Port Place Mall: council approves short term, short sighted compromises

Frank Murphy — June 24 2010
At Monday’s Council meeting the development permit for the Port Place Mall was approved unanimously. If, like me, you’re confused as to what exactly that means, know we’re not alone. Councillors also seemed very unsure of what they were voting on.

Councillor Sherry indicated he was in support of the project in part because it would provide more residential units downtown. Phase 1 as far as I can tell doesn’t include any housing. The north side of the new strip mall  between Nicol and Front will have a second storey of offices.

Councillor Pattje, whose support for this I find especially puzzling, seemed to indicate that there had been sufficient community consultation and the the proposal was much better than what it is to replace. He asked the developer representative, who he mentioned he’d met with over lunch, if he saw a problem with the privately owned road proposed. The reply: not from our point of view, though of course it won’t be as wide as a city street.  Councillor Pattje also was unclear on what had changed in the development permit application, apparently and not surprisingly, because neither Council or the public had been given sufficient time to review the latest version. (It wasn’t available until Friday afternoon on the City’s website.)

I wonder how we’ll like a privately owned road in the heart of our downtown when the owner puts speed bumps on it, restricts access to it and starts to remove from it the “undesirables”.  The city has offered this access road on private property as a reason they support this project. Imagine using this narrow connector as cars back out of  the angled parking in front of the stores. You don’t have to imagine though, you can go to First Capital’s Terminal Park Mall to see what they have in mind.

Councillor Kipp mildly chided staff for too often giving Council complex information on issues to be voted on without sufficient time to study it and weigh its merits.

Reference was made to a veiled threat by Thrifty’s and London Drugs to pull out of the downtown if this mediocrity didn’t get the blessing of the Planning Department and Council. A flimsy basis for such an important decision indeed. In small cities all across the continent expanses of parking asphalt are being renewed successfully incorporating retailers large and small. The key ingredients: vision and political will. Both in short supply here it seems. The key element: no expanses of surface parking.

The system and its protocols have failed us badly here and further damage has been done to our downtown.

As I mentioned in earlier posts I asked archictect Franc D’Ambrosio whose firm the City contracted to develop the Downtown Urban Plan and Guidelines for his views on these redevelopment plans. He said he was surprised and disappointed that he had not been asked by the City or the developer for his input. He suggested that the compromises being made here were accommodating a private sector economic priority over the public interest of the city as a whole. And that somehow the owners of important sites like Port Place Mall must be convinced that they must take a longer term and broader view of the impact their businesses have on the host city that they choose to consider as a market for their wares and a place to park their customers cars.

Short term, short sighted compromises have been made here at the expense of what’s in the best long term interests of the city as a whole. Council and the Planning Department have failed us here.