Council Decides: Neighbourhoods and Development

Ron Bolin —  August 8, 2010
At a public hearing on July 10, two items were of particular interest to me for different reasons. I described one of these items in a posting here on July 11: “What Price Progress”.  At its Monday, August 9, Council meeting at the Shaw Auditorium starting at 7pm, Council will give their decision on these and other matters.

Since that time Council has been prevented by legislation from receiving any input from anybody on the issues which were dealt with at that public hearing and thus have had a month to consider them in the splendor of their isolation.  Their decisions on Monday should, therefore, represent their true and carefully thought out concepts concerning their roles in representing us, their constituents.

The primary issue which I raised in my July 11 posting dealt with the application for a multi-family development on Hillcrest Avenue on a parcel zoned for single family residences.  In the best organized presentation that I have seen at a public hearing, the local homeowner families pleaded that to allow this single lot to be rezoned for multi-family would destroy their neighbourhood.  This presents a classic confrontation between the many neighbours who asked in person, by letter and by petition that the rezoning be denied and the one developer who lives elsewhere and wishes to cash in on the neighbourhood.

In “What Price Progress” I wrote of some of the issues involved which will be decided on Monday by our Council. How they deal with this issue will tell a story.  In my opinion if the time is ripe for redevelopment in this area as Staff seems to think –and change does come over time to neighbourhoods as to individuals- then the only fair way of dealing with it would be to rezone the entire area so that all current owners, and not just outside block busters, get the benefit of the rezoning.

The second issue raised at the hearing which I fixed upon was not unique but happens all the time and provides a focus for its discussion.  This relates to the amount of time which is given to developers and others to perform the service which, by their request for rezoning or related decisions, they purport to undertake.  Decisions of this nature can add millions to the value of a developer’s holdings and, when the approved plans are carried out in a timely manner, can also be quite valuable to the municipality.  But how much of our future should be gambled on such ventures?

In the case of the rezoning which has been requested to permit a high-rise development on the Port Place Mall site, the only time frame that I heard for the development of the high-rise was 15 years.  Should we be mortgaging the cities future 15 or more years in advance?  Shouldn’t we be providing specific time frames for our approvals which would require developers to be more circumspect about their requests and preserve for the public the freedom of an unseen future?  Defined and foreseeable time frames of say, two to five years, should be associated with city grants of development rights to preserve the city’s interests as well as those of developers who whould need to use it or lose it.  Developers are important and valued players in the life of any community, but we should be working with them and not for them.

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