Kitchener councillors approve drug-injection site

Kitchener councillors voted unanimously Monday to work closely with regional government and establish a supervised injection site at a fixed location somewhere in the downtown.

In doing so, councillors recommended the Region — responsible for local health and social services — take a leadership role, operate the facility and staff the site where wrap-around social services would be provided for some of the estimated 4,000 people who inject drugs in the Region.

On Tuesday, regional councillors agreed to push ahead with plans for three SIS sites in Kitchener, Cambridge and Waterloo. They agreed to consider an SIS report by next month and deferred a motion from Cambridge Mayor Doug Craig to exclude SIS locations in Galt, Preston and Hespeler.

Part of Kitchener council’s recommendation urged the Region to work with the city and neighbourhood  groups before an SIS site is selected and review the facility after two years. Kitchener also asked the Region to conduct a public education program about SIS services and set up similar drug-injection services in Waterloo and Cambridge.

Considering the fact that 109 people died in Waterloo Region in 2016 and 2017 due to suspected opioid overdoses, I support what would be an expensive SIS facility even though there’s a chance it might be located in my downtown Ward 9 in order to be easily accessible to Kitchener addicts.

In fact, residents living in neighbourhoods in the two wards that make up  the inner city of Kitchener would be wise to get engaged and participate in a the ongoing,  controversial  SIS debate that will resurface at next Monday’s April 16 evening council session.

In last night’s debate I argued that without immediate action on a worsening opioid crisis Kitchener councillors and residents could easily be among those who experience overdose deaths of teenage children, relatives or friends.

I said I wanted to be part of a solution where there has been a 303-per-cent increase in the number of opioid-related overdose calls to local paramedic services between 2015-2017 along with a 70-per-cent hike in opioid-related emergency visits to hospitals.

I noted that Cambridge also has a high number of opioid emergency calls and said I don’t want Kitchener to mimic our neighbouring city’s response to the crisis — a reaction that involves closing council eyes tight and hoping the deadly epidemic will go away.

I reminded SIS opponents the ongoing problem of discarded needles and drug-related litter could be improved by  an SIS site and, with or without drug-treatment centres, we already have deeply troubled people shooting up alone and risking death in our public washrooms, community centres and parks.

 

Posted in Ward News | Leave a comment

Planning bonuses benefit developers, not taxpayers

Local taxpayers should read it and weep.

They have paid about $1 billion for a bungled, much delayed light rail system that I’m glad to see has generated at least $1.2-billion construction activity in downtown Kitchener.

But the same taxpayers are now, through local councils, shelling out excessive development “bonuses” to the same developers who are already making large profits on high-priced condominium units selling vigorously along that LRT route.

At the same time, not a single unit of affordable housing is included in the hundreds of  condo buildings being approved mostly in my downtown ward by councillors and planners.

That reflects a grossly inequitable payback for taxpayers and was the reason I voted at planning committee, Monday, against a project by Momentum developments that wraps around the beautiful heritage Huck Glove building at Victoria and Bramm streets.

And while I congratulate Momentum for saving the Huck building, I think those bonuses are out of whack.

In this case, they will incorporate a zone change that permits an intensified 25-storey building that will have 300 units. They also include an outdoor park area that will be replaced with a partly-indoor “public amenity area” and parking spaces that will be reduced from 411 to 233.

I voted against the project to protest the fact Momentum has or will soon build more than 1,000 high-rise condos on Victoria and at Charles-Gaukel that include no affordable shelter despite the fact Waterloo Region has 3,000 names — about 10,000 adults, children and seniors —on a waiting list for low-cost housing.

After two Kitchener councillors — planning chairman Paul Singh and downtown representative, Sarah Marsh — declared conflicts of interest and didn’t vote on the issue, the remaining councillors and Mayor Berry Vrbanovic approved the development. Singh’s conflict is because his father owns property adjacent to Momentum sites on Victoria while Marsh’s conflict involves purchase of a Momentum condo.’

Buried somewhere under the blanket of bonuses we are shovelling out to developers is a responsibility that those companies make certain affordable housing forms part of their projects. Meanwhile, local politicians should, but are not, doing their utmost to make certain that responsibility is met.

When the issue returns to council on March 19, I hope councillors remember that, no matter what your income, housing is supposed to be a basic human right for all Canadians.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Greener City, Heritage, Homelessness, Journalism, Light Rail Transit, Low-Cost Housing, Neighbourhoods, Transit, Vibrant Downtown, Ward News | 4 Comments

Neighbours learn about development of Schneider’s site

To date it’s a no-name, urban hamlet planned in central Kitchener that could take at least 10 years to develop.

About 100 residents who live near Kitchener’s 27.6-acre Schneider’s-Maple Leaf site showed up last night to ask questions about the development by Auburn Developments of London that will eventually include at least 2,000 housing units. The information meeting — first of several planned by the developer and the city — was held at Cameron Heights Collegiate.

Auburn is known locally as the developer of the Arrow Lofts on Benton Street, Kitchener and Barrel Yards in Waterloo.

The Schneider site, which has stood empty for three years, will include everything from town homes to 18-storey condo and rental towers. It is located between Courtland, Borden, Palmer and the rail tracks near Mill. It is on the Light Rail Transit route and adjacent to two LRT stations.

Residents learned that initial site activity will include drilling, soil testing and demolition. It will also involve renovation of the existing office building, warehouse and garage near Courtland-Borden for possible high-tech’ offices, restaurant and brew-pub purposes.

Other proposals:

  • Consideration of affordable housing mixed with stacked townhouses and medium to high-rise buildings;
  • Extension of Kent and Palmer streets into the site plus several new, east-west roads;
  • A green park corridor connecting with neighbourhood creeks and trails;
  • A transit study and pre-development inspection of existing, nearby homes/businesses that could be affected by demolitions;
  • Dust and noise controls as demolitions progress.

Meanwhile, Auburn has activated a Schneider website at http://www.schneiderredevelopment.com and announced that neighbourhood issues about site activity should go to site manager Connor Wilks at 519.434.1808.

On a lighter note, nearby residents have been asked to suggest names for the development and its new streets but I would predict several suggested at last night’s meeting are unlikely to be considered.

My favourites?

“Wiener Way” traversing “Hot-dog hamlet.”

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Greener City, Light Rail Transit, Low-Cost Housing, Neighbourhoods, Schneider's site, Transit | Leave a comment

In development boom, try to attend public meetings

Residents who live near Light Rail Transit should prepare for spinoff impacts of a $1.2-billion development boom expected before 2021.

And while I see that boom as healthy intensification, I’m concerned about preservation of eight established neighbourhoods in Ward 9.

For that reason I would urge residents to pay close attention to the content of upcoming municipal plans.

About a dozen high-rise towers are among large core developments planned between Cameron, Victoria, Joseph and Weber streets which will include 1,000 apartments and 2,000 condos that will swell the downtown population from 2,400 to 6,000.

I believe resulting pressure will impact on communities like Victoria Park, Schneider Creek, Cherry Park, Mount Hope, Mill-Courtland, Highland-Stirling, Rockway, Cedar Hill and other inner-city neighbourhoods.Residents should also consider the fact that, since LRT was approved, regional government has issued $2.4 billion in building permits along the entire transit corridor in Kitchener-Waterloo.

I agree with University of Waterloo architecture professor Rick Haldenby, a Victoria Park resident and advisor to Kitchener planners, who recently told the media he welcomes change but wants protection of older neighbourhoods, preservation of heritage and priority for affordable housing. He also wants a quality design standard for buildings that will form Kitchener’s future core plus an attractive focal point for the $43-million LRT hub and the 30-plus-storey condo’ towers planned at the Victoria and King transit hub.

Ward 9 meetings:

* Development of 270 Spadina Ave (Spadina-Highland) tower, Kitchener City Hall, Conestoga Room, 6.30 p.m.-8 p.m., Tues. Jan 16.

* High-rise development by Momentum involving the former Huck Glove building at Victoria and Bramm Streets, Conestoga Room at Kitchener City Hall from 6-8 p.m., Weds. Jan 24.

* Preliminary development of former Schneider’s site at Courtland-Borden at Cameron Heights Collegiate cafeteria, 301 Charles St.E., Thurs. Feb. 1 at 7.15 p.m.

* Drewlo high-rise development at Charles-Cameron block, Conestoga Room, City Hall, 6.30-8p.m., Tues. Feb. 6.

Posted in Heritage, Light Rail Transit, Low-Cost Housing, Neighbourhoods, Schneider's site, Transit, Vibrant Downtown, Victoria Park | 1 Comment

Take part in PARTS plan for community and Schneider’s site

Consider this as a homeowner heads up for those living in established neighbourhoods near Light Rail Transit stations at Mill-Ottawa and Borden near the former Schneider’s site.

Ward 9 residents who live a few minutes walk from the stations and the 27-acre site now owned by Auburn Developments of London, would be wise to attend and participate in a public information meeting that will soon be organized by the developer.

Information and plans seen at that meeting will contribute to changing the character and content of communities reaching from Ottawa Street and the expressway to Stirling, Courtland, Kent, Borden and surrounding streets.

Auburn will distribute flyers in surrounding neighbourhoods to announce the meeting where preliminary details of development, new roads, parks and creek-side trails on and near the Schneider’s site will be examined and discussed.

The development will form an urban village at the core of the city’s PARTS (Planning Arround Rapid Transit Stations) recently approved by Kitchener council and planners  who are trying hard to protect and preserve mature residential communities.

And, believe me, those planners will need help from the public in order to resist growing intensification pressure both on council and within the development industry.

That PARTS document, dubbed the Rockway plan, includes portions of Rockway, Mill-Courtland, Highland-Stirling, Cedar Hill, King East and other communities.

On the Schneider site, housing could range from high-rise towers to stacked town homes and affordable housing financed under the federal government’s new affordable-shelter program. It could also include a restaurant, possible brewery and high-tech,’ light-industrial uses in reworked buildings at Courtland and Borden..

Nearby residents will soon notice preliminary demolitions taking place and bore-holes being drilled to test soil conditions on the sprawling site which will be developed during the next decade.

 

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

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