Can of Worms!

Can of worms WSE

— Mike Cole-Hamilton


What Happened at City Council This Week and What Does it Mean?

Here’s what we saw and heard.

What happened?

Council approved a motion for staff to “enter into discussions” with ABNA (Doornekamps) for a land swap in which ABNA would move the stone section of he Outer Station from Montreal Street into Doug Fluhrer Park, and in exchange give some waterfront further north by the Woolen Mill. The motion also calls for “appropriate consultation.”

What does it mean?

Moving the station is not a done deal and is not within the city’s purview: it is governed by the federal Historic Railways Protection Act. First, ABNA has to work up a “feasibility study or plans describing all planned alterations to the site following its transfer or sale, while ensuring that the Principles of conservation are met.” CN sends that to the Minister of the Environment, who passes it on to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board for review. In due course, the HSMB reports back to Cabinet, who decides whether to approve or not. The criteria are quite strict. There has to be public notice when the application is filed, followed by a sixty day window for public feedback. The purchaser must commit to respect the “heritage character of the station as identified in the Heritage Character Statement” for the building. The HCS emphasizes the heritage value of its location and all of its three parts.

It’s also not a done deal in that Council did not approve the move. They allowed staff to enter into discussions. Any decision to do the land swap would have to be approved by Council at some future date. Clearly, the mayor and staff and a number of councillors are in favour of the move. Maybe some of you are too. However, there remain a number of questions:

•why Fluhrer Park, when ABNA owns other land it could use?

•what actually is the value of the land around the Woolen Mill, when it is waterfront that couldn’t be developed?

•what is the net gain/loss for users of the park, habitat, etc.?

•what implications does this have for the WSE?

•what about the park planning process, which did not say anything about an office or condo building in the middle of the park (any more than the Memorial Centre plan allowed for a new school building on the site)?

•why is it appropriate to take a building of heritage and potential redevelopment value from the north end, which has so few, and move it downtown, where there are already lots of historic buildings?

•and what about the heritage value? According to accepted current heritage planning principles, moving or cutting up a building divorces it from its actual historical social and economic use. Wouldn’t parachuting it into the middle of what was a railway yard and turntable but not the location of a station be a kind of “theme park” history?

It will be very important for Kingston residents to insist that “appropriate consultation” be understood broadly to include us. Luckily, there is time.

What Happened?

Council referred the Industrial Lands Report to the Planning Committee and the updated Transportation Master Plan to the Environment, Infrastructure, and Transportation Policy Committee.

What Does it Mean?

Councillors concerned about sustainability issues seized the power of delay. The Industrial Lands Report is based on presumptions about development, transit, and so on that need to be studied further. Read it, and tell councillors what you think! The same is true of the TMP. Contact us if you have ideas about how to reimagine approaches to transit that could get the car count down. Not only is that necessary in itself, it will be necessary to find ways to lower traffic projections in order to get the WSE off the books. Planning meeting date TBA; EITP is 6 pm, April 14, City Council Chambers. Be there!

What Happened?

Council deferred discussion and possible approval of the CAO’s report about the WSE until after the TMP comes back to Council.

What Does it Mean?

The report contained a recommendation for a new Environmental Assessment for the WSE. On March 3, Council asked staff to report back in May on the “scope of work” to explore alternatives. We take that to mean that Council wanted essentially the terms of an RFP or request for proposals that would go out to consultants, sketching the scope of possible alternatives to be studied. Staff wants an EA, focused on the WSE, taking account of alternatives, presumably better than the 2006 EA did. We agree with a number of councillors that an examination of alternatives and a new EA are not one and the same. In any case, the recommendation is now stalled. It is a bit unclear to us at present how things will proceed. Maybe staff will have an extension on the May deadline. That isn’t necessarily bad. The CAO and Mayor are insisting that the only way to study alternatives is to have a new EA, but we don’t understand why that would be the case. It could be to our advantage as the terms of EAs now require more attention to social and environmental factors than they used to, but we’re not sure yet.

In any case, community members need to think specifically and seriously about what alternatives we can imagine. They include the emphasis on transit as described above. They include assessing effects and costs of “opening up the grid” around the Tannery Lands. What else? Council needs a second opinion or peer-reviewed assessment of traffic needs in Kingston going forward, from experts who understand both sustainability and traffic. But in order to get that, they and staff have to imagine some starting points of alternatives for consultants to consider.

We hope this summary is useful and look forward to hearing from you about how you see things!

— Laura Murray

Staff Report to Council: Not Good Enough

This is the letter we sent to Mayor and Council yesterday. The report will be either accepted, rejected, or deferred at Tuesday evening’s council meeting.

Re: Wellington Street Extension Report #15-208

We are writing to urge you to reject this report for the following reasons:

1) The first recommendation is not in keeping with Council’s motion of March 3. Council advised staff to prepare a report for May to define the scope of exploring alternative transportation solutions for the Inner Harbour in place of the WSE. Council asked for the opposite of a new EA for the WSE.

2) The report contains a number of omissions, questionable assumptions, incorrect facts, biased and misleading statements and exhibits. It does not constitute the “comprehensive report… that provides factual information of all aspects directly or indirectly related” or “provide full transparency” stipulated by the March 3 council motion. It does not acknowledge any of the critiques of or alternatives to the EA proposed publicly over the past few months.

Below is a summary of some of the most serious problems with the report.

Throughout, the report fails to present evidence for its defense of the WSE. The WSE is presented as “critical infrastructure” (263) and the only way to provide a “functional transportation network” to enable densification (269). These claims are unfounded, as alternatives are not explored. Many of the report’s claims about the necessity of the WSE are purely speculative. For example, it states that “further remediation and re-development of… sites… such as the Davis Tannery Lands… will in part be dependent upon improving access and capacity…. without the significant improvement to the existing road network, the re-development potential of the Inner Harbour area could be significantly constrained” (10). The report implies that removal of the WSE would lack “land use planning rationale” (11), without actually saying how or why. It says that revised models for the TMP “re-confirm the needs justification for the WSE” (13) when alternatives have not been considered. The report does not contain a justification for the northern section of the WSE, other than vague claims that it “is required to permit access and service some of the lands” (19). There are many other examples of this sort.

The list of key bullet points on p. 264 is only focused on negative impacts and contains unsubstantianted presumptions. For example, claims are made that:

o   not building the WSE would “reduce the city’s ability to effectively revitalize the Inner Harbour area.” In the absence of further study, this is not known.

o   development of the K&P Trail is contingent on the WSE being built. This is a choice, not a fact.

o   improvements of Fluhrer Park are contingent on the WSE being built. This is a choice, not a fact.

The report claims that the Fluhrer Park revisioning exercise “demonstrated that the park use, the cycling active transportation and the WSE can co-exist” (263)  and celebrates “significant public involvement and input” (269) when in fact persistent opposition to the WSE was a defining element of the public meetings.

More generally, the report celebrates ample public consultation in a number of contexts without acknowledging that the public has repeatedly been blocked from discussing the WSE in consultations. For example, the agendas and terms of the Fluhrer Park consultations were insistently resisted by members of the public who did not wish to discuss park revitalization with the WSE in the picture. More recently, at a Waterfront Master Plan meeting, the public also repeatedly raised opposition to the WSE. Similar things happened at Transportation Master Plan public meetings. The city has been actively and consistently blocking public opposition to the WSE.

Repeatedly, the report ties alternatives to or challenges to the WSE to the WSE, so as to create a general but non-logical sense that the WSE cannot be escaped. This is an unprofessional sleight-of-hand. For example, the report claims that “Public Policy has identified a new north-south arterial road as necessary to significantly improve pedestrian…access to the downtown core” (267). Seriously? It claims that “smart growth… will result in the creation of a higher volume of automobile… traffic within the downtown” (272), which depends entirely on how you define or imagine “smart growth.” The report states that “without the tools to encourage private investment… the City will be under considerable pressure to expand the urban boundary to accommodate growth in the next 20 years” (273), but it does not consider any tools other than the WSE.

The report attributes material to the EA that we cannot find there. It claims that “the EA addressed … why a setback less than 30 metres is appropriate” (269). In our extensive reading and rereading of the EA, we do not find a justification for the overriding of the required “ribbon of life” setback from waterfront. It also describes rationales for the EA’s dismissal of the one-way street solution (276) that we never found.

Despite its insistence that the “PPS policies should not be separated and read in isolation of one another” (269) and that “the overall purpose and intent of [the Official Plan]” must be considered rather than individual policies within it (270), the report does not manifest objectivity, and is biased against green and sustainable perspectives. It contends for example that “transportation corridors require significant long term planning… to protect the future uses and once gone would be disruptive to property owners and extremely expensive to replace.” The same ought to be said for waterfront, parkland, and habitat, but the only descriptor used to describe the affected space is “transportation corridor” and that is the only risk that concerns the authors of the report. The report speaks vaguely of “expensive local road improvements” (273) without acknowledging the far greater expense of the WSE. And so on.

We look forward to a report in May, based on current planning practice and an imaginative approach to the future of our beautiful city, that will define work to be done by consultants to reassess need and, if need is confirmed, develop alternatives to the WSE. Only if the alternatives are prohibitively expensive or clearly inadequate will an expensive new EA have to be done at all.

Sincerely, Laura Murray, Anne Lougheed, Mary Farrar, and Sayyida Jaffer
for WellingtonX

Planner Refutes EMC Opinion Piece

Bill Hutchins wrote an opinion piece last week which was patronizing towards opponents of the WSE, characterizing us as emotional and neglectful of the facts, when our March 24 Council delegations (remember Justine Scala’s impact talking about compelling evidence of changing driving habits?) were based on studies and data. In a letter today, Sarah Minnes, a planner, responds quite brilliantly. Thank you Sarah! Pass her letter on!

Council Takes A Step Towards Cancelling WSE

This is the motion passed unanimously at Council last night:

Be It Resolved That:

Expenditures towards the acquisition of land and construction of the Wellington Street Extension (WSE) southern section (from Montreal/Railway Sts. to Bay St.) be halted effective immediately, until further direction from council;

THAT staff be requested to prepare a comprehensive report for the March 24, 2015 Council meeting that provides factual information of all aspects directly or indirectly related to the wellington Street Extension including but not limited to, the Official Plan, the Transportation Master Plan, the Development Charges Background Study and By-Law, the Employment Land Review, the K & P Trail Project, the Doug Fluhrer Park visioning exercise and property interests such as 9 North St., for the purposes of informing decisions and to provide full transparency on the matter; and

THAT staff be requested to report back to council in May 2015 with the scope of work, timelines and budget required to explore other potential alternative transportation solutions in place of the Wellington Street extension and address current and future traffic flows in the area to further inform council on the matter; and

That the staff analysis of potential alternative transportation solutions in place of the Wellington St. Extension be presented within a demonstrated framework of and in accordance with the principles and values contained in the Official Plan, the Kingston Sustainability Plan, the Parks and Recreation Master Plan, and the Kingston Climate Action Plan.”

The motion represents a compromise negotiated among Jim Neill, Jeff McLaren, Rob Hutchison, and Bryan Paterson. Hutchison’s original motion, proposing to take the WSE out of all planning documents as posted previously on this blog, was opposed by developers and by the mayor, who holds that changes to the Official Plan must be preceded by public consultation, or otherwise be vulnerable to challenge at the Ontario Municipal Board. Paterson proposed a replacement motion consisting of the middle two clauses of the motion above, stating, “as Mayor I have an obligation to safeguard the interests of all residents and to advise Council on the possible ramifications of the motions we support. In this case, there were several possible legal ramifications for the city if we supported that motion. Councillor Hutchison and I have spoken and agree the best way forward is to find a compromise.” It is unclear to us how real these legal threats are or were. However, it seemed politically impossible at this time to go ahead with the original motion. Realizing that Patterson’s substitution took out more of the original motion than was justified by legal concerns, Councillors Neill and McLaren proposed the addition of the first and last clauses, above, which stop expenditures on the road, and insist that staff take into account the “principles and values” of various planning documents.

There are many pitfalls here, and a longer fight ahead than we might have hoped for. The emphasis on “balance” and “compromise” amongst councillors was a little disconcerting in that compromise usually means status quo. Views of the “principles and values” of policy documents will vary. But we think the momentum has shifted against the road. In delegations, At the meeting, Justine Scala was absolutely brilliant in helping councillors imagine a world in which not everybody wants to drive; Mary Farrar sketched a vibrant and enticing vision of the inner harbour; Laura Murray showed shortcomings of the EA and urged councillors to put into practice the sustainability emphasis of city and provincial policies. Rob Hutchison grilled Director of Engineering Mark Van Buren on the basis for the suddenly reduced estimated price for the extension. The answer fell far short of convincing. Several councillors spoke eloquently about the need to stop the road; Peter Stroud was especially memorable in his plea for a balance between “green infrastructure” and “grey infrastructure.”

Thank you to the many people who wrote letters or otherwise participated in the struggle so far. Stay tuned for the next stage. We will all need a little stamina for this, but we will win it.

— Laura Murray, Sayyida Jaffer, Anne Lougheed, and Mary Farrar

Tonight’s the Night!

Let’s pack council for a very important meeting. Though the mayor and developers want to slow the decision right down, councillors are fighting back to send a message that this road is inconsistent with Kingston’s values and policies passed in the years since the WSE Environmental Assessment (2006). So far we are told 122 letters have been received by councillors against the WSE, from across the city, and 8 letters have been received in support of it. That’s pretty compelling — a ratio of 15:1! (Not to late to add another though!)

Here are just a few excerpts from a few of our most recent eloquent writers:

“Surely it is possible to come up with a transportation plan “Made In Kingston,” unique to our needs — one that offers developers reasonable access to possible development areas, allows for better traffic flow to and from downtown and aligns with the City’s environmental goals.  A plan that also saves tax dollars for more urgent needs! The Wellington St. Extension is not a 21st Century plan.”

“Rather than putting noise pollution, visual pollution, air pollution, social disruption, and runoff which will create water pollution in the most beautiful part of our neighborhood, couldn’t we just let the wildlife ( and the locals, me included) have a space of our own? Thoreau told us, “In Wildness is the preservation of the world.”  The traffic definitely has other options.  The ospreys and the foxes are much more limited.  And we who live here would be made to suffer for the supposed convenience of others.”

“As a teacher at a school in this neighbourhood, I have walked with my students to this park numerous times to do movement in the park, participate in nature scavenger hunts, sketch, have drumming circles, and take photos. My students look forward to these mini field trips, as many of them do not have the opportunity to spend time in nature with their families and caregivers.”

“Scrapping the plans for the Wellington St. Extension would be a legacy for this council that many, many Kingstonians would applaud.  This kind of decisive, responsible action in response to clear and informed citizen demand would indicate that this council is listening to the people of Kingston and is committed to creating a safe, sustainable and vibrant community for all.”

“The real traffic issue downtown are the intersections onto or off of Ontario Street; Princess, Tragically Hip Way, the ferry traffic, and the WSE solves none of these. We all know that parking is an issue downtown, but you don’t address that problem by trying to encourage more cars. The money needed to complete the WSE would be so much better spent on a waterfront walkway and bike path that reached from DF park to the downtown core, and would enable access to any future Tannery land developments (which can easily be made accessible by reopening River Street). Even winter maintenance of the existing path would be an improvement. If the city put just a little effort into Emma Martin park, updating the “playground” (one slide and four swings) and fixing the benches, it would be a huge draw for families in the area and could be a boost for business in the Woolen Mill and the nearby studios. A proper cafe or diner in the area would make a killing.”

How could councillors not listen to such varied and compelling testimonies? We hope they will. Thank you all, and see you tonight.

— Laura Murray

Local Business Owners Speak Up

Hello Mayor Paterson and Kingston City Councillors,

My brother, Michael, and I are writing to you with respect to some concerns we have over the current proposed development of the Wellington Street Extension, as not only do we operate a growing retail business in the area (which is effectively located at the corner of Cataraqui Street and the future proposed Wellington Street), but I also live on Rideau Street nearby with my growing family. We are deeply invested in this part of the city, and we care very much about the kind of smart, sustainable development here that will see us well into the future. Those of you who were present at the council meeting last summer to discuss an alternate and more favourably appropriate fate for the Bailey Broom Building know that we are passionate about the promise that this area of Kingston holds, and it is our sincere hope that we can have the same kind of collaborative and progressive dialogue with Council once again around creating an alternate and more favourably appropriate development of Kingston’s last stretch of undeveloped urban waterfront – what is currently called the Wellington Street Extension (even the name lacks creativity).
There is much dialogue circulating in the community about the inconsistency of the current proposed WSE with Kingston’s Official Plan and Provincial Policy Statement, about the cost of development and wether we will actually see a meaningful return on investment, about whether the WSE will actually even alleviate automobile congestion downtown by adding a waterfront expressway to bring more automobiles, and whether this development strategy from decades ago is even relevant any longer. While these are all valid points that all seem rather self-evident, we would like to focus in on the impact that the kind of development currently proposed for the WSE threatens for local business owners and residents like us.
A major part of any business strategy, and certainly for a retail business like ours, is bound up in identifying and creating the elements necessary to entice people to your place of business and to keep them there long enough to facilitate an exchange. As such, spaces need to be planned and developed that create the appropriate pace in order for those business opportunities to happen. People need to be able to walk, bike, visit shops, linger in spaces, and have incidental meetings with others. James Howard Kunstler, in his book the Geography of Nowhere, calls this “creating spaces worth caring about”. This does not happen at 70 km/h; it does not happen with spaces that are planned and developed with the automobile in mind rather than people; and it is bad business for us to persist in the dying paradigm of designing public space for the movement of cars. It is neither innovative nor responsible, and it does not connect us to our history or to who we are as a community. The kind of development that the current proposed WSE would only succeed in creating is something that future Kingstonians would look back on in embarrassment and resentment (because they would have to pay to have it fixed) the way we now look at the currently unfortunate state of the rest of city’s waterfront.
Other cities in Canada and all over the world are realizing their past development mistakes of urban plans designed for the benefit of cars rather than people – for creating streetscapes rather than humanscapes. Portland, Oregon tore up roads to revive their street car system, and that city has never moved better; Oxford in the UK actually closed off their city centre to cars, slowing the pace and making it more pedestrian and cyclist friendly, and they actually saw a sharp increase in their local economy because if it (this successful model is now being adopted by others); Copenhagen is a vibrant city that is renowned the world over for its considerate urban planning to the point that it actually attracts tourists because of it (when I was there just last year, they were proud to announce that they had the most cyclists per capita in the world); and expensive waterfront causeways in cities such as Toronto, Boston, Niagara Falls USA, Rio de Janeiro, San Francisco, Madrid, Soeul, NYC, and more all the time are being converted at great cost back into appropriate humanscapes for greater long-term benefit.
Michael and I are not originally from Kingston. Instead, we chose to locate in Kingston because of the promise that this city holds to become the kind of city that people from other countries would want to come and experience, and as such would lend itself to the success of our business and allow us to enjoy living in such a great place. What currently sets Kingston apart from many of these cities that are removing their waterfront causeways and updating their urban planning objectives is that we still have the opportunity to avoid and learn from their mistakes. We have the opportunity to take advantage of our many rich natural and heritage resources and, together, to re-imagine and create something better for ourselves.
As we were with the City Council that had the foresight to correct our direction and re-imagine the potential of the Bailey Broom Building, we would be really proud of a City Council that would have the foresight to correct our direction once again and proceed to scrap the current proposed WSE in favour of re-imagining a new plan for the smart, sustainable, and ultimately profitable development of that space into an urban space worth caring about.
We look forward to seeing you all at Tuesday’s Council meeting to continue the dialogue together.
ps. A link to a short presentation by James Howard Kunstler that underscores this discussion currently being had in the USA.
Many thanks and all the best,
John and Michael Sinclair
Living Rooms, EcoLogical Living + Building