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Cairn on the Boulevard and Parking

Council met on Monday. I did not do an "Upcoming Decisions" blog post beforehand. My apologies: I was on vacation until the day of this meeting. I took time while away to read and understand the agenda materials, but not to do any blogging.

However, the biggest issue before us got pushed back. So I'll take the opportunity to discuss it now. It involves The Cairn on the Boulevard building on 102 St.

It is important to note that all opinions below belong to me, not to Council as a whole. Additionally, any factual errors are my mistakes, not the mistakes of administration.

The Issue- A Parking Lot

East of the Cairn on 105 Ave are two lots that belong to the property. These used to have houses, but are now empty and designated as parking. They currently consist of hard packed gravel.

Usually landscaping and parking requirements are clearly articulated in our Land Use Bylaw. While variances can be applied for, expectations are clear and objective. However, this is on land designated as Direct Control. This means that Council directly decides what the expectations for this land will be. Council can require the landscaping and parking it deems most appropriate.

According to the development permit approved by Council, the developer was supposed to landscape, curb, and pave this parking lot. It was also supposed to paint lines to bring the total Cairn parking stalls up to 69. The original deadlines for this work were in 2016, but Council granted extensions to 2017. However, the work has not been done yet.

The developer came before Council to ask for a 5 year extension to the landscaping, curbing, and paving requirements. This was due to financial constraints- the developer claims to not have enough money to complete these projects.

In its application, the developer also asked to widen some stalls to accomodate delivery vehicles and small buses. This would bring the total stall count down to 65. In its oral presentation to Council, the developer also mentioned that it would love permission to build a community garden or similar project in part of the parking lot (further decreasing the stalls).

Administration's recommendation was to demand 69 total stalls and demand all landscaping, curbing, paving, and line painting be done by July 31, 2018. Administration also recommended a $250 fine be levied for failure to meet the previous deadline. Finally, administration requested permission to levy a $1000 fine and issue a stop order to the first floor businesses if projects were not completed by the new deadline.

Delegation Presentations- In Favour of the Requests

A number of people presented in favour of the developer's requests. They included building residents and community service providers. They cited the importance of this building's affordable housing units in addressing homelessness and of its commercial spaces in addressing addiction in our community. They emphasized how important its continued operation and success is to the community. One also pointed out the drastic impact a stop order could have on the clients who rely on the counselling services, medical clinic, and pharmacy located in the building.

The developer also made a presentation. The most pertinent aspects of this presentation:

  • The purpose and accomplishments of this building
  • A claim that contradictory and at times overly meticulous demands from City inspectors led to ballooning construction costs, creating the current financial difficulties
  • Pictures of the parking lots and surrounding street parking taken at different times of the week. All of these showed plenty of room in the parking lots and street spots available on each side of the building.
  • An agreement with the need to get landscaping done this summer.
  • A concept for a smaller parking lot with a community garden taking up the remainder of the space. The developer claims that this is a concept building residents strongly support.
  • A claim that originally, the City only required 40 parking stalls and that the lots in question were not part of the development when originally approved. Administration disagreed with this claim. I am unclear on what happened here.


Delegation Presentations- Opposing the Requests

Community members were also present to speak against the developer's requests. They spoke about negative interactions with building residents and customers. They also talked about the current parking lot being both an eyesore and unsafe as drivers enter and exit it at all points (there is no defined entrance). Finally, they spoke about wanting to see Council be firm in enforcing its orders to developers.

What Council (And I) Did

Council had lively discussion. There seems to be a very strong appetite to see the landscaping done in 2018. However, there were a lot of questions about the hard surfacing and curbing. Some of us thought that these could be delayed. Some of us are open to the idea of a smaller parking lot. There was also an appetite to discuss appropriate fines and other consequences to failing to meet development conditions.

At one point, there was a motion on the floor to require landscaping in 2018 but no require further work until a later date. A motion was made to amend this motion to also require curbing but not paving in 2018. The potential motion was getting cumbersome and unclear as it dealt with amending different sections of the development permit. There was also some confusion about if it made sense from a construction perspective.

In the midst of this discussion, our City Manager suggested that we refrain from significantly amending administration recommendations. My recollection is that he suggested we either approve the recommendations as stated, or else give direction to administration and ask them to come back with modified recommendations to approve in a future meeting.

I agreed with this suggestion. I was worried we were going to pass an unclear motion.

Additionally, I was feeling that I lacked necessary information. I want to know more about what the impact of doing landscaping and/or curbing next summer and then waiting for paving would be on the trees that get planted and on the construction budget. I want to have more information about why administration feels that 69 stalls are needed and what the reality of current parking space is. I also wanted to get to the bottom of why the developer and administration disagree on how many stalls were originally required. I was doubtful that I would be able to get all this information during the course of Monday's meeting. Additionally, if I was satisfied with the information I received, I wanted time to digest it before making a vote.

I made a motion to refer this matter to Council Committee of the Whole. This motion was amended to give administration direction about information we would like brought to that meeting. The amended motion passed and we ended discussion about The Cairn for the evening.

What is Council Committee of the Whole?

Council Committee of the Whole (CCW) is kind of an odd entity. It is a sub-committee of Council, but every Councillor and the Mayor are a member of it. This committee cannot make any major decisions. However, it can form recommendations to Council which we can act on at future Council Meetings.

So why would we have a Council Committee of the Whole meeting rather than a City Council meeting? There are two reasons. First, a CCW meeting has less formal rules of debate. This allows us to have a more free flowing conversation. Second, every Council meeting has a number of agenda items. A CCW meeting can have only a single agenda item, meaning that we can take the time needed to dig into a single complex topic.

Right now, the CCW meeting is scheduled for February 6th, 2:00 - 4:00pm. We will dig into this issue in depth. Presumably this discussion will generate motions which will be made at the February 12th City Council meeting.

Where I Stand
This is a complex issue.

On one hand, I think The Cairn is an important building. I was quite clear in my campaign that addressing homelessness and the opiod crises are priorities for me. The Cairn has done a lot of good in addressing these problems. We need it to continue to function. I am also aware that a project like this carries a lot more risk than a traditional apartment building. I want this risk managed well to increase the chances of other developers taking on similar projects in the future.

On the other hand, I really feel for the neighbours. I know this building has had an impact on many and a very significant impact on a few. I think many of these impacts could've been significantly mitigated with different actions and conditions. I also understand and share frustration with unmet conditions- I am a lot more open to supporting adjustments before deadlines than after deadlines.

I want The Cairn to succeed. I want its residents to have the homes, community, and help which it was envisioned to provide. At the same time, I want neighbours to have a safe, attractive, and positive street to live on. This is a tough balancing act. At the end of the day, I want to ensure any money Council requires the spending of to have the best possible outcomes for both building residents and neighbours.

Because I see both sides of this and it is complex, I still have a very open mind. I am collecting information and opinions. But currently, here is my thinking:

  • Regarding Landscaping: This needs to happen and it needs to happen as soon as possible. It is important for safety as it will create a defined entrance into and out of the parking lot. It is important for the aesthetics of the block (the best time to plant a tree is always "last year"). And it has environmental benefit. That being said, I want to learn more about what impacts paving would have on landscaping if we gave it a later construction deadline.
  • Regarding Timing of Paving: I'm not sold on the urgency of this. My understanding is the biggest reason for requiring this is to protect our roads and storm drains from migrating gravel. I get why we can't have gravel parking lots all over town, but I don't think one will have serious impact. I also fail to see how having it paved improves impact on neighbours. I am open to giving a developer of a project like this more leeway than developers of traditional units, especially when it doesn't impact neighbours. That being said, I don't support granting a five-year extension as requested as it will just pass on this issue to the next Council. If I end up supporting any extended deadlines, I intend to only support extensions up to summer 2021.
  • Regarding Amount of Parking: I am very inclined to support reducing the parking requirements to 65 stalls- asking to create some wider stalls seems like a reasonable request to me. I also don't think it saves the developer any money (if anything, it cuts a potential future revenue stream of rented spaces). However, I am completely on the fence and requiring more information before deciding if I support a smaller parking lot with garden area. Having adequate parking is my top priority. At the same time, there is no benefit to excess parking. I would suggest that a garden is better than empty parking spots both for building residents and for neighbors.
  • Regarding an Immediate Fine of $250: I fully support this. The developer agreed to conditions, it failed to meet them, there needs to be consequences. Council needs to show that it is ready to enforce decisions. Some have suggested that $250 is too low. However, it is the amount set out in our Land Use Bylaw for a first offence. My understanding is that we do not have the authority to adjust this amount.
  • Regarding Future Consequences: Council's task is to find conditions which are reasonable for neighbours, good for residents, and attainable by the developer. Once Council has decided on new conditions, I will expect them to be met. I will be advocating for strong consequences to failure to comply. I'm open to considering a stop order. Additionally, the Land Use Bylaw allows for a fine of between $500 and $10,000 for a second offence. I plan to argue for a potential fine towards the higher end of that range.


What are Your Thoughts?

This is a complex issue. It is also a learning experience for the City, and one we need- there are groups hoping to build similar developments in the future. Additionally, I have been told that this is a unique development in Alberta- I'd love us to provide a positive model. I want to see the Cairn succeed. At the same time, it was put into a residential neighbourhood. I want it to have as minimal an impact as possible on the neighbours. In fact, I would argue that "satisfied neighbours" is a key metric of success. We need to learn how to find this success.

Since I am still learning and contemplating, I would love to hear from you. Where do you stand on the four issues mentioned above? What are some pieces of information you think I should consider?

Thanks for talking!