Monday, September 17, 2007

PAC Watch!

The City's Planning Advisory Committee is a committee of council that can make-or-break a developers plans when it comes to building in the city of Windsor. During the Burger King Relocation debate, we saw that this committee doesn't really look for the viability of the recommendations coming before it, nor do they look at the long-term consequences that their approval or denial may inflict upon us. It is for reasons such as this that we must really start to keep an eye on this group of unelected municipal decision makers.

First, let's review the roles and responsibilities of this committee.

-PAC makes recommendations to City Council on a variety of planning matters (e.g. plans of subdivision, condominiums, rezoning applications, and changes to the Official Plan.)
-PAC has no legislative powers.
-PAC is appointed by Council to listen to the concerns of citizens and developers, evaluate recommendations made by the Development planning staff and make recommendations to Council.
-Recommendations are usually to approve, approve with conditions, or deny applications.
-Members of PAC include both elected City Councillors and other people appointed by Council. -There are eight members, including a chairperson.
-Meetings are held in the Council Chambers in City Hall on the third Thursday of each month.
-Public notices are sent by mail to all persons listed on the assessment rolls within 120 metres of the property affected. Newspaper notices are also used. Notices advise of the date, location and time that PAC and Council will consider matters, as well as the name of the applicant, the location of the property affected and a brief description of the matter.

So that's what they do. Sounds pretty benign, doesn't it. Yet, PAC wields a considerable amount of influence. Now, what kind of person does council look for when it decides who is going to be appointed to these positions? Check back in the next PAC Watch!, scheduled to address PAC's October 18 agenda, to find out.

Which brings us to this weeks September 20 PAC meeting on Thursday in council chambers at 5:00 pm. SDW urges everyone to read through the meetings agenda and seriously consider the consequences of approving of these items.

PAC 1: SMART CENTRES (WALMART) (Z-013/07) Council – Oct. 15, 2007 (Planner – Bob Riley) Lands located at 7100 Tecumseh Road East. The applicant is proposing an expansion to the existing Walmart store.

View Larger Map

You've GOT to be kidding me?!? Putting the words "Smart Centres" in the same phrase as "Wal Mart" is insulting to our intelligence. So Wal-Mart, the quintessential killer of local economic development, wants to expand? Apparently, these so-called "category killers" haven't done enough damage to our community. Look at our downtown heart and tell me how our local independent business people are succeeding? Now, you don't really need me to tell you how I think PAC should vote on this one, do you.

I'm not holding my breath, however. I don't think this community has come to terms with just how detrimental these big-box retailers are to our community

Recommendation for PAC 1 vote:
-Approve with conditions

PAC 2 1223244 ONTARIO LTD. (Z-063/03) Council - Oct. 15, 2007 (Planner – Adam Szymczak) Lands located on the northwest corner of Matchette Road and Sprucewood Avenue. The applicant is proposing construction of four commercial pads of varying size.

View Larger Map

I must tell you - I have always HATED numbered companies! They always seem as though they're trying to hide something. And, in this specific case, those numbers are hiding the fact that this is Jenny Coco's latest sprawl-town development, though it was stated that a third party developer is involved with actually developing the land. Here's the report she submitted to PAC.

This is classic big-box retail/commercial development, folks. I don't need to get into specifics for you to build a mental picture of what it's going to look like. The planner for the project told me it's going to incorporate a minimum of 400,000 square feet (which means it will probably be more) of retail/commercial space with a paved area to accommodate a minimum of 2,300 cars (which means it will probably be more). LaSalle residents should attend this PAC meeting in full force, because this development is intended to ravage any smaller local economic development in place at this time. Windsor residents should be concerned as well, as it will add further to the leapfrogging of sub/ex-urban development and make fleeing to the suburbs a little more attractive to those people sitting on the fence about the future of this community. This is two big-box items on this PAC agenda alone. Sort of feels like an onslaught, doesn't it?

Recommendation for PAC 2 vote:
-Approve with conditions


PAC 3 - 5 The applicants (Boardwalk Properties) are requesting approval of a plan of condominium to permit the conversion of existing apartments (144 units in total) to condominium tenure.

There's a reason these property management companies are attempting to change all these apartments over to condominium tenure, and that is $$$. With today's real estate market, and the fact that anyone with a job can borrow money, home ownership is going up along with apartment vacancies. Yet, not everyone has a job nor can everyone buy a home. Condo conversions can price low-income residents out of the market and drive them out of the community, widening the affordability gap. There has been a growing demand that these prospective condominium owners set aside a certain percentage of units as affordable units and guarantee that they stay in the rental market for low-income residents.

These conversions also remove much needed dollars from municipal coffers. Multi-residential buildings now pay a 3.3% tax rate, but if converted the subject buildings would pay only the residential rate of 1.07% – a rate reduction of more than two-thirds. Our municipal funds are already stretched to the point of breaking, without condoning these residential tax evasions.

However, we here at SDW understand the importance of promoting higher density residential living and the fact that it impacts our municipal infrastructure a lot less than sprawling single family residential does. So, with a few tweaks - namely providing for an affordable housing component and repealing this tax break - we could get behind these proposals. The city would be headed to the OMB, however, to establish this tax-break precedent.

Obviously, this recommendation is based upon the theoretical ideals of conversions. There may be site-specific reasons for PAC to deny the applicants altogether.

Recommendation for PAC 3 - 5 vote:
-Approve with conditions


Josh Biggley said...

Is anyone available to speak against these? I'm committed on Thursday to another event, but I'd hate for this to go forward without objection.

Josh Biggley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Josh Biggley said...

Sorry for the previous post -- the editing was off. Let's try that again.

Here is the contact information for all of the members of PAC as listed on the city's website.

Dave Brister

Drew Dilkens

Percy Hatfield

Caroline Postma

Christopher Asmar

Barbara Kersey

Gail Growe-Zdyb

Ed Sleiman

Merrill Baker

Cheryl Cross-Leal

Kim Willis-More

Chris Holt said...

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective) I have my daughter's 12th birthday on Thursday. I am going to write, but my job is now A LOT more difficult after reading your letter to PAC, Josh.

Good job!

If it's OK with you, I am going to post your PAC letter here in the comments section.

I still urge others to write in or, better yet, show up in person to show PAC that there's actually people interested in this stuff.

This Thursday at 5:00 PM
Council Chambers - 3rd Floor

Chris Holt said...

This is a letter that was sent to members of PAC in opposition to two of the items on their September 20 agenda:

Members of PAC:

I am writing to express my opposition for two proposals that are to be presented for your consideration at your 20 September 2007 meeting.


This item involves the proposed expansion of the Walmart store located at 7100 Tecumseh Road East. Although a case could be made against the business practices of Walmart, its' position as a local economy killer, etc. I opppose the expansion of Walmart because it damage s the infrastructure, both physical and economic, that supports our neighbourhoods and communities. Windsor was built on the foundation of independent retailers focused on good customer service, diverse product offerings and a true attention to detail. If you have frequented a Walmart recently, and I will admit that I use my local Walmart on occasion, you will find a profound absence of the above qualities.

I ask you to oppose the expansion of this Walmart store as the first step in restoring and rebuilding Windsor. Denying the expansion of Walmart, as many communities across Canada have, will show commitment in Windsor to the independent retailer and, I believe, signal a change in the outlook for the retail sector in Windsor. This city is a far cry from the glory days of the 40s, 50s, 60s and even early 70s, but with a vote to deny we can begin to rebuild this city and reinvent ourselves as a progressi ve, vibrant and exciting city that will catch the attention of local, national and international investors.


This proposal for a mega-mall, backed by Jenny Coco, should be denied immediately. This development is not, in any way, shape or form, a smart development choice for Windsor, Lasalle or any other community in Essex County. Mega malls are devoid of character, strip neighbourhoods of local retailers, and create huge asphalt wastelands. (Reference an article on at detailing a study on parking lots and their adverse impacts on urban settings.) Ms. Coco's proposed development will not only draw businesses out of the core of Windsor, but will, over time, draw residents away from our core communities, exacerbating the crisi s of a dwindling tax base that jeopardizes the future of Windsor and all its' residents.

I realize that, in the short term, this development may be viewed as a tax bonanza, infusing the area with hundreds of jobs, tax dollars and a new commercial development to crow about. I suggest to each of you that the current situation in Windsor is due, in part, to the short-sighted views of past administrations and a failure to practice smart urban planning. All of the window dressing, nods to environmentalism, etc. in this development do little to address the economic and cultural impacts to the communities that many of us grew up in and/or are now raising our families in. It is time to adopt a long-term view and start taking a stand for the future of Windsor.

If the social and economic impacts are not enough to persuade you to deny this development, vote to deny to prot ect the environment. The grasslands, wetlands and forests between Huron Church Road and Lasalle are among the most fragile in Canada. This development, nearly butting up against these lands, will interrupt this precarious environmental balance. Whether it is the devastation to the lands during construction and "development" or the long-term impact due to increased traffic volumes and the inevitable flood of residential sprawl that will follow, the impact will be profound, devastating and, very likely, irreversable.

In closing, I urge PAC to seek out and adopt a vision of Windsor and recognize your role in protecting our fragile city and forming the city of the future. We must not sacrifice our city to the highest bidder any longer. It is time to stop propogating the image of Windsor as a cheap date and start courting long-term relationships that provide lasting and sustainable fiscal and s ocial benefits. The tide is turning in Windsor; we are ready want a change to the "same old", and are ready for strong leadership to take a stand.

Josh Biggley said...

Just so everyone knows, Councilor Dilkens responded (and is the only one to response so far) so my email. He indicated that he is not with us on the Walmart deal. Admittedly, that is a tough sell -- unless you actually shop at one -- boy their service is terrible.

He is undecided on the Coco development -- I guess the submission is 300+ pages and he is still slogging through it.

I'm wondering if there is anyone in the city who might be qualified to put together a "Vision Proposal" on what Windsor could be. Public works has the talent, but I don't think any of them could do it as it would be perceived as a conflict of interest.

Hmm -- I have an idea -- let me send some emails and see where this goes. If anyone else has any suggestions, let me know. We'll try and co-ordinate this one.

Vincent Clement said...

Chris: You do realize that the reduction in property tax has to be passed along to tenants, thereby, making the units more affordable. It could be between $20 to $50 per month.

Boardwalk is simply responding to an existing inequity: condo apartment buildings are taxed at a residential property tax rate where as rental apartment buildings are taxed at the higher multi-residential rate.

Your comment about "providing for an affordable housing component" is laughable at best. Windsor already has one of the most affordable housing markets in Canada - and that is both rental and owned housing. The rental apartment vacancy rate has been steadily increasing over the past five years, because renters could afford to buy a house.