Nibbling away at Kitchener’s heritage neighbourhoods

Pro-developer Kitchener councillors took one more precedent-setting bite at a downtown heritage neighbourhood last night.

They did so by approving a flashy development jammed on a very prominent David Street lot in the Victoria Park heritage neighbourhood where I live.

Ironically the project, surprisingly approved by Kitchener’s heritage staff and some committee members,  looks down on the historic Clock Tower and Common area of the park. The tower is all that’s left of our  historic city hall bulldozed by former city councillors who also favoured modern, mundane development over heritage buildings.

In Monday’s 7-4 vote, those supporting the six-storey building included pro-development boosters Councillors Paul Singh and Bil Ioannidis — two council representatives on our heritage committee who also head up Kitchener’s planning committee. They were joined by Mayor Berry Vrbanovic and downtown, civic-centre Coun. Sarah Marsh as well as Scott Davey, Kelly Galloway-Sealock and Dave Schnider.

Because I dislike the ultra-modern look of a building that could and should have used more brick recommended in heritage-area documents, I voted against the project as did Couns. John Gazzola, Yvonne Fernandes and Zyg Janecki.

The development, which will use a combination of metal and glazing materials as well as some token brick, is located between Jubilee Drive and Joseph Street. It will  be a 6-storey, 30-unit building tiered back on the 4th, 5th and 6th storeys adjacent to red brick and stone town homes as well as the historic Victoria School and an ugly high-rise apartment building at the park entrance.

The high-rise was erected after at least six heritage homes along one side of Courtland between David and Queen Streets were, like the beautiful former city hall, demolished.





Posted in Heritage, Neighbourhoods, Vibrant Downtown, Victoria Park | 1 Comment

Wondering what PARTS puddings will taste like

The proof will be in the planning puddings.

That’s obvious as each glossy PARTS (Planning Around Rapid Transit Stations) is presented to Kitchener council while we wait and wait for the LRT to come chugging slowly down the line.

The latest PARTS study examines a future “walkable urban village” including Rockway, Cedar Hill, Mill-Courtland, Highland-Stirling and other communities near the Borden and Mill-Ottawa LRT stations. The plan, approved by planning committee this week, will be ratified by council Monday evening.

This area includes the former 27-acre Schneider’s site sandwiched between Mill and Courtland. It is now owned by London-based Auburn Developments, a company that has built high-income condo buildings in Kitchener and Waterloo. Auburn is considering a mix of  housing that includes everything from stacked town homes to high-rise towers on the property.

Back to the pudding mixed by planners.

My key concern with PARTS is that the plans are not giving enough attention to the preservation and encouragement of affordable, mid-range housing currently found in established communities. And by affordable, I don’t necessarily mean low-cost, subsidized housing although I’ve yet to see any sign of that form of shelter along the LRT route.

Most attention has to date focused on developers building condos for high-income residents who want to live near the LRT and I don’t blame that housing imbalance on planners trying to mix the necessary ingredients for PARTS  puddings.

Watching what’s already happening, I predict that, as usual, planners will fight a losing struggle against wealthy, powerful developers and political friends that dominate municipal councils.

You can already see the pressure to dilute PARTS in comments made by some councillors and developers requesting changes to fledgling plans. It’s partly seen through requests that planners use weasel words in PARTS like “flexibility, encourage and consider” when drafting “guidelines” that would leave multiple wiggle room as development progresses.

As an example, in this particular study, planners want to see better and more attractive use of Schneider and Shoemaker creeks that currently meander through communities in ugly, graffiti-covered concrete ditches.They want to see the waterways form focal points in new green areas snd trails both in and around the Schneider site.

But they are already experiencing pushback from landowner-developers who want to maximize development potential on their properties.

Which leaves me wondering about the final taste and texture of those puddings.



Posted in Iron Horse Trail, Light Rail Transit, Low-Cost Housing, Neighbourhoods, Schneider's site, Transit | Leave a comment

Pause on cat licensing supported by most councillors

Call it a purrtial, political compromise to improve the optics involved in the licensing cat fight.

A majority of Kitchener councillors considering ways to reject efforts by yours truly to research cat licensing approved that task this week as long as the troubling issue disappeared until 2019, a year after the 2018 municipal election.

Staff who didn’t have time to cope with the workload involved in that research will now do most of the same work and report back to council before 2019. The work includes looking at how other municipalities have implemented cat licensing as well as spay neutering and ways to microchips cats in order to help return them to owners.

The clawback compromise was the brainchild of our ever-political Mayor Berry Vrbanovic who, just a few weeks ago, dismissed cat licensing as “a cash grab” that he and others should oppose.

I pointed out to councillors that cats represent 60 per cent of the workload for the local  Humane Society which gets $630,000 a year in taxpayer funds while a rough cash estimate shows the city could collect about $500,000 a year by issuing $25 cat licenses.

I also noted that councillors reluctant to upset cat-owning voters might lose the votes and feel the bite of frustrated dog owners who are supposed to pay a $30 licensing fee for their pets while cat owners pay absolutely nothing.


Posted in cat licenses, Voter Turnout | 1 Comment

During budget, facile Facebook items cause spiteful spat

This is an example of what you elect people to do at budget time when they’re supposed to be setting your property taxes.

In this spiteful spat on Facebook, our touchy twosome — Councillors John Gazzola and Yvonne Fernandes — last week wanted to immobilize the mobiles of Mr. Mayor and fellow councillors.

Here’s grumpy Gazzola:

“Wish some COK Councillors (you know who you are ) would put away mobile devices & show a little respect to speakers who may have an opposing view to yours. The reality is (how many times have you heard that) high school days are over.”

Followed by fuming Fernandes:

“Finished operations budget in the shortest time since on Council. Guess which Councillor spent the majority of time on their Blackberry? I guess budget is of no concern to them!”

To which Coun. Dave Schnider took exception today before capital budget debate even got started. Because the twosome didn’t name or shame said offending Blackberry user, Schnider said all councillors, God forbid, had been unfairly tarred and tainted with the same brush.

Stick-handling the huge issue, Schnider insisted  councillors often use their Blackberries during meetings to reply to resident complaints.

Or, I would quickly add, try to stay awake or calm rumbling tummies by emailing home to find out what’s for dinner during endless questions from Gazzola and Fernandes.

Words of wisdom to Coun. Dave from this aging columnist. Develop a thick skin, ignore your critics and never give them the satisfaction of a response.

Posted in Budget, Journalism, Transparency | Leave a comment

Housing strategy won’t impact Kitchener’s changing skyline

It’s unlikely Ottawa’s recent and overdue housing strategy will be in place when at least 15 major high-rise projects dramatically change Kitchener’s skyline during the next two years.
That approaching $1-billion construction frenzy is caused by a combination of inner-city intensification, Light Rail Transit and developers scrambling to benefit from a program of forgiven development-charge incentives worth millions of dollars that ends in February 1919.
To help save our countryside from urban sprawl, I’m in favour of carefully managed intensification and building conversions in and round the inner city but I also support the protection of established residential communities, particularly heritage neighbourhoods.
And as someone who represents downtown Ward 9 and lives in the Victoria Park heritage area, I’m increasingly concerned about developments along King, Queen, Victoria, Benton and Charles as well as other major arteries cradling about half a dozen established communities.
Recently I learned about plans to build a 25-storey tower beside the Tannery at Francis and Charles streets and another 20-plus-storey building at Victoria and Bramm streets. One positive part about the proposal alongside The Tannery is that it includes the first downtown grocery-supermarket store in the city’s west end
Meanwhile, a few blocks away, developers of what started as a 24-storey condo and retail project at Gaukel and Charles streets want to push it up to 31 storeys.
Additional projects are coming on other parts of Victoria Street and circling the LRT terminal near King and Wellington while others will follow at the east end of the core.
Which is good for the economy but what about the changing character of those established neighbourhoods that are expected to embrace enormous condo towers that do little to provide housing for other than investors and high-income homebuyers along the LRT route?
With existing city regulations, zoning and a recent tall-building policy, all we can hope for is that councillors with one eye on the 2018 municipal election insist developers taking advantage of those cash incentives meet high standards of construction quality and architectural design in buildings that will be with us for decades. At the same time, planners should also research ways to make certain those developments meet the affordability and housing needs of all income groups.

Posted in Cherry Park, Heritage, Light Rail Transit, Low-Cost Housing, Neighbourhoods, RIENS, Vibrant Downtown, Victoria Park | 2 Comments

Councillors yowling about cat-license clawback

Kitchener councillors have de-furred the cat-licensing issue until Dec. 4.
And, with a jaundiced eye on potential lost-pet votes in the 2018 municipal election, I doubt the cat-fight issue will gain more that lukewarm support when my motion comes back for consideration with what I predict will be at least one added clause.
I think that once a staff report on potential workload and years of public consultation involved in the subject of cat licenses and microchipping returns to city hall, councillors will take a long pause, a lengthy catnap and no action on a subject dismissed as a “cash grab” by Mayor Berry Vrbanovic..
Which means we will ignore all issues of unfairness for dog owners and the increasing drain of $630,000 paid out each year by taxpayers to care for stray animals — 66 per cent of them abandoned, unlicensed cats.
That lack of equality has to do with about 40,000 dog owners who are supposed to buy $30 licenses (only 15,000 do so today) while an estimated 50,000 cat owners do not.
On the workload issue councillors are fully aware that cities including Guelph, Stratford, London, Mississauga, Sudbury, Ottawa, Peterborough, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Montreal successfully introduced cat licensing without rushing out to hire dozens of people to cope with a spitting push-back from cat owners.
After a recent tour of our excellent humane society shelter, I’m convinced Kitchener should create a set fee for a cat license that would be reduced if a responsible pet owner microchips the pet in order to quickly reunite the missing feline.
Then, when the cats came back, it would save us all tax dollars

Posted in Budget, cat licenses | Leave a comment

Fur already flying on proposal to license cats

Based on the reaction I’m getting from feline owners, I probably shouldn’t joke about cat licenses forming part of a perfect solution.

But licenses would help pay some of the $630,000 it will cost Kitchener taxpayers in each of the next four years as our Humane Society grapples with caring for hundreds of cats that, on any day, make up more than half their workload.

Kitchener recently almost doubled the $330,000 it paid for Humane Society services for cats, dogs and other strays in 1917 and I believe the current $630,000 annual price will top $1 million by 2019 as our population increases.

I should quickly add that I prefer cats to dogs but believe, in the name of fairness, it’s time we followed other cities by correcting the fact a dog owner is required to pay $30 a year for a license while a cat owner pays nothing.

Those cities include Guelph, Stratford, London, Mississauga, Sudbury, Ottawa, Peterborough, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Montreal where councils had the guts to stand up to the yowling  push back from cat owners.

And I’m not suggesting cat owners will be any better than dog owners when it comes to licensing pets — only a third of Kitchener dog owners buy licenses — but I do think cat licenses would help offset those alarming costs.

Microchipping is another alternative to licensing that Humane Society officials say would help them reunite cat owners with pets. But I doubt many cat lovers would want microchips inserted under the skin of beloved kitties and those that do could have necessary surgery done for about $20 in addition to paying for a license.

I also believe council’s financial priorities are totally out of whack when we consider animal costs and those millions would be better invested helping seniors and low-income families having difficulty paying municipal taxes and soaring utility costs.


Posted in cat licenses | 4 Comments

Council votes to demolish Victoria Park heritage homes

Seven councillors last night ignored their own heritage staff by voting to demolish two Victoria Park homes that could have provided much-needed housing for low-income  families.
Despite opposition from those staff members, some Victoria Park residents and architectural-conservancy experts, council voted 7-4 to allow regional government to bulldoze the 90-year-old Queen Street homes near Schneider Avenue in order to expand the Schneider Haus facility.
Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic as well as Councillors Sarah Marsh, Dave Schnider, Paul Singh, Scott Davey, Bill Ioannidis and Kelly Galloway-Sealock voted in favour of demolishing the houses. Opposing the demolitions, I was supported by Councillors John Gazzola, Yvonne Fernandes and Zyg Janecki.
A key point in the debate involved whether the demolitions would create what heritage officials argued could set “a dangerous precedent” in Victoria Park or any other heritage district in Kitchener. That precedent would involve any developer who buys homes in heritage districts and then seeks to demolish the properties and erect alternate buildings.
Those supporting the demolitions to make way for an additional Schneider Haus garden rejected my attempt to defer issue until the Region could take time to investigate options other than demolition.
They also dismissed my arguments that the homes could provide emergency shelter for a few of the hundreds of refugee families arriving each year at nearby Reception House in Victoria Park.
Meanwhile, those homes will be flattened at a time when the region — our emergency-housing provider — has about 10,000 adults, children and seniors languishing for years on a waiting list for affordable housing.

Posted in Heritage, Homelessness, Low-Cost Housing, Neighbourhoods, Queen Street renewal, refugee crisis, Victoria Park | Leave a comment

Region says get lost on direct Iron Horse Trail link

Regional councillors continued to stumble toward finding a route for a $2-million proposed link between the Iron Horse Trail and the transit hub on King Street West near Victoria Street at a planning committee meeting yesterday.
Committee members including Kitchener’s regional councillors followed the direction of regional staff and supported a bewildering route through the Cherry Park community that exits the popular trail near Gage Street.
The route will go through Raddatz Park, along Waverly Road to Strange Street, through Cherry Park, down a Park Street sidewalk to Kitchener’s Bramm Street parking lot and continue adjacent to a rail line until it reaches the transit hub.
The mangled route was supported  instead of a direct link adjacent to the CN rail track earlier favoured by Kitchener staff and Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic.
The Iron Horse trail is used by about 1,730 cyclists and pedestrians every day and the indirect route is recommended for two ill-conceived reasons.
* To qualify for a $1.3-million infrastructure grant offered by the higher levels of  government. Construction deadline for that grant is March 2018 but it is likely to be extended to March 2019.
* Nightmare bureaucratic difficulties any time local government tries to work with CN and the Goderich-Exeter Railway that usually takes  years to negotiate
And while I understand the reasoning, it doesn’t change the fact that if regional councillors want to do the project right and have people actually use the link, the best action would be to use the federal and provincial grant toward a down payment for the direct route .
A final regional council decision is expected later this month and I would suggest trail users attend the meeting or contact their regional councillors to make known their opinions.

Posted in Cherry Park, Greener City, Iron Horse Trail, Light Rail Transit, Sidewalks, Transit | 1 Comment

Victoria Park heritage homes facing demolition

Kitchener councillors will now decide if regional government will be allowed to bulldoze two Queen Street houses near Joseph Schneider Haus.

They will do so after the city’s heritage committee voted 6-2 yesterday to reject a proposal by their own heritage and planning staff to save the houses.

Two of the three Kitchener councillors who sit on the city’s heritage committee — Paul Singh and Bil Ioannidis — voted to scrap their own staff recommendation. Ioannidis also chaired the meeting where the current committee chair, vice chair and several committee members were absent.

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 heritage officials describe 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 could then point to the Region’s demolitions and use them as justification for circumventing city heritage regulations.

At a time when the Region has at least 10,000 seniors, adults and children on a waiting list for affordable housing, the emergency-housing provider argues 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  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 you want to comment on the issue I would strongly suggest you register to speak and attend the Oct. 16 council meeting.

I will vote in support our excellent staff report but, considering the obvious politics at work and the fact Mayor Berry Vrbanovic also supports the Region’s proposal, I predict the two homes — big enough to house several large families — will be flattened.

Posted in Greener City, Heritage, Homelessness, Low-Cost Housing, Neighbourhoods, Queen Street renewal, Victoria Park, Ward News | Leave a comment