Diluting wishes of 400 people by introducing word “flexible”

When it comes to strong and comprehensive planning regulations designed to protect and preserve Kitchener’s older, established neighbourhoods, I don’t like weasel words like “flexibility.”

Which is why this downtown councillor joined Coun. John Gazzola to recently oppose a recent change to an important planning policy document titled Residential Intensification in Established Neighbourhoods (RIENS).
After more than 400 residents attended RIENS public meetings and expressed their views, a consultant and city planners brought the RIENS study to council with a recommendation protecting older communities from development that could have a detrimental impact on the existing character of any street. Key points of the recommendation included heights and setbacks of any proposed new house in order for it to fit into an established street character.
When council heard predictable objections from developers and some councillors, that word “flexible” surfaced.
After Planning Committee Chairman Paul Singh and Community Services Chairman Bil Ioannidis declared conflicts of interest and didn’t vote, council unanimously voted to accept the RIENS report.
But Mayor Berry Vrbanovic along with Councillors Sarah Marsh, Kelly Galloway-Sealock, Yvonne Fernandes, Scott Davey, Zyg Janecki, and Dave Schneider also voted in favour of an added recommendation.
It said: “That additional flexibility be explored for building height and front yard setbacks through the city’s upcoming Comprehensive review of the Zoning bylaw (CROZBY).
When I unsuccessfully argued against the added recommendation, I emphasized council risked creating justified cynicism after encouraging more than 400 people to participate in RIENS only to dilute their wishes with use of that waffling word “flexible.”
Pro-development supporters of the added recommendation insisted council could include flexibility as planners reviewed zoning requirements in CROZBY.
No doubt. But when “flexible” rules are applied, what will be the impact on established neighbourhoods?
Perhaps when CROZBY comes to council, some of the 400 RIENS participants should attend the meeting and pose that question.

Posted in Neighbourhoods, RIENS | Leave a comment

Time to get off our butts on low-cost housing

You would never know it but affordable housing has been one of Kitchener council’s top six priority items for at least three years.

And while the city has been delaying planning programs that will encourage creation of low-cost shelter, we have fallen behind Cambridge and other Ontario municipalities that, to a lesser degree, include Waterloo.

I would suggest two things that should encourage Kitchener to fast track a low-cost housing program that, sigh, will likely still take one or two years to fully implement.

The first involves being ready to take advantage of $12.6 billion in federal cash that, later this year, could be directed toward affordable housing. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities and mayors of large Canadian cities including Kitchener’s Berry Vrbanovic have been pushing Ottawa on this urgent issue.

The second has to do with soaring, local property values along and near the LRT route.
I’m already seeing situations where, as property values increase, low-income tenants including scores of newcomers and refugees are being squeezed out of redeveloped buildings.

This will increase the 3,000 names (at least 10,000 seniors, children and adults) languishing for years on a Waterloo Region list for low-cost housing.

We need to work with regional government to embrace incentives that include density bonusing, municipal fee exemptions, property tax grants and delayed payments of development charges to boost construction of low-cost shelter.

And while some councillors bleat about Kitchener possibly doing more than its share of low-cost housing and fret about loss of income created by incentives, I intend to push council and staff to stop waffling and give greater priority to low-cost housing.

It’s time to get off our butts on affordable housing projects that should be spread throughout Kitchener and Waterloo Region.

Posted in Homelessness, Light Rail Transit, Low-Cost Housing, Neighbourhoods | Leave a comment

Reaction to Trump and Muslim deaths make me glad I live in Kitchener

Following the horrendous slaughter of six Quebec Muslims partly enabled by racist words from a U.S. President, I was grateful to live in Waterloo Region during such a sad, depressing week.
Deeply troubled, I’m proud of local actions and responses witnessed during recent days that included the following:
– Hundreds of residents coming together at city halls, universities and mosques to protest the senseless shootings, provide caring support for local Muslims and urge that love replace the type of hate seen south of the border.
– Waterloo Region’s uniformed police chief voicing that support and hugging random Muslims in the crowd outside Kitchener city hall.
– Municipal leaders joining Muslim and other religious representatives at local events to share the overwhelming grief felt across Canada.
– A spontaneous singing of O Canada when the mike suddenly quit during the vigil at city hall.
– A statement from the regional chair and seven local mayors who said, in response to the mosque shootings and Trump’s crackdown on immigration, that the group stands together to foster a sense of belonging and ensure our area embraces newcomers and remains a welcoming place.
– Painful, touching comments from local Muslims including Fauzia Mazhar, chair of the Coalition of Muslim Women of K-W, who said Trump policies that target Muslims encourage, help legitimize and foster an environment of racism.
– A Prime Minister who, faced with the Trump travel ban on Muslims, declared Canada will remain open and inclusive to all nationalities
– The shivering little girl with the flickering candle among those at the rear of the crowd as I walked around  the Kitchener vigil.
I very much wanted to thank her for being there. But I couldn’t talk.

Posted in Democracy Ward 9, Giving thanks, refugee crisis | Leave a comment

Conflict over Kitchener councillors’ potential $55,000 lawyer allowance

Read it and weep as council strums the budget blues

During recent sessions, councillors faced the unpleasant but necessary prospect of raising costs of storm water by 9.2 per cent, sanitary/sewers by 10.8 percent and water by 7.6 per cent. On top of a 1.75 inflationary hike to property taxes this represents a $117 tax increase for the average homeowner.

Surprisingly, alongside a few special-interest groups, not a single average homeowner showed up at Monday’s budget debate organized to receive public comment.

Next Monday, Jan. 23, we will once again bemoan the fact that, in order to help replace Kitchener’s aging water and sewer pipes, large and painful annual hikes are necessary for the next decade. Depending in part on help from higher levels of government, it could take many more years to catch up on our infrastructure deficit.

And while we have little control over such essential items, we do have a symbolic say over a new proposal at the final budget meeting that could, depending on individual councillor use, provide up to $55,000 a year to help pay potential legal fees. The amount would be used any time a councillor preparing to vote seeks legal advice on whether a conflict of interest exists. Currently, any regional councillor can claim a similar $5,000 for advice.

Unlike some fellow councillors, I will argue against any such allowance on Jan. 23.
A staff report shows that since 2010 individual councillors have declared anywhere from one to 54 conflicts. Many were repeat declarations on similar matters and I would argue that, without need of expensive legal advice, councillors know when they have conflicts.

While I am certainly critical of Ontario’s conflict legislation governing municipal councillors, I think, instead of subsidizing legal fees, we should pressure MPPs to rewrite conflict laws. That way, councillors elected to represent residents on important ward issues could do so without facing the ridiculous possibility they are muzzled by fuzzy conflict regulations.

Councillors can’t ignore their responsibility to maintain and fix utility woes, but they should pay their own legal way and reject efforts to have taxpayers cover high-priced lawyer bills.

Posted in Budget, Perks and Expenses, Transparency, Ward News | 1 Comment

Council’s 2.5-hour cluck-cluck debate was no yolk

That was to be the only fowl pun I intended to use, but then yours truly was cooped up in council chambers for so long….

Egged on by numerous residents who flocked to council and asked councillors to lay a new bylaw, I came out of my shell and scrambled to permit chickens on condition it did not result in hiring additional bylaw-enforcement officers.

Despite the fact I grew up in England where a neighbour’s filthy coop attracted rats and mice, yours truly crossed the road and, because the sky wasn’t falling, voted to allow a  household to keep four chickens.

The eggsacting bylaw also includes the following:
* No roosters are allowed, chickens have to be banded and owners pay a one-time $50 fee when they register with the city.
* A coop has to be located 2.5 metres away from neighbours but the distance can be less on smaller lots if all neighbours agree.
* Coops will be inspected and must be clean and well ventilated.
* Owners are not allowed to slaughter hens or sell eggs and manure.

The bylaw will be ratified (mouse-ified?) at the Nov. 28 council meeting.

Posted in Ward News | 2 Comments

Instead of demolition, use Victoria Park homes for low-cost housing

For at least a decade, Waterloo Region has had 3,000 names on a waiting list for affordable housing.

That’s more than 8,000 adults and children desperate for low-cost shelter in one of Canada’s wealthiest regions.

Which makes me wonder why our regional government would even consider demolishing two poorly-maintained houses it owns next to Joseph Schneider Haus at Queen Street and Schneider Avenue.

While some regional representatives want to flatten the the large houses located in the Victoria Park heritage neighbourhood in order to add a green area adjacent to Schneider Haus, Kitchener heritage officials are concerned about the impact demolitions could have on Queen Street, Schneider Avenue and the nearby community. They also worry about the possibility the site could be used for future development once homes are bulldozed.

I don’t blame them for those concerns considering regional government’s poor record involving houses it owned on nearby Benton Street. The inadequately-maintained houses, soon to be demolished, were sold to a developer as part of the upcoming Barra Castle development on Queen. As ward councillor in recent years, I dealt with numerous property-standard complaints about the declining condition of those houses and lots.

Questions about the two homes next to Schneider Haus:

  • Despite the expense, why can’t they be renovated, donated to a non-profit group and used for affordable housing?
  • Why have the properties been so poorly maintained they are now being considered for demolition?
  • Why is regional government attempting to go the political route to justify demolition despite the fact Kitchener’s heritage staff rejected the proposal more than a year ago?
  • Why has there been no effort to alert the public and the Victoria Park Neighbourhood Association about the demolition proposal?

Stay tuned. The issue is currently on hold but could resurface in coming weeks.

Posted in Low-Cost Housing, Neighbourhoods, Regional economy, Transparency, Victoria Park | Leave a comment

Come to “Pumpkinpalootza” Nov. 1

Here’s a great way to have some fun and recycle your soggy pumpkins:

Carry them over to the Clock Tower in Victoria Park where dozens of pumpkins will be on display.

The event, organized for the second year by members of the Victoria Park Neighbourhood Association, starts at 6.45 p.m. Last year’s display of pumpkins recently won a community award at Kitchener’s  Festival of Neighbourhoods.

Want another reason to attend the event? My award-winning pumpkin will be on display.

Posted in Neighbourhoods, Victoria Park, Ward News | Leave a comment

Kitchener homeowners should learn more about RIENS

Intensified attention.
That’s what I believe is necessary for anyone living in an established area of Kitchener, including residents in heritage areas.
Homeowner attention is vital for an ongoing planning study known as Residential Intensification in Established Neighbourhoods (RIENS).
I came to this conclusion this week after completing a bus tour of a few token city communities that opened my eyes to impacts of the study. It aims to intensify inner-city neighbourhoods and help prevent municipalities expanding into green areas.
That goal is worthwhile but, to date, I believe the study is short on communication with residents affected by planning changes. Homeowners in established neighbourhoods need much more information about proposed new policies.
During the tour, I learned that while planners will have additional development-control mechanisms included in RIENS municipal processes, few communities will be exempt from intensification, particularly areas where older homes are located on larger lots.
The tour was attended by planners, councillors, a few neighbourhood representatives and at least one developer. Participants looked at potential densities, building heights, setbacks, and garage locations for new developments.
Areas visited on the bus tour included Simeon, Pandora and Sydney Streets, Homewood Avenue, Vanier Drive and Kehl Street.
Interestingly, Homewood is part of the Victoria Park heritage area where I live and is being considered as a pilot project that could use special planning processes to examine the potential for new, low-rise houses.
Homeowners can get more information at RIENS@kitchener.ca or by attending a public meeting Thursday, Oct. 27 at Rockway Golf Course that starts at 6.30 p.m.
A final RIENS report will go to council later this year after public comments have been considered.

Posted in Greener City, Heritage, Neighbourhoods, RIENS, Transparency, Victoria Park | 4 Comments

Pork chop and good governance

In case you ever contemplate the very important municipal duties handled by an elected councillor, consider this:
On a recent Sunday afternoon, yours truly is standing in a Ward 9 backyard being nuzzled by a 100-pound miniature pig officially known as Jackie but lovingly dubbed “pork chop” by its owner.
I was visiting the pig in advance of a council meeting where staff had recommended an exemption to our animal bylaw that would permit Jackie to continue living in Kitchener.
On compassionate grounds, councillors were told by our lawyers and a family doctor that Jackie should be considered a service animal because the pet helps the owner cope with abuse of drugs and alcohol which, in turn, create anxiety and depression.
After meeting Jackie, I was able to confirm humane-society findings that the currently-dieting pig, which stands about 2 feet tall, is well cared for — perhaps spoiled — at a house it shares, on a friendly basis, with a 2-year-old boy and a dog owned by a fellow tenant that stands a little higher than the hog.
Our bylaw officials reported there have been no actual complaints about the pig and the humane society only learned about it from a neighbour when Jackie ventured out of its enclosed backyard to the front of the property where it was seen by a curious and startled neighbour.
The owner told me he prefers a pig because he’s not crazy about cats or dogs and believes Jackie will live for about 30 years.
Without debate, councillors approved the exemption for the pig who, in case you’re wondering, is house trained and has learned to ring a bell when it needs to go out to the backyard.

Posted in Neighbourhoods, Ward News | 1 Comment

Fix city hall despite multi-million cost

The staggering $7-10 million price tag is undoubtedly difficult to swallow but the long-term value is worth the cost.
That’s my conclusion after considering recommended options to maintain and upgrade our city hall considered this week by council.
A final decision on how and when necessary upgrades take place will be made in late 2017 or early 2018 when I predict the issue could become an election issue.
At that time, some of the required cash might come from higher levels of government, Kitchener’s parking income or corporate sponsors.
And, even though it might not be politically palatable, if those cash sources come up short, I am ready to support a move to have taxpayers foot the bill for part of what I consider a worthwhile investment in the city’s future.
And I say that as a former council critic who, back when dinosaurs roamed downtown King Street, strongly opposed the demolition of our beautiful old city hall in the early 1970s. I also criticized the subsequent leasing of city hall space in a Frederick Street office tower and, in 1993, construction of the new city hall which won architectural awards.
In subsequent years I changed my mind about that building after watching everything from kids learning to skate on the city hall rink to massive Blues Festival crowds enjoying Carl Zehr Square. Because it has become the community heart of our city, money that should have been budgeted well before now must be found in the next two years.
Required work includes cracked pavement, leaks in the parking garage, upgrades to the skating rink/pool as well as stage improvements and efforts to provide more shade. Additional upgrades would also be done on the Duke Street side of city hall adjacent to what will then be the Light Rail Transit route.

Posted in city hall repairs, Vibrant Downtown | 1 Comment