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This article was published 9/1/2014 (2374 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Many residents of the Exchange are disappointed that their voices fell silent to the Standing Policy Committee on Downtown Development, Heritage and Riverbank Management.
On a very cold Winnipeg morning, many concerned citizens reorganized their work commitments to present their concerns over the building of a 24-storey glass skyscraper in Winnipeg's historic and cultural hub. Besides those present at the appeal hearing, many not able to attend made written submissions and a petition with 400 signatures was presented. Despite their presentations and opposition, the committee took two minutes to deny the appeal.
The unfortunate aspect of this process is more than just the building of a 24-storey glass tower that will change the look of what was becoming one of Winnipeg's most beautiful streets and vibrant communities. The Smart Growth theory indicates planning and guidelines are required for successful development.
Historic areas typically exhibit a range of heritage values, including social and architectural. Frequently, they have aesthetic significance; therefore, the design quality of new insertions in a historic area is important.
The city planners and committee members did not address any of the issues raised about traffic, sight lines or the darkness a tower that will be more than three times the height of the buildings in the area may cause. It will be six times the height of the building next door. To put this in perspective this would be like building a six storey apartment complex in a neighbourhood of bungalows. This is not the minor variance city planners, developers or committee members have indicated. This is a major change.
Many of us who live in the district find this statement by our counsellor Mike Pagtakhan to be quite disturbing: "It's important that we take a leap of faith on this important project."
Our local counsellor has failed to represent, attempt to understand or even dialogue with his constituents over this issue as well as others, such as the Residential Parking Pass issue, when the city took away parking from Exchange District residents, citing its inability to change a long-standing bylaw.
"A Leap of Faith" in fact, has been what our city council has been doing for the last number of years with devastating and long-lasting consequences financially for the taxpayers of Winnipeg.
It was with a leap of faith that council agreed to build the police headquarters with only 30 per cent of the plans completed. Councillors showed surprise when it soared millions of dollars over budget.
It was with a leap of faith the mayor and council approved Phil Sheegl as director of the City of Winnipeg's planning, property and development department. This has led to questions around controversial land dealings and substantial cost over-runs in regards to the building of four fire halls.
It is with a leap of faith that Winnipeg was asked to believe building beautiful Investor's Field at its current location was the correct decision. It turned out to be another project mired in cost over-runs and traffic congestion, and now to be sustainable, it will require continued provincial and municipal support to enhance infrastructure required to ease problems associated with attending events.
It is with a leap of faith that we have been asked to support continued urban sprawl, resulting in a situation where, with each new house built, tax revenue generated does not match revenue required to provide infrastructure and services to these new communities.
This issue has always been about more than building a 24-storey glass structure or preserving the James Avenue Pumping Station. It has always been about a continued problem with how city hall does business. It is about transparency, accountability and trust. It is about a city council that doesn't have a vision for long-term sustainable development.
Our city needs to have a plan and vision for development that is founded on the three Cs:
1) Certainty in the planning system about what constitutes appropriate development.
2) Consistency in government decision-making.
3) Consultation between government, decision makers, the development sector and the communities.
Development doesn't constitute just having something built. Almost every project we have been asked to take a leap of faith on has cost taxpayers dearly. In each example, there has been a lack of transparency, no accountability and a loss of trust by the public, which is most likely reflected in our mayor's low level of popularity.
Those opposed to the skyscraper are not against development. We want a fair and open process where what is built is in the best long-term interest of Winnipeg. It is my hope that out of another decision wrought with more of city hall's leap of faith mentality, we Winnipeggers will find our voice. We all must demand accountability and transparency from city hall.
Follow this blogger at http://jameshoddinott.com
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