Time to speak out on Victoria Park heritage hassle

I hope Kitchener councillors and heritage officials have the backbone to stand up to blatantly arrogant regional heritage colleagues who are determined to demolish two quality homes on Queen Street just south of Joseph Schneider Haus.
And in early fall when the self-involved Region comes to Kitchener council seeking permission to flatten the houses, I hope residents join me in opposing the ill-conceived proposal.
The boarded-up, 90-year-old houses the Region want to demolish are located at the bottom of Schneider Avenue and form part of the supposedly protected Victoria Park heritage conservation district.
The Region has owned the houses for 28 years but has done nothing to add them to the Schneider Haus property. The Region also did nothing when it had the opportunity to exempt the houses from the neighbourhood heritage district created in the mid-1990s.
In my opinion, if the Region now succeeds at demolishing the houses, it will set what Kitchener’s co-ordinator of heritage planning Leon Bensason describes as “a dangerous precedent” in what represents one of the city’s most beautiful communities
That precedent could involve any developer who buys one or more homes in the Victoria Park neighbourhood and announces he or she wants to flatten the properties and build something else. The developer would then point to the Region’s demolitions and use them as justification for circumventing city heritage regulations.
Dealing with this property issue in confidence during recent years, Kitchener has consistently told the Region it opposes the demolitions. Regional officials waited until Kitchener councillors, city heritage committee members and many residents went on July vacations before going public with the proposal and rushing to organize public information meetings.
Then, at a time when the Region has at least 10,000 seniors, adults and children on a waiting list for affordable housing, the Region insisted the two homes are unsuitable for low-cost shelter.
They claim the houses cost too much to maintain to which I argue the region should sell or continue to rent the properties. They would be worth about $1million if sold and that cash could, among other things, be used to upgrade Schneider Haus.
If , like me, you live around the park, and want to sound off about the region’s self-involved proposal I would suggest you attend an open house at Schneider Haus, 466 Queen St.S. on Wednesday July 12 from 5 to 7 p.m. (presentation 6.30 p.m.) Or go to http://www.engageregionofwaterloo.ca/.
And whatever you think, don’t count on the local media for fair, balanced coverage of an important issue that has to date produced predictably shallow, one-sided regional arguments on the topic.

Posted in Heritage, Homelessness, Journalism, Low-Cost Housing, Neighbourhoods, Victoria Park | 4 Comments

Heritage hassle, Jubilee crossing and condo at Nougat site

Out with the old and in with the new.
That seems to be the situation in and around Victoria Park where, in recent weeks, a considerable amount seems to be happening.
First development involves what is shaping up to be a major heritage hassle between city and regional officials.
The Region wants to flatten two houses it owns south of Joseph Schneider Haus on Queen in order to expand the heritage property and add a green garden area. However, Kitchener heritage officials oppose the proposal because they believe it represents a dangerous precedent to the residential character of the city’s existing Victoria Park heritage neighbourhood.
I have suggested in an earlier blog that the properties should be used for affordable housing.
Second development, a pedestrian crossing scheduled to be in place in August, will hopefully increase safety on Jubilee Drive near the bottom of Water Street South. After its use is studied by city traffic officials, other crossings could be added at other Jubilee locations.
Third project involves an attractive condominium development on the former Nougat Bakery site and the ugly, neighbouring auto business next to the Iron Horse Trail. The development — an 11-storey condo fronting on Queen Street dropping to a six-storey building at the rear facing David Street — will start with demolition of existing buildings. Construction is likely to continue into 2018.
I’m pleased to say it will finally clean up the junkyard adjacent to an important entrance to the trail at Queen Street. Now, we need to see the same improvements at another eyesore site where the trail crosses West Avenue.

Posted in Heritage, Homelessness, Low-Cost Housing, Neighbourhoods, Speeding Traffic, Victoria Park | Leave a comment

Former Schneider’s site could be a beautiful urban village

Close your eyes as you stand among the ugly former Maple Leaf-Schneider’s buildings between Courtland Avenue and Mill Street and imagine a gurgling creek flowing through a green, urban village.
That’s the preferred planning vision for the huge 11-hectare (27-acre) site which can accommodate about 3,000 housing units next to the Light Rail Transit tracks at Borden Avenue.
It’s a vision that was on display at a recent public information and one I would like to see start moving towards reality early this fall.
By September I hope councillors, planners and developers will make certain the highest standards of urban design are used on a development where Schneider’s first established its historic meat-packing plant 91 years ago.
Planners are considering a mix of residential, light commercial and other uses on the site.
Some existing buildings will be demolished but I assume the office structure and warehouse could be converted for other uses. Planners are looking at a mix of residential, commercial and institutional and office use along Courtland.
Preferred plans include medium and high-rise residential uses at the back of the site complete with innovation employment sites and possibilities for a brewpub and restaurants.
Best of all on that planning wish list is that Schneider’s Creek, currently buried under the site, could be naturalized and unearthed to create an attractive greenway meandering through what might be dubbed Schneider Village.
All we need as part of such a dream would be some affordable housing.

Posted in Ward News | 2 Comments

Gwen Wheeler gets her mural…finally

Gwen Wheeler is a very patient and tenacious Cherry Park resident.
In past years she has planted pots of flowers and struggled to clean up a scruffy former gas-station site owned by Suncor Energy that fronts on Park Street at Agnes.
And, since 2011, with the support of volunteers, she along with Cherry Park resident Tracy Suerich, spearheaded efforts to complete what is now a gorgeous display of public art by Design Guild that was finally unveiled in June as part of Neighbours Day on the south-west wall of the Agnes Street K-W Badminton Club (former Granite Club).
After residents helped pick the final artistic design for the project at the 2012 Cherry Festival, plans inched forward to complete the mural along with a second art installation on the Park Street retaining wall at Glasgow crafted by KCI students and staff.
At Agnes, plans were stalled when the building was put up for sale in 2012 only to be reintroduced when the Badminton Club bought the property in 2013.
After further setbacks involving a survey and a building permit because the art work projected a few inches too far from the wall, Guild artists redesigned the mural known as Tessellation Garden.
Along the way financial backing and support for for the project came from the the city, Cherry Park Neighbourhood Association, K-W Community Foundation, Momentum Developments, the Zehr Group, Seaborn Manufacturing in Waterloo, Swanson’s Home Hardware, 2 Tall Guys painters and the Badminton Club.
Additional plans are now proceeding to create a landscaped garden under the mural.

Posted in Arts & Culture, Cherry Park, Greener City, Neighbourhoods | Leave a comment

Theron well deserves Kitchener’s city-builder award

Theron Kramer, a quiet community activist and friend I have admired and respected for almost 50 years has been awarded a prestigious Kitchener award.

After the Mayor’s city-builder award was presented at council last night, I was given the opportunity to say a few words.

I said that many of us talk a lot about doing the right thing but, because such action can be unpopular and provoke negative push back, few are strong enough to consistently have the courage of our convictions.

I also said that, for decades, Theron has found the energy and courage to be the principled conscience and champion of an inclusive city and community he helped create and build.

I concluded that for his unfailing efforts, we were most certainly doing the right thing honouring him with the award.


Posted in Giving thanks, Neighbourhoods | 2 Comments

Can’t afford to delay low-cost housing

Kitchener councillors have approved  a solid foundation for an affordable-housing program.

Now, with support from non-profit groups and private developers, the city hopes this July  to move ahead with projects offering low-cost shelter  located near public-transit routes throughout the city.

In a unanimous committee vote yesterday that requires final approval at the May 15 council meeting, I was pleased to see councillors approve a variety of incentives to boost construction of affordable housing and hopefully take advantage of long-overdue dollars offered for low-cost shelter by federal and provincial governments.

In council I said city incentives, plus additional support  from regional government, will benefit some of the estimated 10,000 adults, children and an increasing number of seniors who have been waiting up to six years for affordable shelter. In addition, across the region, there are at least 1,500 people waiting for supportive housing where they receive help from various agencies.

I also argued that money taxpayers currently spend on health, justice and social services for many of those in need of shelter is likely to be reduced through the provision of affordable housing.

Meanwhile it’s great to hear that Kitchener Housing already has one low-cost housing project ready to go and city planners have seen similar interest from private developers.

Now we have built the foundation, let’s move quickly to construct the rest of the program.


Posted in Homelessness, Low-Cost Housing, Neighbourhoods, Ward News | Leave a comment

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