Sunday, September 22, 2013

Our Decisions Aren't Always Black and White

Very few of the decisions that have to be made by council are simple ones.  A range of factors has to be considered, and not all of them are easily measurable, or clearly right or wrong.

However, all too often that's exactly the kind of rhetoric that is used in council chambers, or behind the scenes when proponents are pushing for a decision that will allow them to do something, or when those who oppose the decision want to ensure that you will back their point of view.  And emotions usually come into play.

The decision about use of property on the riverbank is one of those decisions, where we have to sift through the emotions and passion before making a decision.  And we have to face the unfortunate fact that we can't make everybody happy.

The proposed seniors' building is a discretionary use in the area, which is why it is before council, for the third time in five years.  Previous approvals by council have expired, and the current proposal is different from the previous proposals, which is why it requires the same scrutiny.  And discretionary means just that, it is up to council to decide if a particular proposal fits well in the area.

One of the black/white statements made by some councillors is that this new council has said that we're open to development, therefore we have to approve this.  I don't actually recall council making that statement, and in any case being open to development doesn't mean that we rubber stamp every opportunity that is presented.

Another black/white argument that was made to me by one of the proponents is that I should support this so that seniors can have a nice view of the river.  The implication there is that if I don't agree, then I'm against seniors (just like I'm against flowers and trees).  Views are nice, but shouldn't come into the equation.

I do not support this proposal for a couple of reasons - I think that its footprint is too large for the area, and that the proponents are underestimating the space required, particularly for parking, in order to get approval from council. It will be a three storey building, towering over the single family homes in the area.  Once the building is complete, it will be too late to do anything about it, and the owners will be free to, for example, convert assisted living spaces to condos.

They are asking to take over boulevard space, which is one of the reasons that I think it's too large, and I've been told that some residents have been pressured to sell their homes so that more area will be available.  And their statement that residents don't need that much parking may seem sensible on the surface, until I remember that Mont St. Joseph's has asked twice for surrounding park space to be rezoned for parking, because even though their residents may not own vehicles, staff and visitors need far more parking than was originally estimated.  All too often we underestimate parking needs, and the cars don't go away - they end up parked on streets, blocking driveways and decreasing visibility and street safety.

I don't deny that having another facility to pay taxes benefits the city, but we have to remember that this isn't the only property in the city that's available - that's another black/white statement that can lead to tunnel vision.

I've received more phone calls on this issue than any other that I can recall in my thirteen years on council.  The neighbours have raised some valid concerns, and as I said, we need to sift through everything before making a decision that will affect the people who live in the area, not just for a short time, but forever.

"Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted." - Albert Einstein

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