Thursday, August 20, 2015

Housing issues again dominate Council's attention, leading to some heated discussion

Councillor Niesh perhaps summed up some of the frustration of late when it comes to forward momentum on any of the proposed housing developments for the City of late, providing one of the lasting quotes of the evening on the apparent inability to move on housing issues in the community.

"I'm tired of being stuck in 1990, I'm ready for some things to happen around this town, developments need to happen, on one hand there's complaints about nowhere for these people to live. And here we have on our doorstep the potential of a couple of hundred apartment units on the Kanata school area. To me that's exactly what we need right now ... "

The councillor's observations were for the most part the main thrust of his commentary for the topic, as he addressed the call for the need for housing stock in the community and his desire to see the city to start approving some of the developments it has been reviewing of late.

Councillor Niesh's observations and comments provided a bit of a break for the marathon, near filibuster approach of the night dominated by Mayor Brain, Councillor Thorkelson and Councillor Cunningham.

As it was earlier in the night, the three main participants had a number of comments on the theme of how the City is approaching the issue of housing, commentary that at times bordered on the personal as far as tone.

Councillor Cunningham had thoughts on the Go Plan surveys and how while happy with the collection of data, he is still disappointed that after six months since the City formed its housing committee, Council still has no idea as to what the problems are in the community or has a strategy to address the issues.

Of particular concern for Councillor Cunningham is the status of Senior's Housing in the community.

The Mayor challenged the Councillor's observations related to the Go Plans statistics and suggestions that the City was spinning its wheels on the issue, observing how the City needs proper statistical and relevant data to take to BC Housing and other agencies.

He also offered up some observations on the limitations that Council has when it comes to dealing with property developers and how they wish to develop the land that they own.

Mayor Brain also addressed Councillor Cunningham's comments related to Seniors Housing reminding Council of the proposed Waterfront Seniors complex under consideration and how it could alleviate some of the concerns over accommodations.

"At this moment, a lot of the proposals that are on the table are re-zoning for residential uses, you're talking about Seniors housing, well there's a proposal for the waterfront, that a Senior could sell their home on Graham Avenue and buy a mid  size condo if we were to go ahead with a development like that ... Housing is a multi model situation there are different levels, different needs, what we are doing though as a Council is, we have got private developers, who have private property which they own, who are coming to us with proposals. As much as I would love to be able to tell them you should be building this, and this is how you should be investing your money, which I'm encouraging them as Mayor to say these are our needs  ...  at the end of the day it's their land it's their property, they are coming to us for rezoning" -- Mayor Lee Brain outlining his observations on how Council should approach land development  

Councillor Cunningham bounced that discussion back to the Mayor noting that he was concerned about affordable housing for Seniors, noting that many are moving out of town owing to the lack of options. He also noted  pointed to work being done in Terrace when it comes to addressing issues related to Seniors Housing.

"We have three senior housing developments in town here, each one of them has a waiting list of between fifteen and twenty people, that alone tells me that we have a need for Senior Housing. Not senior housing where someone on Graham Avenue can sell their house, but senior housing that is affordable for those low income seniors ... that's the kind of housing I'm talking about  Im not talking about the housing down on Bill Murray Way, Im talking about housing that people can afford" -- Councillor Cunningham speaking to the need for Seniors Housing in the community

And while Seniors Housing and affordable housing proved to be contentious through the late stages of the two hour council session, it was a follow up on some of the Mayor's comments and the perception as to how the City is approaching developers that provided for the high drama and near fireworks on Monday.

That theme was introduced by Councillor Thorkelson, who noted that she believes the Mayor is wrong when it comes to how much control the city can exert on developers that are looking to move on proposed developments.

"I think that you're wrong Mayor Brain regarding our control, we have two ways of control one is over land that we own and the second is over zoning, with zoning and development permits just like we discussed right now with the impoundment yard ... But you are correct that we are being driven by private developers who want private projects for private profit and the only control that we have with those people is with zoning and with development areas." ...  "Right in front of us we have two of the biggest proposals, and the only way that the public can have input into them is coming to a public meeting, a public hearing about the proposals ..." 

Her lengthy list of observations clearly rattled the Mayor a bit, who strongly took issue with Councillor Thorkelson's impressions of how the process is working and how he is approaching the concept of development.

"I want to just interject just for a moment, because first is nothing has been done yet, these are  proposals coming to us right now which we have time to assess, secondly you have put words in my mouth, where you said we don't have control, I know we have control over it, so don't say that I don't think that. The other thing is that you say I'm correct in saying we're being privately driven, I never said that either. So that's your interpretation of it so we'll just be clear there for a second"  -- Mayor Brain responding to some of Council Joy Thorkelson's observations on Monday evening

The Mayor followed up his defence of Councillor Thorkelson's perceptions by outlining the process related to the Community Charter and how the City will approach the many land issues that are approaching.

As well, Mayor Brain offered up a few thoughts as to how the city will work towards better community involvement and how the city needs to build a culture of leadership in this community, how it will be up to people, young people like himself to be more engaged in the process to re-engage the town.

Councillor Thorkelson offered up a few more comments for consideration, reviewing the controversial nature of a decision of the past in relation to the development of the Rupert Square mall on the CN Park site and how it still resonates today, she then turned her attention to the topic of encouraging community engagement.

"Now Mayor Brain, you may be an expert, and ... I don't have any letters behind my name to be an expert in communications and certainly not an expert in getting people together.  But I think I have some life skills in that direction, and I think that anytime you get people into a room to have a discussion its better off to have a discussion with twenty or thirty people, than have a discussion with your neighbour. And I think that when we are making large decisions we should at least attempt to have meetings where people can come talk about them"

As a way to bring the evening to an end, Councillor Mirau suggested that Council host a workshop with senior staff to discuss what process the council wishes to follow and what they may wish to add to it, something that Councillor Cunningham asked be put forward as a resolution, noting how he believes  a workshop would be more constructive that wasting half the night going around in circles.

Councillor Mirau's motion was voted and carried by Council members.

A comprehensive review of the thirty minute discussion can be found on our City Council Timeline and while they didn't seem to solve any of the issues on the evening, the final thirty minutes of Council could be considered what they call Must see TV...

As well the City's Video archive for the Council session can be found below, the discussion starts at the one hour twenty six minute mark and continues through until the end of the meeting.

For more items related to Housing issues on the North Coast see our archive here.

More background on City Council issues can be found on our Council Discussion page here.

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