One of the messages that came through loud and clear at Tuesday night’s special meeting of Council was “Stick to the Plan.” The form that infill and intensification should take in Kingston, especially downtown, is on everyone’s minds. Delegation after delegation stood up to say it’s not the city’s responsibility to prop up developers’ bottom lines. Nor do residents have patience with development proposals that demand considerable relief from the zoning bylaws and the Official Plan.
We in WellingtonX agree that we need to respect policy as we plan our city, and yet we have some qualms about the “Stick to the Plan” message because, after all, the Wellington Street Extension is in the Official Plan. We should be able to change the Plan; we should be able to remove old and outdated ideas like the Wellington Street Extension; and then once we create an Official Plan that’s right for our city we have to be able to count on it.
A year ago we believed that City Council was poised to remove the Wellington Street Extension from the Official Plan, the Transportation Master Plan, and the development charges bylaw; instead, we were handed a complicated, expensive, and lengthy process by which we might, just might, be able to remove the road from policy documents. Every time we have tried to have the Wellington Street Extension removed from a policy document, we are told it’s not the right time. It’s an interesting juxtaposition: getting this road — which is not consistent with good planning practices — out of the OP is an enormous challenge, whereas it appears far less difficult for developers to be granted OP amendments and relief from the zoning bylaws in order to build something which does not mesh with the city planning documents.
In previous Official Plan consultations, WellingtonX and others have repeatedly defended the necessity of the “ribbon of life” buffer of undeveloped land along waterfront. On Tuesday, Manager of Policy Planning Greg Newman highlighted “infill and intensification” and “the ribbon of life” as two of the three local concerns he’s had the most public feedback on. While Planning agrees with residents that we need clarification of policy around intensification, Newman said that it’s still not clear to staff whether the language around the “ribbon of life” needs to be tightened up or made more flexible. We were also told that things said in public meetings will not be included in the question-and-answer-matrix that Planning is compiling for release with the third draft of the OP update. Finally, Commissioner Lanie Hurdle cautioned Council that OP revisions involve all stakeholders, including the development community (which tends to be conspicuously absent at public meetings and is supportive of the WSE).
It’s a struggle to remain confident that the update to the Official Plan will reflect the planning principles and desires of many Kingston residents. There is still more time for public input (in writing!) and we hope our allies for a liveable city will help us keep the full range of issues in play, including, yes, the Wellington Street Extension. The “Stick to the Plan” message could be powerful, but we’ve got to be sure we have a plan worth sticking to.
— Anne Lougheed