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

Pokemon players should hold hands instead of handhelds

 

Watching hundreds of glassy-eyed Pokemon Go fanatics swarming around Victoria Park, I marvelled at how — eyes glued t0 mobiles — some didn’t end up in the lake along with the giant carp.

Gobsmacked at the popularity of the activity, I asked an expert to explain Pokemon only to learn it is a “free, location-based, augmented-reality, multiplayer online mobile game.”

Which did little to increase Pokemon understanding for this aging, technical dimwit.

I then wondered if one of our many local techies could piggy-back Pokemon and create a local-government app that would attract a similar volume of interest to mundane council and municipal issues.

In order to do so, we would either require a Poke-stop or Poke-lure at city hall or have councillors and top staff become Pokemon monsters and — ready to be “captured”— scuttle around city hall dressed up as snakes, dinosaurs, trees or dragons.

Yours truly would wear a Pokemon rat costume.

Our city clerk could also consider planting Pokemon critters at election polls as a way to attract gamers and improve our appalling voter turnouts.

For those who catch most critters, we could come up with a huge prize like a city pen, an Oktoberfest polka with our lederhosen-clad mayor or a pass to attend a council meeting that would go well beyond midnight considering issues like backyard chickens, dangerous (bad) dogs or ways to protect Ward 9 residents from an escapee python who was actually snoozing under a  refrigerator.

Kitchener could also further enhance its community and neighbourhood campaigns by encouraging Poke-people to abandon their handhelds in favour of holding real hands.

Posted in Vibrant Downtown, Victoria Park, Voter Turnout, Ward News | 3 Comments

Proposed new Victoria Park sidewalks

Additional Victoria Park sidewalks will make things safer and easier for strolling pedestrians in coming months.
The new sidewalks, which have been a city priority for some time, will increase walkability and accessibility when they are constructed along portions of Jubilee Drive, David Street and Water Street South.
As plans developed for the asphalt or concrete sidewalks, efforts have been made to preserve the heritage nature of the downtown park and, because walkways will take a meandering route, they will not have a detrimental impact on existing trees and plantings.
The infill sidewalks will improve the existing, potentially dangerous situation where pedestrians approaching the park on Water Street South in winter months have to walk into the street approaching Jubilee because there are no sidewalks. And. on both David and the lake-side of Jubilee the updated sidewalks will fill in gaps in present walkways.
Once the sidewalks are built, is done, I hope to see some form of recognizable pedestrian crossing across Jubilee in front of the Boathouse that would link with the existing pathway around the Commons area of the park.

Posted in Boathouse, Sidewalks, Victoria Park, Ward News | 2 Comments

Kitchener councillors political art of public appearance

If you care about creation of a downtown arts-culture facility in one of Kitchener’s few city-owned heritage buildings, I would suggest you speak up at Monday’s June 6, council meeting.

The session starts at 7 p.m. and you can register to speak by contacting the clerk’s department at 519.741.2200 ext.7591.

I support maintaining city ownership of the heritage Legion building at 48 Ontario Street and using it as an arts centre. However, I’m concerned that council’s second-guessing and political waffling could help undermine or scuttle a project that would bring increased vitality to the downtown.

In past months, councillors heard appeals for affordable space from our arts community before directing staff to come up with options for future use of the empty Legion building. But, at last Monday’s planning committee meeting, the requested staff report and public survey requested by council generated efforts to muddy and lessen the impact of the following recommended options:

– Sell the heritage building to a developer and reserve the money for an arts centre at another location.
– Retain city ownership and lease the building as an arts-culture centre.
– Sell the Legion on condition a developer assemble surrounding properties and then lease back the building to use as a heritage arts-culture hub.

First dilution of the staff report came from Coun. Kelly Galloway-Sealock who successfully moved an amendment that insisted the first staff option be treated as a separate item by those surveyed. Respondents would also be asked, if the building is sold, whether cash proceeds should go toward an art centre in an alternate facility.

Couns. Sarah Marsh, Bil Ioannidis and John Gazzola joined me in opposing that amendment while Mayor Berry Vrbanovic, Paul Singh, Dave Schnider and Yvonne Fernandes and Galloway-Seacock supported the move.

Councillors then voted in favour of the altered staff report with the exception of Coun. Scott Davey who opposed all options and Coun. Zyg Janecki who was away.

Despite that vote, I’m concerned that, hidden behind the appearance of interest in preserving the Legion and creating an arts hub, there are some councillors who care little about downtown heritage and others who would sell the building to a developer as part of a land assembly near the LRT route on Duke Street.

Posted in Arts & Culture, Heritage, Light Rail Transit, Mayfair Hotel, Transparency, Vibrant Downtown | 1 Comment

Council transparency: Appearance or substance?

When it comes to efforts by Kitchener council to improve accountability and transparency, appearance of change is not enough.
Such efforts must have clear, meaningful results and a motion from Coun. Scott Davey last night achieved no such thing.
The motion about cash donations to municipal candidates piggybacks on a typically fuzzy Liberal exercise being considered by the province that will also create the appearance of transparency. Davey’s motion passed but it does nothing to change the unfair financial status quo in municipal elections.
Crowing about the preservation of democracy and equality, the motion bans union and corporate donations in municipal elections. It permits individual donations only but does nothing to define “corporate” and little to stop any union or business boss from having scores of members or employees making multiple donations that could then be repaid.
Because council made no attempt to invite any local unions or businesses to debate the issue and, other than the weekly Kitchener Post, our absent and decimated local media ignored the subject, I tried without success to defer the matter for a few weeks to allow those affected a chance to learn about and comment on the issue.
On a more positive note, another successful motion last night from Coun. Dave Schnider involved councillors’ home-office and technology expenses that cost taxpayers at least $25,000 a year.
Schneider’s small but important change to the policy means, every year, councillors will now have to itemize each expense for items that range from office furniture and cameras to laptops and iPads.
Speaking as someone who, with slight success, has repeatedly tried to cut those home-office expenses for the past six years, I’m hoping Schnider’s efforts will discourage excessive, repetitive purchases by a few councillors.
Instead of vacuous political optics, his motion could have meaningful results.

Posted in Journalism, Perks and Expenses, Transparency | Leave a comment