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Smart Growth slows down councilCommittee in charge of 50 Street revitalization criticized by councillors
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Tempers flared during a municipal services committee meeting as several councillors criticized the Smart Growth Implementation Committee, which presented an update on its discussions regarding 50 Street revitalization plans on Monday.
"To say I'm disappointed would be an understatement," said Councillor Niels Konge. "I feel this committee has hijacked council. The land is being held hostage as far as I'm concerned."
Four months have gone by since council directed the Smart Growth Implementation Committee to come up with temporary plans for three properties on 50 Street, which the city purchased for $975,000 two years ago.
The committee is comprised of approximately 12 members including members at large, the mayor and representatives from the private sector. The committee was directed by council to come up with a "revitalization strategy" after it voted to hold off on selling the three lots in April.
Instead of developing a temporary plan for the lots, Konge said, the land should be sold to the private sector so it could start generating taxable revenue for the city.
Director of planning and public works, Jeff Humble, who represents administration on the committee, defended the work being done by the committee. He said significant input from various stakeholders, including businesses and the public, is required in order to proceed with work on 50 Street.
SELLING LAND COULD TAKE TWO YEARS
He said selling the land over to the private sector could take up to two years and a temporary use would still be advisable.
"I think attracting the private sector to a parcel of land in the current condition of 50 Street might not only be a challenge but might not achieve the objective of revitalization that was envisioned by the Smart Growth Plan," said Humble.
The committee is supposed to be meet once a month but has only met twice since April because it was unable to achieve quorum in June and July.
The suggestions for possible temporary uses for the three lots, which came from a meeting in May, included building a community garden, a soft ice-cream shop (run by a not-for-profit or a business), a skating rink, a sitting/gathering public area and a public washroom.
"I've been pushing the whole time to get a plan in place and I think that's a reasonable expectation. It was kicked to this committee and they come back with an ice cream shop and a skating rink," said a frustrated Konge, who added there is already a place to buy ice cream on 50 Street and a skating rink in front of City Hall during the winter.
The committee also suggested the lots be used for public parking, although it advised that option be used as a last resort.
Councillor Adrian Bell expressed concerns the committee was being misled with regards to the possibility of using the site for parking. He said he spoke to a member-at-large from the smart growth committee who was under the impression council was not interested in using the lots for parking.
He also asked Coun. Bob Brooks, who is the chair of the committee, whether he explained to its members that using the lots as a parking space would create revenue for the city.
Brooks said committee members were not made aware of the fact.
Brooks, who is the chair of the committee, went on to defend the suggestions of its members by saying they had only met once and the ideas were given off the top of their heads.
Councillors Rebecca Alty and Linda Bussey agreed the city's strategy for the three lots on 50 Street lacked coherent direction and needed greater oversight.
"Nobody really knows what's happening," said Alty. "We basically just want the 50 Street project to advance. We need a solid plan, with our vision laid out, and we just keep delaying it."
Alty did not blame the committee for the delays, but said there needs to be timelines put in place and specific responsibilities delegated.
"Right now, it's not really clear and nothing's really advancing," said Alty. "We have to designate the work so people are accountable."
Konge, however, believes the various committees the city currently has are at the root of the problem.
"I feel like it's not the way to get things done. I feel like we have to too many committees and I feel like they are taking away from what the councillors were elected to do," said Konge.
"We were elected to make decisions and because of the committees we don't make decisions."
According to director of public works Chris Greencorn, the request for proposals for the demolition of the two buildings on 50 Street closes this week. He said that demolition of the building, originally scheduled to take place by the beginning of August, will likely begin in September.