Do resident concerns matter downtown, or only in the suburbs?

Elgin Street has been on my mind lately. It’s really the Poster Child for all the stuff the city does badly, as well as showing how the city half-asses stuff, and, finally, how their claims (it’s a Complete Street! We designed it for everyone!) get parroted throughout the media even though they are laughably false.

One aspect that is particularly galling is the way they completely ignored public consultations and the desires of residents. The results of the consultations were pretty clear–residents wanted a real Complete Street. They wanted protected, safe bike lanes. They wanted wider sidewalks. They didn’t care about parking on Elgin Street.

The city came back with zero bike infrastructure, sharrows and wide sidewalks that would be “flex space” (meaning cars get to park on it). After a ridculous fight, they did reduce the speed limit to 30 km/h, which is nice…but let’s wait and see if they do anything to make sure drivers actually abide by it.

A few weeks ago, there was a story about a proposed sidewalk on Sunview Drive that was scrapped because residents opposed it. The story notes:

In the city’s report, Mitic said a resident petition opposing the sidewalk was signed by “nearly every resident on the east side of the street.”

That story mentions a similar issue that occurred last year in Kanata South:

In that case, Coun. Allan Hubley had a large portion of a sidewalk scheduled to be constructed on Chimo Drive in Kanata postponed until after 2020, following public outcry.

The people whose homes the sidewalk would connect with signed a petition and told the councillor they didn’t want it.

Hubley told CBC in May 2017 it made sense to comply with the majority of people who would have been most affected by the sidewalk.

And this story also reminds me of the proposed baseball diamond at Heritage Park in Orleans that was nixed because it was also a dog park, and local residents didn’t want to lose that use. Mr. Mitic is quoted as saying, “It’s something the community absolutely does not want.”

Now, I’m not against these residents voicing their opinions on their wards, and, in fact, I think their opinions should definitely be given weight. But since both Hubley and Mitic voted for the Elgin Street proposal–thus ignoring or discounting the wishes of local residents–I thought it seemed like a bit of a double standard.

Orleans residents didn’t want a sidewalk, so they didn’t get one. They didn’t want a ball diamond, so they didn’t get it.

Kanata North residents didn’t want a sidewalk, so they didn’t get one.

Somerset residents wanted a Complete Street, so…well, too bad, I guess.

And so, with this observation, I decided to contact the two councillors. (And to be fair, I wasn’t intentionally singling them out; those are just the stories that have jumped to mind.)

Allan Hubley

Here is what I asked Mr. Hubley, via email:

“How do you reconcile your desire to comply with the wishes of residents when it came to the Chimo Drive sidewalk, but not to comply with the wishes of residents when it came to the re-design of Elgin Street? Is this not a double standard?”

Mr. Hubley responded promptly via email:

I believe each councillor has been elected to represent the views of their residents. On most issues, I support the Ward councillor, and in this case also the representative chosen to speak for local businesses on Elgin for the plan they wanted for their street. Could it have been a better plan?  Possibly, however the priority for them was to get the work done quickly and that involves trade offs.

With respect to the sidewalk in my area we had several letters dropped at each house, met with groups of residents, responded to multiple emails and phone calls  as well as walked the street knocking on doors to ensure I had a picture of what residents wanted.  

Over 70% said the pathway behind the homes met their needs and they did not want to be walking near cars.  The extensive pathway network we enjoy is part of the vision that Kanata was built on but that was left out of the CBC story.  The local paper had a more factual balanced report if you are interested.

I asked a follow-up question, “If the local councillor had supported adding bike lanes and wider sidewalks to Elgin Street (at the expense of on-street parking), would you have supported such a proposal?” But I did not receive a response.

Jody Mitic

I would up having an extended chat with one of Jody Mitic’s staff about the matter.

My initial question was:

“How do you reconcile your desire to comply with the wishes of residents when it comes to the Sunview Drive sidewalk and the proposed baseball diamond, but not to comply with the wishes of residents when it came to the re-design of Elgin Street? Is this not a double standard?”

During our chat, I also brought up the issue of 890-900 Bank Street, in which the proposal for an eight-storey building was pretty uniformly opposed by both residents and the local councillor, and city council approved it anyway.

The reply:

Regarding the baseball diamond, this was a situation of competing needs and finding a way to ensure that current users of the park for both baseball and dog walking would still be able to use it. Taking away greenspace from the park would infringe on the dog owners ability to walk their dogs in a comfortable distance away from ball games. Similarly, allowing dogs too close to the diamond is problematic while a game is in progress, which is why on lease setbacks are in place around the diamond while games are being played. There is other existing capacity for baseball in the area at other city-operated diamonds. 

Regarding the proposed Sunview Drive sidewalk, residents on the street came out strongly against the proposal, but this was more than just a question of the wishes of residents. It was also a question of the price, and whether it was a worthwhile use of the funds. Price was a significant factor in the decision.

Regarding Elgin Street, the re-development of a main street is different than adding a sidewalk to an existing residential street, and was a decision made by city staff and approved by council.

Regarding the proposed development at 890-900 Bank Street, development proposals are different than proposals pertaining to parks or sidewalks. It is a question of adhering to the city’s planning regulations. Council and councillors can’t just say “no” to these development proposals without proper reasoning, because any decision made by council could be taken to the OMB [editor’s note: this decision–and this conversation about the decision–was made before OMB reform went through].

When Councillor Mitic is dealing with development issues, he tries to get the community and the developer together so that they are on the same side to get the best possible development. In fact, Councillor Mitic has supported multi-story residential developments in Innes Ward which also have retail on the main level.”

I certainly appreciate the responses from both, however, I’m not really satisfied by either response. I think it’s been pretty clear for a while now that different areas get treated differently at city council, and more deference is given to certain residents, and not others.

This sort of hypocrisy needs to be called out. We shouldn’t accept it. We can’t expect that all wards will be treated exactly the same, but we should expect that city council treats all residents equitably.

And that’s not happening right now.

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One thought on “Do resident concerns matter downtown, or only in the suburbs?

  1. Pingback: Glebe Transportation Safety Survey | Steps from the Canal

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