Notes From the Rafters: 14 September 2020

How is the democratic process supposed to work? If we’re cavalier about limiting offline public engagement, we risk de-prioritizing full and fair democracy.

B’y-Election Update

As of lunch time last Friday, the Election Coordinator had sent the candidates an email saying, as per provincial health guidelines, that “individuals should not be engaging in door-to-door activities. Individuals participating in door-to-door activities are likely to come in close contact with a large number of people, which is not keeping with the principles of social distancing.” Some candidates then cancelled their planned weekend canvassing. Some went ahead anyway. Noseworthy posted pictures of his canvassing door-to-door Friday afternoon and through the weekend. It looks like this is a recommendation (as opposed to an enforceable legislation) but it is bound to affect this election unfairly.

Even if everyone follows it, it would certainly give established candidates (those who are coming in with a history in politics) a huge advantage as the choice becomes a known quantity over various “unknowns.” This is a ward with many residents living without easy access to regular internet. Not to mention our literacy issues. So how is this democratic process supposed to work? Is it supposed to work? Many candidates have mentioned that they want to represent the most vulnerable of our ward. How can they do that if they cannot even introduce themselves?

Hopefully radio can fill some of that gap. May local shows make extra room to bring on all the candidates at every opportunity so we can get to know our options, tech-access or not. 

The Meeting:

(Cllr Hickman Absent.)

Parking Requirements to Fit Every Hole

60 O’Leary Ave is getting an auto glass repair facility. This made the city realize they never specified how many parking spots an auto glass repair facility warrants. They looked to the 8 spaces required for “Manufacturing Use.” This lines up with the Light Industrial Use parking requirements in the draft Envision Development Regulations so should require no jigging once that is in place.

No one could recall the applicant’s name and so that first free plug most businesses get in council minutes is forgone. This council must hate small business. Quick! Everyone write about it in a long facebook post!

It’s Our Rainy Day! 

The Executive Summary of the Revenue and Expenditure Report lays out the city’s $13.9 million cash surplus. Councillors unanimously agreed to keep it in reserve as we can all agree they will need it through the next two years of budgeting. Breen mentioned the trifecta of Snowmaggedon, COVID, and the dive in oil prices as the triple turdburger we will need millions of dollar sauce to choke down over the next two years—though Breen referred to it, perhaps more elegantly, as the rainy day fund for our monsoon.

When the Levee Breaks We’ll Have No Place to Play (Tennis)

Apparently Rennies River Flood mitigation efforts have stalled out a bit… which seems about right since I have never heard about any efforts. While the city continues to re-wade through bollocks to get to the identified first priority (a weir at the outlet of Long Pond initially recommended in 2014), they voted today to go ahead and admit that may not happen if it hasn’t happened yet and move on to some second tier priorities: berms along Rennie’s River between King’s Rd and Portugal Cove Rd. There are a couple of options here but the one that has the most pros and the least cons (and involves the least eminent domain-ing of property and ripping out of massive trees along the iconic and much loved stretch of the river trail) involves a few berms and allowing the Feildian Grounds and the Riverdale Tennis courts (and some back yards along Empire Ave) to be part of the floodplain. It would, theoretically, protect all houses. A more thorough berming could protect the Empire yards as well but would render them moot as it would ruin the very attraction that makes them special.

Cllr Froude moved to defer any vote on this “alternative project phasing” for a few weeks until the affected residents could be more fully informed and engaged. Which seems reasonable as—given the delays to the weir—I doubt the berms are mounding themselves any time soon.

The motion to defer passed with only Cllr Korab voting against. I think he has an issue with deferring anything on principal. He is like my mom playing cards, clapping her hands and yelling “Bed’s the place to sleep!” as we try to think or breathe before discarding. 

No Large Design is Too Average for Approval and No Heritage Residence Deviation is Too Small to Quash

  • 331 Water St, once constructed, is allowed to let the BMO logo go inches over the normal heritage guidelines. Normally I wouldn’t even mention this but from the drawings submitted I just realized this new building will block the view from the side rooms of the Hotel at Blue. Which is a small thing, but I would like to take a minute to mourn a gritty city view I really enjoyed each time I holed up at Blue for a night of Fake Prom front-loading and hangover lolling. Also the new building looks like it will be so boring we will all be asleep before our eyes travel high enough to notice an extra 10 inches of logo.
  • 172 Campbell Ave will be designated a heritage building. Korab wanted to say he thinks this is very positive and that “172 Campbell Avenue is an excellent surviving example of an early to mid-20th century single-detached structure, built in the Colonial Revival style of architecture. The structure is one of the last remaining original dwellings in this area that was developed at a time when the City was expanding away from the downtown.” Which was a stunning thing to hear from Korab’s face, until I saw those exact words in the agenda and realized he was reading it.
  • Metal roofs will be allowed in heritage areas, but only if they are faked to look like shingles. Solar panels will also be allowed as long as you cannot see them from the street. God forbid your roof look badass or show itself to harbour green energy. One resident argued for allowing batten-seam metal roofing but heritage denied them. Boo! Hiss! Batten-Seam4Eva!
  • Stand alone pharmacies will now be either permitted or discretionary use in many more zones in the Development Regulations. Basically, anywhere that a clinic is allowed, a pharmacy will be too. This should help make the clinics more efficient and enhance walkable access to necessities in residential neighbourhoods.

The Decks of a Sinking Ship

Cllr Hanlon moved to extend the end of deck season from September 30 to November 1 2020. All leases for those restaurant/bar/pub/cafe decks and patios built on city land (i.e. parking spaces) will automatically extend through October. The ones on private land (most outside of downtown) will depend on whether they applied for a year round permit or a seasonal permit. Bets on how Duckworth and George are going to yell at Water about this?

The Parish Hall and Whether We Get to Fight About It in Person

Changes to the proposed development at 68 Queens Rd mean a new round of public meetings. Cllr Burton argued hard for at least one of those meetings to have an in-person option for members of the public who do not have online access. She was supported by Cllr Froude and Deputy Mayor O’Leary. She was not supported by everyone else. There will be two virtual “public” meetings. Staff will look in to Burton’s last ditch mitigating recommendations:

1. That at least there could be a satellite of the virtual meeting, perhaps at the library, for those without their own ability to connect online. 

2. That the city establish an accessible phone line (perhaps a prompt on the main 311 line for leaving feedback on development proposals).

This brings us full circle to the by-election update I started with. If we are cavalier about limiting offline public engagement, we risk de-prioritizing full and fair democracy. I, for one, am tired of hearing from everyone with a ready screen and a keyboard (myself included). 

We will end on several upcoming road closures around the Bannerman Park area due to filming of Rex and something called The Surrealtor which, apparently, has to do with selling haunted houses. I do not think we, as a city, shall regret this one.

Photo by Graham Kennedy.

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