Welcome to the January 2012 edition of my Council Report. If you’ve received my email newsletters in the past, you’ll know that I haven’t sent out a Council Report for a few months. I had major knee surgery and so I’ve been focussed on physiotherapy, City Council meetings, physiotherapy, meetings with constituents, and still more physiotherapy. It’s been well worth it and my recovery is now 100%. Thanks so much for your patience during this period, and thanks to everyone for their well wishes and support. I will never run another marathon, but I am eagerly looking forward to Spring and getting back on my bike! There has been so much revitalization along 20th Street, and lots of improvements in the great neighbourhoods of Ward Two. It will be good to check things out once the snow disappears.
City Council only meets formally once during January. What follows is my summary of the Top Ten Decision Items from that meeting. If you want to read the full agenda, just go to www.saskatoon.ca, wait patiently for the site to load, and then click on the Council meeting tab on the right-hand side.
And if you’re frustrated with the slowness and functionality of the website, please consider clicking on the “W” tab once it loads, and then going to the Website Project tab and taking the short survey. The city is in the process of redesigning the website, and I’m sure the administration will welcome your input.
Here’s what Council debated and decided at our last meeting:
1. Remai Art Gallery of Saskatchewan: Work continues on the re-location of the Mendel Art Gallery. Although I voted against this and would have preferred that the civic art gallery remained at the old site, it’s time to accept the decision. Just for the record, Council has received reports on the financing of the new gallery, and it is well-within the fiscal capabilities of Saskatoon to build this modern new gallery. And the Mendel contribution will be well-recognized within the new building. The old building is on track to become the Children’s Discovery Museum, and the design of the new gallery recently received a national award. Thanks to the extremely generous contribution by Ellen Remai, this building, which has been called “exceedingly well-designed” will ultimately become a true showpiece for Saskatoon.
2. Off-leash Dog Park for Pleasant Hill and area: There’s a vacant strip of land running along the CP rail tracks from Avenue P to W, and I asked the administration to report on its feasibility as an off-leash dog park. We received a report suggesting that a parking lot needs to be developed, the area needs to be fenced, and permission to use the land (not all of it is owned by the city) needs to be received. But it does look like we are on track to eventually having an off-leash park within a reasonable walking or driving distance for many residents of Ward Two. This will be a welcome development for many dog owners and their companions. People still call me regularly expressing concern about the loss of the Montgomery off-leash area.
3. Maple Leaf Foods Expansion: We agreed to a five-year incremental tax abatement for Maple Leaf Foods in the south west industrial park. Saskatoon was fortunate that they chose to upgrade and expand their facility here (many others were closed). They will be adding an additional 27,000 square feet to their building, and will ultimately be employing 400 hourly and 65 salaried employees. The tax abatement is a good inducement for them, and will ensure that we continue to have a major employer in the food industry in Ward Two.
4. Wind Turbine Rejected: As you know, Saskatoon Light and Power had proposed to build a massive wind turbine on top of the dump despite significant community opposition. However, the only tender received was over $2 million more than budgeted so Council decided to shelve plans for this turbine. I still believe wind turbines, despite being a valuable alternate source of energy, do not belong within two kilometres of any residences, whether in the city or the country. I look forward to the provincial government developing regulations for setback distances, as well as flicker and noise guidelines. And I will never be convinced that a massive wind turbine should be built on top of a mass of seething rotting garbage. I have asked the administration to look into the possibility of installing solar panels for alternate energy production at this site and I look forward to further reports on this. Thank you to everyone who phoned or emailed me about this project and a huge bouquet to all the community volunteers who worked so hard on the wind turbine coalition.
5. Councillor By-election Expense Reports: It’s somewhat ironic that all Councillors were re-elected in 2009 and the media kept telling everyone that would mean ” the same old same old”. But we have now had three by-elections. Councillor Wyant left to run successfully as the MLA for Saskatoon North West. Councillor Pringle was appointed to be the Children’s Advocate for the province. And sadly, Councillor Neault passed away unexpectedly this summer. We now have three excellent new Councillors- Mairin Loewen, Randy Donauer, and Ann Iwanchuk. And we just received the report on the election expenses for all the candidates in that last by-election. Unfortunately, two of the losing candidates did not file their expense reports within the required time so they will be taken to court. This action reflects the seriousness of seeking public office, and the importance of following the specified election procedures. It also speaks to the growth of the city and the fact that the role of City Councillor is increasingly becoming a full-time job.
6. Elim Tabernacle site redevelopment: Council received and approved a report for a proposal to build 4 three-storey condominium buildings for a total of 240 dwelling units on the site that has been the Elim Tabernacle at 8th Street and Moss Avenue. The land is being rezoned from RM4 to RM3 to accommodate privacy and shading concerns of nearby residents. The difference is that there will be a lower building height (12 meters instead of 15 meters) but the Gross Floor Space ratio will be denser. This was done to “provide greater compatibility with the existing residential development to the south and east of the property”. So, lower buildings, but packed onto a small site. Nevertheless, this decision shows that Council does recognize that it is important to take into account the impact on surrounding neighbourhood as growth proceeds in this city.
7. Montgomery site development: It’s interesting that the Elim Tabernacle development and the Maple Leaf Foods expansion, as well as a land exchange with SaskPower for the landfill all came on the same night as Council approved a public hearing to consider a development proposal for 192 rental apartments in three four-storey buildings north of 11th Street between Dundonald and Lancaster in the Montgomery neighbourhood. The hearing will be on March 12th- please mark your calendars if you want to attend this meeting. This land used to be owned by the Arts Board and was used as an off-leash dog park. This proposed development, plus one slated for three more four-storey buildings and 3 two storey buildings between Lancaster and Crerar (potentially another 550 dwelling units) will take Montgomery from a community of 2100 to well over 4000. Instead of being mostly single-family homes on large lots, the neighbourhood will be home to almost 50% multiple-dwelling units. This ratio is more than any other neighbourhood in Saskatoon except for the downtown/City Park areas and the Nutana Suburban Centre. It is massive change on a scale that no resident of Montgomery had ever imagined. If Montgomery is to have similar density to other residential neighbourhoods, 280 apartments, not 750, would be the expected number. People have raised concerns about all sorts of servicing issues. Council was told drainage could be easily managed by including a storm water pond near Circle Drive (don’t get me started on the subject of mosquitoes). I tried to convince Council to refer this matter to the Planning and Operations Committee to look at the traffic issues, the impact on the schools, and the capacity of the water pipes. But no such luck. So the hearing on March 12th will go ahead. In the meantime, please feel free to call me if you have any questions about the process or how you can participate.
8. Potholes and Deteriorating Roads: Council approved buying four portable pothole patching units plus the trucks to pull them around the city (total cost about $343,000). We also agreed to double our efforts to attack potholes in 2012, but we still are only spending about one-half of the amount of money that is probably necessary to keep the roads in good repair. Roadways are a one billion dollar asset in the city, and it only makes sense to keep them in good repair, rather than letting them crumble. Right now, you are paying about 27 cents a day in property taxes to keep the roads repaired. To get ahead of the pothole problem, that amount should likely be doubled. I’d like some feedback about what you think about that.
9. Climate Change Adaptation Strategy: Councillor Loewen wisely asked for a report on Saskatoon’s efforts to deal with the unusual weather patterns we have been experiencing. Over the last five years, Saskatoon has spent almost $30 million on responding to extreme weather events. Consequently, we decided to study the intensity, duration and frequency of rainfall patterns in order to adjust our standards for storm water drainage pipes in new developments.
10. New Park Design Standards: Finally, in recognition that every fancy design element we put into parks means increased maintenance costs, and bearing in mind that many people are asking for more fruit trees and shrub beds rather than just grass and flower beds in parks, we agreed to look at new landscape design and development standards for new parks. The parks of tomorrow may look quite different from the ones we have today.
That’s it for this Council Report. Please feel free to call me (384-1338 or 227-1411) or email me with any questions or reactions and suggestions. And I hope you all have a peaceful, prosperous and happy 2012.
Pat Lorje Councillor Ward Two 227-1411