help to create an equal field for each of a Ward’s candidates to put their materials and ideas in the hands of voters.

To voters, I’ll say that it really shouldn’t matter. The fact that a candidate can’t or won’t spend $50,000 or $100,000 isn’t at all a sign of their ability in or inabilities to serve in office. The fact that candidates trip over themselves to blitz the boulevard with signs coming into your neighbourhood, and your mailbox with the glossiest paper when you get home, isn’t terribly healthy for anyone; you, me, democracy or the environment.

To the Province and the Minister of Municipal Affairs, the maximum allowable individual contribution should have been reduced. And the pre-nomination day registration and reporting requirments should have been applied to this election. It’s the 21st century, municipalities could have been ready in time.

To candidates; game on, good luck, and may the best ideas and the candidates willing to implement them, win in October.

Crime Stopped

I live in a mature neighborhood in the west-end. It’s straight, wide avenues running unimpeded between arterial roads happen to be a favorite for drug dealers who make no effort to hide their activities, as evidenced by the sound of screeching tires as they peel out after the deal.

A few summers back, the corner of my neighbour’s lawn became a favored gathering place for buyers and they waited for their delivery. The drop-off vehicles were always the same. We recorded make/model/plate numbers and put in the call.

I’ve been called as a witness before. A nearly 90 year-old neighbour was violently mugged while walking one-block home from the local market. I was more than happy to testify against a worthless thug from out of the province who used every stall tactic possible to build-up that ‘double time served’.

With what was clearly a well organized group with a small fleet of vehicles with commercial plates, I was less eager to potentially make a court appearance. So the call went to Crime Stoppers, not the EPS. The late night activity on the street ended very soon after.

Without anonymity that call wouldn’t have been made. I respect Crime Stoppers, I appreciate it, and I’ve used it to help protect my community. Letting it fail would be indeed be a crime. It’s a small investment with a big reach. I can only hope that those with the power and funds to keep it alive, be they private or public, step up and help ensure it’s sustainability. It may not be an arena, but it’s a world-class service with the criminal record to prove it.

Hey Hey Hey Goodbye…

Katz Group puts pressure on potential Edmonton Northlands contractor

Downtown arena may be dead if Oilers owner Katz doesn’t step up

An election is approaching – an unpopular arena funding model seems to become more so by the day – A provincial budget came and went without $100 million in arena funding, leaving the Mayor’s “the money is coming, the money is coming” reality distortion field, bleeding on the side of the potholed road – And a couple more City Councillors have toyed with the idea of possibly, maybe, sort of, voting against the Arena framework as it heads back to Council without the Provincial funding we knew it wasn’t going to get.

Did I mention an election is coming?

Anyway, as it all heads to either a tear-filled finale or a ramming through from throat to rectum, I’d like to offer Council and Council hopefuls a solution, free of charge.

Cut Katz loose.

Aside from a 30+ year lease for the use of the facility for 41 days per year + the playoffs (if any), let’s do it without him. Let’s do it without the Katz drama, the Katz ego, the $20 million marketing deal and the forfeiture of facility revenues. Let’s do it without his meagre investment to be spread out over decades.

I don’t begrudge Daryl Katz for making fantastically one-sided business deals, I just wish my city could do the same. Here’s Edmonton’s chance – cut Daryl out. If we’re going to build it, if we’re going to own it, if the city is going to stretch its borrowing capacity by a half-billion dollars to do this; then let’s run our rink, fill its seats, and profit fully from it.

If we need partners going forward, who have the expertise and the ability to bring shows through the door; Then starting with a trip to LiveNation, City Council can send Simon Farbrother on the road with instructions to fill the barn, not give away the farm.

Development Dialog – Summarizing a meeting of minds at a west-end community hall

Earlier this week a group of community and development industry representatives met at the Glenwood Community Hall to discuss proposed amendments to Edmonton’s zoning bylaw and mature neighbourhood overlay.

Some material from the EFCL is available here – below are the presentation materials from a city of Edmonton open house last month, and the complete Council report with mark-ups of all the proposed changes.

I spent a good portion of the evening in what became a very interesting discussion between community and development folks regarding dialog between communities and development proponents, the benefits of proactive consultation, and acknowledging developments which contribute positively to the community through both the quality of the product and up-front discussion.

Below is a summary of the notes which I took throughout. Coming from multiple sides of the development process, I think they speak to the potential for not only positive and enhanced consultation processes, with the potential to alleviate neighbourhood concerns and ultimately create a better housing product in infill situations, but avenues to create neighbourhood plans and architectural/design themes for neighbourhoods.

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Up-front discussion between the community and proponents of a project could help to also facilitate development (addressing concerns about timing) while improving the quality of the project. A positive relationship with a community can reduce time requirements and allow uses to remain as discretionary. “Balance is the key”.

From there the discussion went it the relationship between residents and development proponents. There was a consensus that nobody wants to a product that detracts from the look of the community, that’s constructed without regard to community character or strong design standards, by someone whose interest isn’t in building a community and their reputation as a builder.

There was discussion about design standards and a general theme being established for an area through zoning. As well, it was discussed that there are already some standards in place which development officers could and should be using to encourage duplexes with architectural interest, that don’t simply have a copy/paste mirrored look.

Developers noted that one or more poor quality neighbouring projects can adversely affect one’s strategy in a neighbourhood. As well, that certainty is positive when making an investment – leaving to much poorly defined or up to the discretion of the development officer, increases investment risk.

There was also talk about ways that communities can acknowledge positive developments & consultation practices. Highlighting those that make the effort above those who disregard community concerns or are simply looking to “get in/get out”.

Edmonton Zoning Changes – low-density zones and mature neighbourhoods

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On info, data & access to

I was thinking today about a Freedom of Information request I filed a couple weeks back. Dropped $5 bucks in an envelope along with the form and sent it off to Ottawa. I’ve filed a handful of these requests in my time, but never at the Federal level.

It’s a request that could have been avoided entirely, saving me the price of five small coffees at McDonalds this week, had my MP and/or the crown corporation in question, engaged my community in a public consultation process prior to making an impactful decision- or even if response letters had been returned. Better yet, the info I’m seeking could have been made available through an embrace of the open data movement. Falling within the vein of financial and operating data that could routinely be released to public, both for informative purposes, and as a open & public performance measure.

But with less public data, and more unanswered correspondence than I’d like – I’m out five bucks and left sitting here tapping out a blog entry and wondering if a reply from the government is going to come before Christmas.

In thinking about this blog post, my train of thought went east, then veered north, so we’re going to cover two different paths to the public disclosure of government info.

First, OpenData:

 

– Provide a single-source for information and data catalogs. Don’t bury and scatter this information across government departments and obscure websites. Edmonton’s opendata catalog is great example. A single well-maintained and well-publicized entry point for individuals, businesses, organizations, etc.

– Make the process for requesting data easy and within view of the public. Take an application like IdeaScale, which allows anyone to submit and rank thoughts/ideas, and put it to use for this. Let folks openly submit requests for government datasets, let us see what others have requested, and throw our support behind them. And like the data catalog itself, do it through a central, and easy to find portal.

– If it’s FOIPed as a matter of public interest, make it public. A few years back my Community League successfully got our hands on internal documentation and process info from the selection of a route for the West LRT expansion. The entire request was a few thousand pages, some of it good for mild curiosity if nothing more. But the documentation and internal analysis from the project team was interesting and highly informative. We can and did post some of it to our website, but its reach and availability to an increased audience would have benefited greatly from the city itself, placing the documents online.

 

Government is of course steered by politics, and in politics there’s always going to be those to whom the public disclosure of information, will either be a non-priority, an annoyance, or a curse. Politicians aren’t going to be lining up to put their briefing notes online. There’s always going to be a need to actually drop a cheque in an envelope along with a form asking for the disclosure of X, Y, and Z (oh, how it would be nice to be able to do this online as well).

There are also, always going to be nuisance requests. And there are ways that those who choose to file these, can be left to their own devices in what I’m going to propose. The value of freedom of information is shown constantly in those requests which bring valuable information to light – that which informs, and that which holds those in power, responsible for their actions and decisions. These requests are not always made by a media organization with the funds to pursue information, paying those extra fees that are often charged for xeroxing and a staffer’s time, (my Community League was quoted several thousand for our request), or the platform to widely release what’s revealed.

You’ve probably heard of Kickstarter, the “funding platform for creative projects”. I’d like to suggest something similar targeted towards government prosperity. Maybe it’s put together by media groups, the child of like-minded organizations, or some form of social enterprise.

I’m not going draft any potential non-profit or corporate bylaws for it here, but here is the Coles Notes version of how I’d envision its operation. Anyone – Individual, biz, etc lays out the information they’re seeking. For low-income individuals, this is the chance to have the cost of initial filing fees covered. For others, if they’ve filed a request and have been quoted additional fees to have it fulfilled, this is where our funding platform kicks in. With interested donors covering the fee request with the agreement that the information received will be published online, through the platform.

So if there are folks out there in the media or in the non-profit sector looking for a long-term transparency project, please consider this idea open to all.

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Study ranks Canada’s freedom-of-information laws dead last

Alberta gets a ‘D’ in freedom of information audit

Planning Jasper Place – a first meeting of minds

 

This past evening, 20 individuals, residents and business owners from the communities of Glenwood, Canora, West Jasper Place and Britannia-Youngstown met at MacEwan University’s Jasper Place campus for the first meeting of the Jasper Place Area Redevelopment Plan “Evidence Team”. By the way, we’re all eager to an official confirmation as to whether or not the city is going to be purchasing the campus.

So what is an “Evidence Team”? Land-use CSI?

The overall objective is to create a shared and transparent source of evidence through collaboration between the City of Edmonton and Jasper Place community members through the creation of learning scenarios. The purpose of the learning scenarios is to understand the anticipated impacts of potential future development scenarios. These learning scenarios will be used to inform the drafting of ARP policy options and as a basis for technical studies in the second phase of the ARP process.

To break down the discussion from the last night:

What would you point out as signs of a healthy and vibrant Jasper Place?

Responses:

-Street life & complete streets – accessible to all modes of transportation with welcoming ground-floor retail and services.

-An influx of young families to preserve our community schools

-People, eyes on the street and feet on our sidewalks

-Densities that can support local business. Allow more Edmontonians to enjoy our location, amenities and connectivity with the rest of the city.

-Housing choice, to promote diversity and create options for residents at all stages of their lives.

-Destination of choice, a place residents want to stay for the long-term, or return to.

-Community of pride, where residents are proud and enthusiastic about the place they call home

-Adequate park and green space

-A feeling of safety and security

-Attractive facades

-Revitalization of empty/derelict sites

-Improved streetscapes

-Defined branding for the area

-Vibrant arts and culture

 

Some of these are the sorts of things that can be defined in a statutory land-use plan. Some are, hopefully, the end result of a successful plan that encourages certainty and reinvestment. Some are entirely in the hands of the community and it’s ability to see and partake in a vision for the area. And some are issues to be dealt with by existing tools or new ones which can be defined through this process.

So what are the definable metrics for success. How do you measure the state of community, it’s needs as well as the success of a community plan? A next step for the group is to define suitable indicators and metrics to be used. That create an informative, clear and transparent process as part of performance-based planning.

Population, density, square footage.

Attractiveness and quality of life

Another task for the group is in examining broader scenario’s for the future of these four communities. There are some past Council decisions and old policy in place for the area which is, in ways, contradictory to present policy – the municipal development, the residential infill guidelines & the transit oriented development guidelines. The status quo – transit oriented development with modest land-use changes – higher changes to the area’s built form. These are the scenarios which the team has been tasked with examining over the next while.

As for the team itself. One demographic lacking is that of parents with young families. So if that’s you, and you’re interested in taking part in helping to plan the future of Jasper Place, visit Edmonton.ca/JasperPlaceARP to get involved. As well, it’s important that all four communities are well represented, so if you’re a resident of Glenwood, please consider whether this is a process you’d be interested in contributing too.

More than just a great place to live, Jasper Place is uniquely situated as a gateway to downtown and the west-end. An ARP is just a start, a part of a future vision and while I’m exited to see how it develops, emotional and financial investment, community pride and volunteerism are going to play a large part in how these neighbourhoods develop and the way in which they’re perceived by investors, both on the business side and those looking for a place to call home. Without those, an ARP is just a planning document that may well not attract reinvestment or withstand the test of time.

State of Democracy

EDMONTON—In findings that should disturb every politician across the country, a series of new national surveys suggest record numbers of Canadians are fed up with the state of our democracy.

Worse for elected leaders, more and more Canadians believe that politicians, regardless of their party affiliation, don’t listen to them, don’t care about the issues that really concern them and aren’t willing to act to preserve and improve our democratic institutions and traditions.

Only 17 per cent of Canadians trust Parliament and only 10 per cent trust political parties.

Read the rest @ TheStar.ca

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I can’t find myself disagreeing with the results of any of the referenced studies. Anyway, I’ve hacked out some thoughts..bit of a rant on the subject of engagement, good governance and political involvement.

 

“Neuman told the delegates that growing numbers of Canadians are disillusioned with elected officials and have now turned to supporting grassroots citizen actions, such as the last fall’s Occupy Movement, the B.C. referendum on the HST and this summer’s Quebec student protests, as a way to make their voices heard.”

 

It’s pretty simple at the end of the day:

No un-returned phone calls.

No unanswered letters.

No letters advising you “to be cautious as to how you approach future communications as your comments could be upsetting to some individuals. This could delay the decision on a new school”.

No party whips, and party leaders, and party agendas to wade through.

And no bureaucratic and political hills to climb and barriers to entry, that have been built up to the point of inaccessibility for the average person.

 

These are things that don’t exist in any successful and inclusive grassroots & community movement. And for the average person who wants to be an engaged citizen, who wants to be involved and have say – these require the strength in numbers of grassroots organization to overcome.

It’s why I joined a community league. To advocate on behalf of my community with like-minded individuals, in way we could never, ever, do on our own. It’s the reason Edmonton’s community league movement was built, to provide citizens with the ability to positively affect the growth of a city in which the voice of the individual was increasingly being drowned out.

As for other levels of government….

In the provincial legislature, my community is represented by an MLA who was thrown out of government caucus for bluntly laying out the state and management of health care in Alberta. Party came first, and a decision was made behind closed doors. against our constituency, our MLA, without any consultation. And yet their smiles were warm and friendly when they came to ask for our support in 2012.

Federally, my riding is represented by an MP who is chronically disengaged, and often unreachable. What accessibility to government and policy can there be for an individual or small-group when even a simple discussion can’t be had, or an inquiry answered?

Of course Canadians feel disengaged, unheard and detached from government. Time during the day is short, our lives are hectic, and we have little tolerance for spending precious free time talking to a wall or wading through rhetoric.

But if we want something more than a depressingly low voter turnout, policy developed in a vacuum, and partisan sniping, then folks need to find the time and fortitude to go out and demand it. It’s the only way we’re going to cultivate future leaders with the will and desire to make their time in government as demanding one them and their colleagues as possible, by initiating engagement, transparency and citizen participation from the top-down.

Opportunity, right in the centre of Jasper Place

Update – The purchase has been approved by Council!

 

Second only in impact to the approval of a statutory Area Redevelopment Plan next year, in a single-effort tomorrow, City Council could be in the position of granting a substantial opportunity to the west-end and in particular, the communities of the Jasper Place area in Ward 1.

The orange building at the corner of 100th avenue and 156th street, the site of a former school in the Town of Jasper Place, has long-been a distinctive mark. It’s also centered between four communities undergoing a dedicated revitalization, across the street from the Jasper Place transit terminal, and adjacent to a future LRT stop, within an active business revitalization zone, and within an area of Stony Plain Road envisioned to be a walkable pedestrian coordinator and vibrant urban market.

A decision by MacEwan University’s board of governors in 2009, to consolidate operations around it’s downtown campus means an open opportunity for the future of the building and site.

Slated to begin construction in 2013, with a opening targeted for 2015;

The new facility will house operations for the Centre for the Arts & Communications (CFAC), which will relocate from the west end campus.


Students will remain in the west end until the new facility is complete.

Yesterday evening several interested community league’s gathered to learn more about MacEwan’s plans and possible future options and processes for repurposing the site. Officials see a likely future for the facility in serving the public in some way, and any sale will need the approval of the provincial government through an order in council.

City staff have been discussing a possible purchase of the facility for some time now. With a possible future use an “arts incubator”.

With the surrounding communities looking for an investment in local amenities, and an adjacent business revitalization zone looking to create an attractive urban market, there is opportunity here. And with a decision today, Council can move the purchase forward. An arts incubator perhaps, space for community meetings, activities and programs, or more – right next to a future LRT transit station.

The loss of an educational facility in the community need not be a loss at all, just a new direction for an accessible, centrally located facility, at the four corners of neighbourhoods with a combined population of over 15,000. Officially sponsored revitalization efforts will have ended by the time MacEwan University has moved downtown, a decision to purchase this orange icon tomorrow, could be the best way for the city to end those efforts and send the communities of West Jasper Place, Glenwood, Canora, Britannia-Youngstown as well Sherwood, Jasper Park and more, off into their future.

 

 


 

State of the Neighbourhood – Connecting our communities with local public engagement

 

It’s been just over a year now since a lack of supporting ad revenue forced the closure of the Stony Plain Road Urban Revitalization Report. The community/business newsletter with a distribution of over 15,000, serving the Jasper Place area communities, the Stony Plain Road Business Association, and for which I had the privilege of serving as editor. With local revitalization efforts, streetscaping, the West LRT, and more going on, The SPURR was a highly effective way for community leagues, and other community groups and initiatives to distribute information to the community at-large. And through Canada Post delivery, that news was able to reach apartment mailboxes, places where community volunteers are unable to deliver too.

Here in Glenwood, we’ve lost a highly effective outreach tool that we’re now trying to replace as best we can. However, the things affecting our community, from the efforts of the Stony Plain Road BRZ to the creation of a statutory land-use plan for our community, are building. As is their impact on the quality of life and the future vision for our area.

As the City Liaison Director for my community league, the question for me became – how do we connect the community with all these things that are impacting it, that as resident stakeholders, they have a right to be engaged on?

The State of the Neighbourhood

I’m a political nerd and with a U.S. Presidential election on my mind, the name sort of stood out.

Last night we held the State of the Neighbourhood at Glenwood’s Community Hall. In what I hope can become a series of events in the neighbourhood’s future, we invited individuals and representatives of:

Councillor Linda Sloan – Jasper Place Area Redevelopment Plan – Stony Plain Road Streetscape – West LRT Project – Stony Plain Road Business Revitalization Zone – The Mustard Seed

The agenda and locale for the event was simple. For three hours we opened the doors of our community hall, with one hour of presentations, and two-hours in which residents had the opportunity to view and collect informative materials, ask questions, and converse in an intimate setting with each-other and our invited speakers & guests.

As a community deeply involved in West LRT discussions, we’ve seen the flaws in ‘big-box’ multi-community consultation events. From an inability for residents to connect in meaningful ways with decision-makers, to being crammed into a building well beyond it’s capacity, to trying in vain to pose questions to few officials in too large a crowd.

With a project that’s going to impact far more than traffic patterns and transit options, that’s expected to have a transformative land-use effect, I wanted to be able to connect the community one-on-one with more than just transit planners.

This is where I see the most success in the event we help last night. The community had more than just the opportunity to connect and ask questions in a comfortable environment in their own backyard. They had the opportunity to expand the discussion. To talk in person with a planner working towards a future land-use vision for the community. To hear from and speak directly with the executive director of the local business revitalization whose work crosses over that project boundary. The future vision for Stony Plain Road is focused in a large part on people, on accessibility, walkability and related amenities. And without the hustle and coldness of a packed large-scale meeting, residents could use their feet, walk-up to decision makers and ask their questions and receive answers in detail without being rushed, or overlooked, or having to stare at the clock.

And for a follow-up. One of the biggest annoyances I’ve seen and heard regarding the West LRT project is the lack of two-dialog and follow-ups. Residents make suggestions, do as they’re requested and leave behind their notes and suggestions. Where they ultimately end-up, no one often knows. How are they considered, how do they factor into the internal city discussion, we so often just don’t know with the city’s current engagement processes. And I’ve spoken before about the failings of mass, big-box style consultation events.

This is where there is benefit in going local. In going to the neighbourhood level and with an event like State of Neighbourhood, providing the community ownership of the process. As a community league we can take resident’s questions. We can put them in the hands of decision makers with the expectation that answers will be provided, that we can publicly post and relay to the community. We can lay out our own agenda for consultation, rather than continually wondering what’s going on within the city, or constantly having to be reactive to a top-down process.

We didn’t have the largest turn-out on a cold, snowy November night. But we did have a successful experiment and trail-run. We put the future of one community, it’s residents, stakeholders and the decision-makers impacting it, in our community hall – and the end result was what I hoped it would be. Engaging and comprehensive on a local scale. And I would take last night’s event over almost all of the cluttered, loud and cumbersome consultation and engagement exercises and events in which I’ve participated over my four years as a community volunteer.

There’s of course, still a place for the large-scale distribution of information and multi-community events. But if our city wants to develop a passion for citizen engagement and participation, then let’s go local, let’s put our community halls and local facilities to use and consult and engage residents, business owners and other stakeholders, where they live – where they’re comfortable – and where they’re most likely to set aside their apprehensiveness, let their guard down and open up on how they’d like to see their communities and city grow.

UnCoordination – Edmonton’s Growth Coordination Strategy

A civic Growth Coordination Strategy, an objective of the Municipal Development Plan is on the agenda today for City Council’s executive committee. For a number of engaged Edmontonians, the draft strategy and admin report released as part of the committee agenda late last week may well be the first opportunity that they’ve had to view it. For other community stakeholders, the strategy didn’t come into view until after leaving a small group of ‘key stakeholders’ and arriving already in a draft form.

The lack of public consultation has already been well criticised. What I’ll suggest here today, is that the document we have here in front of us, falls well short of the goals established for it in the Municipal Development Plan, hands excessive discretion to city administration to carry out its action items, and while it speaks to the necessity of information in the decision-making process, it fails in that regard.

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Section 3.1.1 of the MDP established the policy directions expected in future growth coordination and the integration of higher density land uses with LRT expansion and transit centres. It encourages that a minimum of 25% (another debate right there) of housing-unit growth occur within mature and established communities. It addresses the timing and phasing of new growth in ‘developing and planned neighbourhoods’.

Furthermore, in section 3.6.1.1, the GCS is tasked with providing measures for developing neighbourhoods relating to “livability, current and future public infrastructure investment and long term financial sustainability” in order to “inform Edmonton’s decisions on future residential growth and expansion”.

 

From the MDP

Manage future public obligations and growth opportunities – Approve new growth combined with its accompanying infrastructure obligations when it can be demonstrated that the City can afford it.

3.1.1.6 Develop a growth coordination strategy to address timing and phasing of new residential growth in developing and planned neighbourhoods. The strategy will relate to the City’s strategic goals, current and future public infrastructure investment, long term financial sustainability and the amount, location and pace of population and employment growth; and will establish: Expectations for completing developing neighbourhoods – Expectations for initiating new Neighbourhood Structure Plans

3.1.1.7 The Growth Coordination Strategy will identify infrastructure and service obligations related to developing neighbourhoods and in conjunction with the Integrated Infrastructure Management Plan will outline the City’s strategy for providing this infrastructure and infrastructure required by new growth.

3.1.1.8 Proponents for a new Neighbourhood Structure Plan will seek Council’s authority to prepare the plan. The information supplied by the applicant and administration will allow Council to provide direction and permission in accordance with Council’s Vision.

3.1.1.9 Information that proponents and administration supply will include the existing infrastructure and the funded and unfunded commitment for the sector, the relationship of the sector’s infrastructure and funding to the other sectors in the City, the current population capacity in the sector, the relationship of the proposed plan to transit, the availability and timing of supportive City infrastructure related to the proposed plan’s approval and significant environmental impacts.

3.1.1.10 The Growth Coordination Strategy will address demand for land, housing units, and housing choice at the regional, city-wide and sector level.

 

And From the Administration Report

While referred to as the Growth Coordination Strategy, it essentially is a framework to identify and manage future public obligations and accommodate the growth of new residential communities through the following actions:

• Monitoring infrastructure commitments and growth indicators as specified in The Way We Grow and incorporating growth information into departmental master plans, three and ten year budget planning and long range financial planning.

• Reporting to City Council through annual growth monitoring reports, and at the time Area and Neighbourhood Structure Plans are advanced for Council’s consideration. 

• Coordinating the planning and provision of infrastructure in developing neighbourhoods.

• Communicating and collaborating with private, public and non-profit community builders to meet the physical and social/ recreational needs of new communities.

 

The first sentence from the administrative report to Council, essentially lays out the title of “Growth Coordination Strategy” as a misnomer. Where the MDP implies an active role for this strategy, in addressing housing across the city and region, and in addressing the “timing and phasing of new residential growth in developing and planned neighbourhoods”, the final product forwarded for Council’s consideration, ultimately takes an idle role.

What the strategy, as presented, does not do is prioritize areas for growth or specify directions to ensure that future growth is contiguous. In failing to do so, it loses to opportunity to encourage growth, as close as possible to existing resources, infrastructure and amenities, or to ensure the completion of developing areas prior to new develop leap-frogging past.

The strategy speaks of the need for “comprehensive and timely information”. It also speaks at a high-level about the servicing and amenity needs of new communities. But it falls short of providing detailed financial information regarding the costs and revenues of new outward development and infill redevelopment (in fact, as the strategy has developed, references to established and mature communities have fallen away). What are the costs to the city of servicing and providing for new communities; those that have been completed, and those still in the process of being completed.

The MDP specifies targets for new development, and new housing within the existing urban form. Infill development, the redevelopment of underutilized & vacant sites within established and core areas are unaddressed.

 

Reporting to City Council through growth monitoring reports and neighbourhood and Area Structure Plan applications. In addition to receiving the Annual Growth monitoring Report, Council will receive relevant growth information at the time an area or neighbourhood structure plan is submitted for their approval consideration.

Coordinating planning and provision of infrastructure in developing neighbourhoods. This will be done internally through use of consistent, comprehensive and timely information provided to all business areas of the City. The Growth Coordination committee will allow the opportunity for coordination with external development partners.

Communicating and collaborating with private, public and non-profit community builders to meet the physical and social/recreational needs of new communities. This will be done through a Growth Coordination committee which will provide a forum for ongoing discussion and information sharing of growth information well in advance of plan submissions. A terms of reference will be developed for the Committee as a first step in the implementation of the Growth coordination Strategy.

 

The strategy leans largely on the creation of a “Growth Coordination Committee”. Who will be represented on the committee? Who are its key stakeholders? What are its terms of reference? Are these decisions to be made by Council or left to the discretion of city administration?

This strategy can be a success. It can help prioritize and guide future growth, it can support redevelopment within mature communities, and can actively guide the creation of housing option and density targets across the city. It can be rebuilt, which means it needs far more input and work than can be done within Council Chambers. This document should be sent back, and ‘its redevelopment’ should begin with a strong public involvement plan and a comprehensive group of key stakeholders. Speakers can line up at a Council meeting to speak to this 5 minutes at a time, but a document like this, which has such importance in fulfilling the goals of the MDP, both it and the public deserve much more than that.

Not sure when the plows are coming? There could be a couple apps for that.

Residents unhappy with snow removal as windrows block in their vehicles – Global TV

“There was no notice at all that this was going to happen,” said Allan Garber, who lives in the Westmount neighbourhood.

From the video – “If they could have a policy that everyone knows, one side of the street then other, east-side then west-side..so people know what to expect.”

 

Now admittedly, nothing here is going to solve the problem of reaching out to residents without internet connectivity, although it could, if future temporary signage for neighbourhood announcements is of the cellular-based digital variety.

On the city’s open data website, you’ll find the new ‘citizen dashboard’. Launched this week, it pulls from the growing open data catalog to present info in an accessible, easy to use, easy to read format. And behind it is that catalog, with a mass of raw data in various formats. Including the static, snow-clearing schedule that still lists my neighbourhood as having been completed, two days before it actually was.

Not something particularly useful for those folks in Westmount.

So, on to those apps. Let’s start with the open source, web-based, Shareabouts. A crowd-sourced mapping tool. It’s perhaps more well known for it’s use in bikeshare programs, but for a few examples of it in action:

 

Make Brooklyn Safer – Mapping dangerous intersections

City of Portland – Potential bike share locations

And demos:

Describing community assets

City park usage data

 

The usage here is to create an interactive, neighbourhood by neighbourhood breakdown of actions following a snowfall event. Accurate and detailed timelines for clearing can be maintained. Plow drivers can post updates, on the road and as they enter neighbourhoods. And as per the gentleman’s comment in the news report, the city can even go so far as to let residents know when equipment in entering the neighbourhood, which sides of the street are being done first, and update their progress as it’s happening. And residents can respond by pointing out trouble spots and areas in need of attention, or even commending a driver on a job well done.

And of course, other applications such as Google Maps could be utilized in the same way. With the usage and implementation of these apps, definitely not being limited to snow removal.

The city is on the way with open data, now it’s time to embrace interactivity and grow the Edmonton’s digital presence with us as residents, accordingly.

You Shall (not) Pass – A winter-time look at making Edmonton more accessible for all

I’d like to spend a few minutes here talking with you about snow removal. No, I’m not going to mention my thoughts on how, based on this city’s recovery from the last major snowfall, I think we probably would have been shut down by another major snowfall this week. Nor am I going to mention the ruts like canyons, that had folks on my street pushing stuck cars, over a week after the major blast that kicked off winter. Go out and buy snow tires folks, seriously.

It’s not able bodied folks who can push a stuck sedan, or navigate a windrow, or drivers with three-season tires which are marketed for four, who are left in the lurch in my community now that the plows have been through the neighbourhood and the snow pack scrapped away.

Based on the personal experiences of my family, I’ve said before that the fastest way to become imprisoned isn’t to commit a crime, but to suffer an injury or illness that robs you of your mobility and independence.

As a healthy, mobile individual there’s nothing in these pictures which is an impediment to me as a pedestrian. And if I didn’t know, or have someone close to me who’s lived with and battled mobility issues, who requires the use of a wheelchair to travel more than short distances, I might well just walk on without giving this scene a second thought.

But I think of my elderly neighbours who don’t own a vehicle, who maintain their independence by walking to neighbourhood amenities and utilizing public transit. And I think of that person close to me, to whom this streetscape may as well be a solid wall. To individuals like these, Edmonton’s “Snow and Ice Control” policy can sometimes be as cold as the season.

So if we’re serious, actually serious about reducing auto dependence, and encouraging the accessibility of the city to all forms of transportation, and making this city livable for everyone, then let’s bring policy C409G up to par, and utilize smaller equipment in our neighbourhoods to finish the job left behind by graders and plows.

This doesn’t mean making the clearing of sidewalks a city responsibility, but it should mean that following a snowfall event, the city puts on itself the same obligation to clear its streets and rights-of-way, that it puts on residents and homeowners to clear sidewalks surrounding their property.

It means using smaller equipment to remove windrows and the snow pack from crosswalks and pedestrian connections, as well as following along after a neighbourhood has been bladed, removing the newly created windrows from the paths of those on foot, with strollers, and whose mobility is bolstered by using canes, walkers, etc.

I can point to several individuals in my neighbourhood who, through their business endeavors, own bobcats or similar equipment (one of which, whose generosity in clearing these connections on his block was rewarded with a fine). Folks whom I’d bet would jump at the chance to be contracted and utilized by the city to provide this service in their neighbourhoods.

Things that are taken from us by injury, illness, or simply the march of time, are magnifying. Something which becomes a roadblock to a friend, a relative, or someone we just passed on the street, can be invisible or simply a mere annoyance to you and I.

The way we recover from a snow fall in this city could certainly be better, but for civic politicians and city administrators, when contemplating and planning the city’s response, remember that it isn’t just cars that get people from A to B, and utilizing public transit takes more than just a clear bus route.

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Via CBC News Edmonton

 

 

*ability, Oxford and Edmonton – A green neighbourhood with an auto obsession.

My volunteer life has taken a turn towards looking at walkability, and the accessibility of neighbourhoods to all forms of transportation and all citizens, regardless of their physical abilities. It’s through that lens that I find myself looking at north-west Edmonton’s Oxford Neighbourhood. A suburban community, with the city as it’s developer, aspiring towards “mandatory environmental standards and sustainable development”.

At least, for the built-form of it’s homes.

“Homebuilders for the 87 available lot spaces are required to meet eco-friendly guidelines for conservation and energy-efficiency including achieving a minimum EnerGuide rating of 78 or be certified to Built Green Silver standards or equivalents.” – CTV News 

Oxford’s Residential Design Standards for builders and lot owners.

But for a city in which walkability, bikeability, and ability to reduce auto dependence are increasingly on the minds of many residents, and seemingly with the support of a number of city policies, directives, and statements – how does Oxford fit in.

Well – It’s a suburban development. There are no back lanes and “attached double front garages are required”. The sort of design that leads to a cluttered, vehicle dominated streetscape and certainly limits the ability to have treed boulevards separating pedestrians from traffic. The subdivision has a suburban block style, but there are walkways to provide pedestrian connections. A larger question could be what amenities, and supporting densities are planned for the eventual, large-scale neighbourhood build out that would support a greener lifestyle by allowing residents to do more close to home?

Appreciating the environment standards which the city has set for the community’s homes, there a larger issues at play. And with the city assuming the role of developer, I would expect, and would have expected that a push towards greener living include local streetscapes which are friendlier to people and their bikes and feet, rather than their cars.

Awards Night – The best and worst of infill

I want to spend a few minutes here talking about infill development. And I want to do so without digging into the details of the Municipal Development Plan or forthcoming Growth Coordination Strategy (although I don’t why I bother bringing it up since it doesn’t do much to mention mature area redevelopment or coordinate much of anything), or the mass of changes city staffers are proposing for the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay and several residential zones.

Infill can very much be described as being a case of the good, the bad and the wrapped in grey vinyl siding ugly. We don’t do much to acknowledge impressive infill projects, architectural interest, family-friendly amenities and the use of desired & durable materials. There isn’t much acknowledgement to be had for engaging with a community early, being willing to adapt, to respond to feedback, advice and criticisms, and creating a better project as a result.

Cool and innovative, a square box wrapped in vinyl and built to minimum code, or something in between, it’s time communities and a city looking to redevelop and densify, helped to put some space between them, if only ceremonially.

Call it; The Mayor’s Infill Awards as decided upon by Edmonton’s Communities.

As a mature neighbourhood resident, I want a way to acknowledge this. It’s not everyone’s favorite design of course, but I love its design along with its architecture and materials. I very much appreciate that its builder, happens to be the only developer in the community, who in my three+ years as a community league volunteer, proactively reached out to the league and to the neighbours to discuss its design and any potential issues.

It deserves some recognition, the chance to stand out on a larger scale than just the block face.

So what are the metrics for deciding award winners. Design, architecture, materials, and public consultation to be sure. But meetings and the end product certainly aren’t the be all and end all.

Another infill project here in Glenwood. This one wasn’t built by the original owner who rezoned the property. This property was home to a typical small bungalow, which at the end of its life became a drug house, a victim of a fire, and then it sat, an empty, derelict mess for well over a year. The community pursued every channel currently provided by the city to have it remediated, including an appeal to Council to make its clean-up a prerequisite to rezoning. We were certain the property, despite being rezoned for redevelopment, would sit as is for some time. Council disagreed, and in the end we were right, unfortunately. The lot was eventually flipped and redeveloped. But if it had been a product of the original developer.. deserving of a Razzie, imo.

A duplex on 163st nearing completion. It’s a pleasing design, built by a developer who’s been responsive to contact from the community. The removal of the older home and clean-up of the site was done in a timely manner, and construction in a tight environment and along a busy road has been done without major disruptions.

Another duplex in my community, built not for resale but by a family to stay close under one roof. It’s been referenced by other developers to gain community support for their projects, although their end products didn’t resemble it in the slightest. It’s look and feel, it’s amenity space, it’s integration with the character of the street and community deserve acknowledgement. I can see folks in Glenwood singling it out as an example of desirable infill development.

It’s been awhile since the words “no more crap” were uttered. Why don’t we take some time and encourage communities to single out the best builders and redevelopments in our mature communities.

 


 

Warmer than you think

Edmonton adopts winter city strategy

Is Winter City project best use of $362,000 in tax money?

Sorry, I can’t stand the cold

Ben Henderson wears a funny hat … (and winter city launches in Edmonton)

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When it comes to seasons, I have to give a fist bump to Fall. Not just because the colors enhance the look of the city or because the flying,buzzing, blood-suckers are on their way out and it’s safe to sit in the backyard without the OFF. I like it because I’m not a summer or a winter person. I’m not a fan of hot weather, my house doesn’t have AC and my office is upstairs where it seems every molecule of hot air eventually rises to. Winter? It’s obviously easier to warm up than to cool down, but shovelling and 5pm sunsets? Bah!

Fall, for that oh so brief amount of time where it’s not too hot, not too cold, and the sun waits until after 7 to disappear, that’s just right. I suppose the same arguments could be applied to Spring, but Fall doesn’t flood my driveway every year.

So, Fall. Great season, lots to like but oh so short. Summer? We’re the festival city, there’s always something going on. Why people choose to take their vacations and leave town during our sunniest months, I don’t get.  Spring, meh. But Winter…What do we with you?

You chill us, you impede us, you make us annoyed with the place we call home. You can make us forget about positives of this place, and four -30 days per year can feel like four months in our memories. Something we seem to instantly recall in any conservation we find ourselves in regarding the weather here. Yes Winter, you give us community and backyard rinks, skating, skiing, skidooing and snowboarding, but…it’s cold! It snows, and shovelling is a pain. The City’s snow clearing is never fast enough, sidewalks can resemble those skating rinks, no one with mobility issues should have to treacherously navigate a windrow to access public transportation.

Winter, at the end of the day, you’re a force of nature, unstoppable & unmovable. So do we do with you?

As a city, our basic needs come first. Yes we clear our roads, with a substantial budget to do so. But what about all the aspects of urban life? What about public transportation, what accessibility for pedestrians and determined cyclists. What about helping and protecting the most vulnerable during the most difficult months of our northern climate?

Beyond that, what about ourselves, our collective morale and spirit during the days when light is short and cold (and colds, the result of hunkering down inside) are easy to come by? Yes, the city (and this Edmontonian certainly appreciates the effort his City has made to provide outdoor activities) has had mixed results with Winter fests under it’s direction. But is that the only source of winter activity, winter fun and interaction? Heck no. Not with countless community leagues, community groups, business associations, etc in operation across our city.

This is the ‘why’ for a winter strategy. This is why, while you’re free to take any position you wish, including giving a “Bah! Humbug!” to whole thing and the WinterCity strategy’s aspirational, maybe even fluffy language, I’d ask you, my fellow Edmontonians not to begrudge the ‘try’.

Debate, discussion, and a committed focus on the winter season need not be a narrow focus on festivals and events, or the costs involved. Our core services and a helping hand to residents in need perhaps stand to benefit the most. Edmonton has a number of agencies, boards and committees, their seats filled with interested and engaged Edmontonians. Their work is often quiet, behind the scenes and without the recognition it most likely deserves, but these folks, these outlets help to build our city. Whether it’s providing advice of the status and growth of the Edmonton Transit System, in advocacy for persons with disabilities, or in honoring people and places by using historical names within the city.

For individuals out there who want to tackle winter head-on, then I say the WinterCity Strategy is a great start, and an advisory council and other related avenues, a great place for them. Go out there and build capacity in those grass roots organizations to hold winter festivals and events. Explore innovative ways to build urban amenities that are attractive in all seasons. Go out and experiment, find ways to improve the accessibility of our infrastructure during the winter months, and liaise with social agencies and service providers to help protect those who need protection from the harshness of our climate.

The budget request to help life this off the ground is not unreasonable, the avenues to explore are plenty, and the optimism and aspirations of “For The Love of Winter”, as a city… let’s run with it and see what happens. When it comes to winter, we won’t be able to see we didn’t plan for it to the best extent possible, and didn’t get outside to make the most of it.

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Edmonton WinterCity Strategy

Of Infill and Absolutes

This afternoon at a public hearing, City Council referred a bylaw which would have made a number of changes to the Zoning Bylaw and Mature Neighbourhood Overlay, back to administration and a January 28th Executive Committee meeting. You can grab some analysis on it here.

Got home and and felt inspired to hammer out some thoughts on infill development, absolutes, the planning process in our city’s mature communities, and perceptions of it.

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Second only perhaps to Cell Towers, few discussions in the realm of civic politics can draw out absolutes and straw man arguments like infill development & redevelopment. It easily becomes a realm where wanting a transition between higher-densities and existing housing stock can easily, and it does, become rebutted with generalized statements about communities opposing redevelopment.

Take for instance the proposed large site rezoning proposed for the Malmo Plains community, recently highlighted by the Edmonton Journal. City Administration took the rare step of recommending that Council refuse the application on the basis that the proposed tower would be an unacceptable intrusion on the surrounding homes, “without being sensitive to any form of transitional housing densities between this use and the existing developments”.

The site is heading back to Council’s agenda later this year with an application for a new Direct Control zone and a doubling of the proposed densities. The proposed transition in the new application is in regards to townhomes, 3 1/2 storeys in height. There Is a request by the community to lower their height by a storey to better integrate with the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay and the surrounding homes, an attempt to cease development. No, it appears to be a reasonable compromise by a community that accepts higher densities and sees the opportunities for it, but desires solid planning.

This morning City Council voted to refer a series of changes to the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay and the RF1-RF5 residential zones back to city administration and a January 28th executive committee meeting. A desire by Councillor Sloan to hear from the 13+ registered speakers before sending the bylaw away was denied.

Were the 13 community representatives in attendance opposed to redevelopment in their neighbourhoods? Of course not. We choose to call these communities home, and for those taking the time out of their day to appear at city hall, the motivation is very clearly not to stop development or freeze investment in their neighbourhoods.

In fact, I look to my own motivations and combined with what I see from other passionate community advocates is a strong desire to invest in our communities. As volunteers our investment is in sweat as we look to revitalize amenities which allow us to live locally without being dependant on the use of a vehicle, and to preserve our community schools. A symbiotic relationship which requires new housing stock for seniors in need of more supportive housing options, and young families looking for a place to call home.

Little is accomplished by referring to a desire for consultation or debate as opposition to development. Nor is much done by foregoing a detailed planning process for a tunnel vision on units built.

From the proposed amendments on today’s Council agenda, is it good planning, for example, to forgo the character of the block to allow new home setbacks which could well result in reduced sight-lines which hinder the good planning that comes from crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED). Are some of the proposed small lot regulations going to provide the homes/amenity spaces desired by young families looking to live in the urban core?

These are the detailed discussions to have going forward. It’s not resistance to redevelopment, it’s a desire to see planning which will lead to desirable infill development, and multiple units which can attract a market which right now is finding its housing stock in the suburbs. Fighting sprawl and the continual development of new neighbourhoods to the outskirts of the city, making more efficient use of existing infrastructure, and encouraging reinvestment in mature neighbourhoods requires buy-in from all sides; communities, builders and buyers. The time spent on good planning, and the political will to balance all sides can be time consuming, but it shouldn’t be played down or disregarded as a nuisance. There are productive discussions to be had which can well lead to great long-term gains.

I hope the coming discussions on these, the proposed MNO and zoning changes, serve to prove that. But it won’t happen if those, with whom decision making power resides, treat this process and the coming discussion as a check mark on a list of things to do on the way to executive committee and eventual approval.

Planning JP

The process to develop a long awaited Jasper Place area redevelopment plan is finally set to begin. An ARP was identified as a key priority for residents of the Glenwood, Canora, West Jasper Place and Britannia-Youngstown communities during the development of the JP Revitalization Strategy, approved by Council in 2009. After a lobbying effort by community members, and with the budget time support of Councillor Sloan, funding was finally allocated to begin.

Revitalization of Residential Areas
The study area includes areas of older housing, in need of rehabilitation. Many property owners have been reluctant to
undertake home improvements, because of the uncertain future of the area. The Jasper Place neighbourhood is undergoing
renewal, since Council reaffirmed its future in 1980, as a single family area. East Glenwood, however, has not experienced
revitalization, despite its designation as a Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program area in 1983.

Changes in Land Use
The 100 Avenue Corridor was an area in transition when the zoning freeze was imposed. Single family housing was being
replaced with low-rise apartments, and commercial development along Stony Plain Road was spreading south into adjacent
residential areas. The freeze suspended this process, and left a mix of incompatible land uses in some parts of the corridor.
There is a need to establish a clear direction for future land use changes in the area, once the zoning freeze is lifted. The
upgrading of 100 Avenue to an arterial roadway, and its connection from 163 Street to 170 Street and Highway 16, will
increase commercial development pressures in the area.

The above quotes from the 100th Avenue Planning Study, approved by Council in 1986, show the issues affecting the area and the need land-use planning and revitalization in the area are not new.
Jasper Place 2012 Edmonton Census Results
As of the 2012 municipal census, with over 7,500 dwelling units, the JP area is now home to over 16,000 residents, with the largest of the four neighbourhoods, Glenwood, being home to over 5,000.

The growth of the Jasper Place population is also going to be affected by, and will to an extent, eventually reside with Transit Oriented Developments.

The Transit Oriented Development guidelines, approved by Council in February of this year, designated the three future stops along 156st & Stony Plain Road, as “neighbourhood” stations and are currently being used by Council and Administration to evaluate zoning application within 400 metres of each.

200m, 400m, and 800m distances from the proposed LRT stops along 156 Street. The guidelines currently apply within 400m of the station areas.

City of Edmonton – Transit Oriented Development Guidelines

The Stony Plain Road Business Revitalization Zone is active along the commercial strip between communities. Community Leagues exist in all four neighbourhoods, and the Jasper Place Revitalization and the Friends of Jasper Place Society are active across neighbourhood boundaries working towards goals of revitalization and building community pride and involvement in the area.

The process, as outlined by City Administration is aimed towards a completion date in winter of 2013. Planners are currently looking for area residents, interested in joining the project’s “Evidence Team”
Jasper Place ARP Evidence Team TOR
This is a long awaited, long desired step in planning for change & revitalization in a growing area. An area with the potential to be a hub for the west-end and rich in amenities and housing options for a current and growing population. It was great to see residents from the four communties, turn out en masse this past Tuesday to learn more about the project. That level of interest will need to be maintained to ensure the best possible outcome. The four communities are connected, yet unique, and as such, it’s so important that individual contributions from each, be represented from beginning to end.

Anyway, this was just a quick rundown on what’s happened to date. I’ll have further information and commentary on the subject in a week or two after posing some questions to the planners involved. Four more info, you can visit Edmonton.ca/JasperPlaceARP

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And that’s that..for today anyways.

It’s important, vital, for a municipal council to have a vision for the future of the municipality under their care. It’s also equally important that they don’t take a header off the financial cliff chasing it. Today City Council was the adult in a room, absent Daryl Katz, as it sensibly voted to cease negotiations with the Katz Group.

About this time last year, Council expended a significant amount of political capital agreeing to a generous financial framework which included a Community Revitalization Levy + $80 million from other sources, an ask to the Provincial Gov for $100 million, up to $25 million for a pedway across 104 ave, an estimated $7 million for a community rink, $20 million for a marketing agreement, $20+ million for land purchases, with the City borrowing to construct the arena with the Katz Group making their contribution at $5.5 million per year over 35 years.

Council and the Mayor agreed to this without verifying the financial claims of the Katz Group. Without analysing, or as Seattle is doing, auditing the books of their prospective business partner. Without verifying, themselves or through City Admin, their partner’s financial claims.

A process conducted largely in camera and with private verbal reports, without due diligence providing all the facts and figures to city negotiators and civic decision makers, it’s well open for abuse or manipulation. Which indeed happened with the Katz Group playing down the importance of the tentative financial framework, the agreement reached in New York, while advancing claims of a struggling business model which not only required the naming rights but the entire revenue stream of the facility to be sustainable, while continually refusing to reveal it’s finances to the City; The majority investor in the project. And of course there may have a childish trip to Seattle somewhere in between.

The front door was open, the public, the media, and a Council which has been more than generous in moving this forward was there today waiting. Instead, rather than appear and move the agreement forward, the Katz Group offered a rhetoric filled letter offering no specifics or concessions as it’s response.

 

Motion approved by Council this afternoon.

1. As a result of Mr. Katz letter and unwillingness to have an open discussion with Council and the frustration of the Interim Design Agreement, all negotiations, and ongoing City work related to the October 26, 2011, framework be ceased immediately.

2. That administration provide a report, as soon as possible, to City Council to report on the completion of the cessation of negotiations, and the status of the City’s current, transferable investments in a potential downtown arena project.

3. That Administration provide a report outlining a framework for Council to explore potential avenues to achieve the long term goals of sustainable NHL Hockey in Edmonton.

 

Last year’s financial framework, or for that matter, any further negotiations, and spending on the arena design and process, should never have occurred without verifying the Katz Group’ finances and financial claims. Whether the Oilers are a profitable venture, or a failing business model in need of external and public subsidy to carry on, civic decision makers absolutely should have been provided the information to know one way or the other.

Today’s decision, ceasing further negotiations is the responsible course. Yes, it might well have been avoided with a dose of sunlight and due diligence some time ago and along the way, but Council can’t roll back the clock. It’s something for future Councillors and candidates to learn from. The next step, it’s Katz’, and it starts with transparency on the front steps of City Hall. Anything less is probably just a letter to the editor that’s bad for the blood pressure and Katz’ remaining support on Council.

Transit Bucks

Council set to privatize southeast LRT line – Edmonton Journal

Federal threat forced approval of P3 for LRT, group claims – CBC News

As a community volunteer in the west-end, for several years now, the route for West LRT expansion and it’s engineering and design phases, were and are a big part of my volunteer obligations. The following are some of my thoughts on today’s news cycle and the P3 model chosen to build, operate and maintain the ‘low-floor’ LRT system from the west-end to the south-east.

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So just what are the implications of a P3 agreement that leaves maintenance and operation in private hands for an LRT line that will be retrofitted into and operated within city streets, transecting vehicles, intersections and pedestrians from the far west-end to Millwoods? A decision made without any public discussion, without any dialog between, Councillors, city admin and the public & affected communities; barring anymore investigative reporting we’ll probably just have to wait and see. An unacceptable approach for a project of this scale and impact.

Turning over the handling of maintenance and operations as part of the agreement most definitely should have gone out to the public for consultation. This isn’t, nor should it be some all or nothing proposition between building it anyway, at any cost, or not at all. A multi-billion investment that’s meant to transform land-use and transit modes from one end of the city to the other has to be done right. To do so, the devil is in the details from design to operation.

What does it mean for communities and transit riders, when the system isn’t governed by the City and ETS? Does it mean the possibility of two different fare schedules? Does it mean a lack of coordination between connections with the bus network and high-floor lrt systems? Does it mean potential difficulties in coordinating maintenance, repairs and upgrades between a private operator and ETS and the Transportation Dept? Does it mean reduced or alternate trip frequencies as compared to the public, ETS operated system?

This decision needed public consultation prior to being made. And the public deserved the opportunity, if we didn’t like what we heard, if we felt the Federal Gov was forcing this decision on our Councillors, to push back publicly, call our MP’s out and onto the floor, and let Councillors make a decision with public support behind them. As with many things however, with the bulk of the decision made, any public consultation is likely to be superficial at best, and our CPC MPs (who one increasingly wonders whose interests they represent, us or the PM’s) skirt the issue and fly under the radar.

Council put forward a date and asked for Daryl Katz or a rep from the Katz Group to appear before Council and explain it’s wants and it’s position of funding for the arena project. Perhaps Council should consider doing the same with our local MPs. With more and more of Canada’s population migrating towards urban centres, I certainly wouldn’t mind hearing their thoughts and positions on funding transformative urban infrastructure projects.

 

Tower Over Me

City council at odds over cell tower bylaw

“We get a lot of push back from communities,” he said. “But I haven’t heard of anyone giving their phones back.” – Stephen Mandel

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I spent my morning at City Hall for the Exec Committee discussion on cell tower policy, helping to give the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues’ presentation. In that vein and based on some of the comments made by the Mayor and members of Council, I’ve got a bit of a rant to go on:

We all need a roof over our head. And we have policy and bylaws to manage built-form, land-use and public consultation. Wanting these processes to be clear, consitent, and enforced by the powers that be doesn’t make one a hypocrite, or opposed to housing in Edmonton.

We need roads and sidewalks in our communities. And when rebuilding them through neighbourhood renewal, the city has a process to consult with and hold a dialog with the community on the work being undertaken. Wanting that process to exist, and to be a part of it sure doesn’t mean that residents want that work stopped or held up.

We all put trash out, but it’s disposed of properly. Not say, dumped at the end of an alley where if you come out to complain, someone is there to say “Hey, it’s your trash. What are you complaining about?”.

Because you have a cell phone, or a tablet, or an air-card, or plan to use one or more in the future, it doesn’t mean that you’re out of place asking that your municipality have a clear and consistent plan to address land-use & consultation in it’s response to demand for cell tower locations and their integration and design. Even though, yes, the City does yield the final decision in the process to Industry Canada. It’s not “NIMBY” or an attempt to “slow the process” to ask that the most local form of government give this issue that same consideration and attention that it does to other local infrastructure, amenities, and other forms of land-use. That the policies involved be consistent, navigable, and that they don’t provide civic administration with overly broad discretion to alter the process as they see fit.

I hope to see a higher level of debate when this issue returns for a final decision.

/End rant