The council came in almost half an hour late, hot off their “Special Meeting” that began at 3. The public council meetings are often late to start after these “Special Meetings.”  Do they play Rummoli in Conference Room A? Do we have secret superheroes amongst us that call these meetings on a red telephone to discuss henchmen and darkness?

As if to make up for the late start and the awesome efficiency of the Ellsworth led meeting last week, Mayor “Doc” O’Keefe moved this snow day council along with swiftness of heart. There were no proclamations and there was no bullshit. There was also almost no disagreement through the entire 30 minutes. Missing were Cllrs. Galgay and Lane. Hmmmm.

Parking Lots Unlimited 

In a weirdly prescient move, my editor cut a paragraph in December about removal of a bylaw restricting the size of parking lots. Due to a technicality, the vote at that meeting was moot anyway and it had to be re-voted on this week. So here is that re-relevant clipping from the cutting room floor:

  • City bylaw will no longer restrict parking lots that are unattached to a building to under 0.5 Hectares. (this limit could already be breached by technicality by building multiple “separate” lots next to each other and, according to staff, “parking is determined by use of land” and getting rid of the arbitrary .5 hectares was “housekeeping.” This was precipitated by the proposed development of an airport adjacent Park and Ride lot.
  • O’Leary raised concerns about not having a cap at all as, while it made sense in this particular instance, no cap on parking lot size may not be in sync with the goal of creating a more dense city.

Broken Metres Policing

  • Puddister suggested the city not be so “heavy handed” with ticketing when metres are out of commission downtown. With parking along Water and Duckworth Streets “at a premium,” He questioned the wisdom of moving towards bagging broken metres and then issuing tickets to anyone who parks at a bagged metre, especially if “we have [up to] fifty metres missing” at times.
  • Puddister also won every parker’s heart saying that if you call 311 after you put money in an unmarked broken metre they should, instead of telling you to move to another metre, note down the metre number and you should not get a ticket.
  • Hickman looked waaaay into our distant future and said wistfully, “someday we will move forward to the columns where you buy a ticket and put it in your window.”

Commander Ventures, A Bad Neighbour, is Denied Re-zoning in the Styx.
But Downtown, Put a Bird on It and Mayyyyybe.

I know everyone likes the bullet points for the council meetings but this story looks more like a serpent eating its tail. I shall, however, do my best to de-convolute:

  • Commander Ventures, whose name I did not make up just to validate my Superhero fantasy from the intro above, applied to rezone 265 Brookfield road from Rural Residential Infill (RRI) and Rural (R) to Commercial Industrial (CI). They did their Land Use Assessment Report (LUAR) and city staff recommended a “yea.”
  • But Commander Ventures have multiple complaints against them as the property owners of that site already (ooooh, maybe they’re more super-villain?); According to the Decision/Direction Note for the Planning and Development Committee there are “several active complaint files for 265 Brookfield Rd. Additional concerns raised include noise, unsightly property, environmental and flooding concerns, and overall safety for children.” Dear lord the children!
  • At the council meeting, at Cllr Hann’s request, Mr O’Brien (Chief Municipal Planner, who signed off on the Direction Note) verified that there were outstanding legal issues with the property owners. For example, they installed a culvert on an existing waterway without getting a permit from either the city or from the Department of Environment. There is “an open legal file” on it.
  • All the councillors expressed concerns. Puddister, who chairs the Planning and Development Committee, in fact, moved to reject the recommended rezoning. He noted particularly that given the history of complaints and the fact that, once re-zoned, the owners could develop anything legally allowed within a commercial zone, and not just the proposed one-story building, this seemed like a time to side with the wary neighbours.
  • Legal staff then reminded council that, though there are open legal actions, rezoning is supposed to be considered independent of those.
  • The motion to deny rezoning carried unanimously. Clearly the known complaints and violations played a part in the decisions though it was not strictly following procedure, just common sense, for that information to influence.

And but so….

  • Commander Ventures (I cannot say that name enough) is the same company that owns the parcel of land on Nunnery Hill downtown that was, last fall, given the go-ahead by council, as at 265 Brookfield Rd., to proceed with a LUAR (with only Cllr. Galgay objecting). Here too, their end game is re-zoning, though this time for a denser residential designation for a proposed multi-story, 14 unit, condo.
  • According to Cllr. Breen, the originally proposed nunnery hill development (seen here) “was approved by the Built Heritage Experts Panel, and they [BHEP] made some recommendations with regards to the colouring of the exterior, so based on that, [Breen doesn’t] see any reason why, if the developer wishes to proceed, that they shouldn’t be able to move forward with a land assessment report — at their own cost — and go to a public hearing so that we get feedback from the public.”
  • So far so good. But one more issue brought up later at today’s council meeting, outside the context of Commander Ventures or 265 Brookfield Road, pulls this whole serpent back together; Cllr O’Leary stated, once again, that she believes it is “imperative” to have direct council representation on the BHEP. She said the committee was doing great work but, for the sake of “long term thinking” and to “get partnerships and to preserve and promote” one of our biggest assets as the “oldest city in North America” there should be a councillor on that panel. Otherwise they are not “having conversations of broader visions at the experts’ panel level.”
  • Mayor O’Keefe rebutted O’Leary’s assertions (as he has before) by reminding her that the city’s review of committees recommended that the BHEP remain wholly a panel of heritage experts, free from other considerations, who deliberate on their own and then send completed recommendations to council. [note: the agendas for the BHEP meetings can be found online but the minutes from those meetings are not up on the city’s website]
  • Okay, so it is not a simple self-eating serpent, but more like a hydra biting at a parasitic rash on its back. But it is a great example of the way municipal politics operates in a small city. The rules are not not followed, but decisions are clearly not made in a vacuum or made based solely on city code, best practices and experts’ recommendations, as seen with 265 Brookfield road. Everyone knows things about everyone else and every business is everyone’s business. That knowledge can be helpful or prejudicial; it can be both.
  • You don’t have to be a time travelling private eye to see the pinned strings running through the room connecting all the dots. In a place this small, all information is integrated, if, as O’Leary is requesting, that integration be built into the system, it may be easier to track it and hold it to account than if everything is nominally kept cleanly separate and then everyone makes decisions based on what the neighbours said anyway.

Inclusion I Our Only Hope 

  • Hann wished everyone a happy Chinese New Year…. in Chinese! Mayor O’Keefe coloured himself, “very impressed.”
  • Not to be outdone on the welcome float, O’Keefe congratulated the city for the strong show of support “for our Muslim community on Friday” when hundreds of people stood outside the mosque in solidarity. Not only was it the right thing to do, but it is “a part of our strategic direction to build communities and encourage inclusiveness and immigration… [we hope it will] motivate more people from around the world to come here and become a functioning and positive part of our city and our province.”
  • As an island nation (insert waving pink white and green here) facing slow, possibly negative, population and economic growth, we may be better off building an underground railroad than a large scale hydro project.