Riddle me this.
2 situations present themselves at a city council meeting. In the first, a resident has applied to merge two lots so that she can build a larger, more ‘accessible’ home for herself. This is in direct contravention of the land use policies in the City’s Official Plan, which calls for more residential infilling.
In fact, the new Draft Official Plan for the city speaks specifically and continuously about the need for ‘intensification’ in the city of St. Catharines. Just a few weeks ago city council continued the process at the old Maplewood School site, contrary to the wishes of the residents that attended a public meeting, to build a large apartment building; this was seemingly in an effort to hold to the policy of residential intensification.
In the second case, the Lincoln County Humane Society has applied to replace a billboard that they lease out to a third party for a new tenant. This replacement would require several variances from the city’s bylaws, including most notably a contravention of the new Urban Design policy for the city of St. Catharines, passed only recently by city council. As one councillor noted, this would in fact be the first test of that bylaw at Council.
The issue here, to me, is not whether either of these proposals is valid or not. The issue seems to be whether the current city council ever intends to actually follow the guidelines it sets out for itself. Even better than that, why would city council vote against the recommendations that city staff put forth, without any real consideration of exactly what these precedents will do? As Councillor Washuta put it while debating the first matter, this could indeed “… open the floodgates.”
If the councillors are concerned about the “aging population” and a need for more accessibility (as Councillor Secord noted), then maybe the draft Official Plan needs to be revisited. Maybe so much emphasis can’t be placed on intensification. If the provincial policies with regards to increasing residential density ARE to be followed, however, then it doesn’t make sense to toss exceptions around whenever someone takes a few minutes out of their schedule to make a 5 minute presentation to city council.
In the same vein, if the city is going to go to the time and trouble of creating Urban Design guidelines, the least we could do is to try and follow the guidelines we set out for ourselves, as opposed to tossing them aside the first time they are slightly inconvenient. Perhaps a better suggestion would be to write them in such a way that our decisions aren’t completely inconsistent with one another.
Consistency. It’s a beautiful thing when you’re trying to forecast where you’re going to be and what you’re going to do in the future. If the current city council continues to choose this path of INconsistency, it’s going to be very hard going forward to attract industry and residents to this city.