Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Latest downtown proposal ignores public input

By Joseph Kuchta

Following is the personal viewpoint of the writer, a Saskatoon resident.

April 16, 2004

Once you get past the smoke and mirrors of the city’s South Downtown plan, fatal flaws remain. It’s council’s vision, not the people’s. An elite few developed it, in isolation of the public.

The mayor says, “There’s no point doing this unless we do it right.” Delivering on that would mean a master planning process like the one being done in the affluent University Heights neighbourhood, where citizen engagement is taking place before decisions are made.

With respect to the Gathercole and A.L. Cole sites, CitySpaces consultant Gwyn Symmons said, “They’re remarkable pieces of land. They deserve to have a good plan.” Again, that should mean a comprehensive master planning process that includes public involvement from the outset and does not exclude any options beforehand. After all, we’re only talking about the most valuable and highly coveted public land in the city! Then again, that’s probably why a master plan is not being done.

There is little in the plan that wasn’t already known, like the roundabouts and roadway extensions, privatization and the mayor’s demand for condos and hotel. Having the Farmers’ Market and sporting facility on A.L. Cole were determined long ago. It appears that Symmons, at $1,000 a day, was merely along for the ride to somehow lend legitimacy to the proceedings. It’s clear that what was presented was basically the predetermined wishes of city council.

The entire process has been heavy-handed and top-down driven, not to mention extraordinarily rushed.

I believe it took the University of Saskatchewan about 18 months to do its Core Area Master Plan carefully and properly. City council and administration have taken a perverse pride in saying they did their concept plan in less than two months!

The result is an instant pop-up development allowing for a horror show of 14- to 20-storey buildings, roadways and space for a hodge-podge of groups co-opted along the way.

The cost to the public is at least $36.5 million when, four months ago, city council suggested there was no public money available. A Jan. 30 SP editorial criticized council’s $143-million capital spending plan saying, “Unless buckets of cash begin raining from the skies, Saskatoon taxpayers can’t possibly afford everything on its wish list. Not even close.” But now it’s OK, right?

As for public consultation, I’m sorry, a couple of open houses at the tail end of the process don’t cut it. These forums should have taken place five months ago before any decisions were made on the Gathercole site. In fact, there should have been meetings held in every ward.

According to senior city planner Lorne Sully, with respect to the DCD1 review, “We listened long and hard (to public input) and, hopefully, people will recognize we listened well.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. Having attended and read the submissions, the report reflects little of what the public said at those four meetings.

The overwhelming majority did not want the riverfront park or public access points to count toward the minimum 35 per cent open space requirement. Both the city and MVA representatives said their respective departments shared those sentiments. As late as March 12, when I met with planning department staff, I was told that their DCD1 report would say so. But it doesn’t; it says the exact opposite.

The majority of people did not want massive high-density development that would allow for 14- to 20-storey buildings to tower over the riverbank. Many did not want the roadway extensions either. For the city to say it has listened to the people is simply untrue.

The process has been infected with bias and conflict of interest; both the city and MVA will get to review and vote on their own special interests. Meewasin, in allowing itself to become a clearinghouse for the city’s wishes, has sold out its mandate and sacrificed its credibility. Looking at the city’s plan as it stands, there will be little left for the MVA to be an authority over, which illustrates just how ineffective it has become.

I have never come across a process as tainted and suspect as this one.

© The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2004


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