Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Saskatoon City Council & Meewasin Valley Authority approve Lake Placid River Landing Village plan; Riverfront plaza access limited for disabled

Saskatoon city council and the Meewasin Valley Authority have approved a plan that appears to fall short of requirements and treats persons with limited mobility appallingly.

The River Landing Village proposal submitted by Lake Placid River Landing Inc. will have limited access to the public plaza for persons with disabilities. An Aug. 20, 2008, community services department report notes that the “overall accessibility of the plaza is limited to able-bodied pedestrians.”

“Cyclists, strollers, and those with mobility issues will not be able to access the plaza except through the elevators,” the report states on page eight. According to the news article Council back Urban Village plan (StarPhoenix, Sept. 16, 2008) the two elevators in question will be located inside the hotel and condo tower.

Coun. Bob Pringle called the project’s limited outdoor plaza access “shameful.”

“As a city councillor, I am embarrassed about this situation,” he wrote in an e-mail to The StarPhoenix.

Tim Steuart, the city’s manager of development review said the Urban Village meets provincial barrier-free standards.

In the article Riverfront plaza access limited for disabled (StarPhoenix, Sept. 6, 2008) Project manager Genevieve Giguere of S2 Architecture says ramps are impractical.

“That would take up most of the length around the building and basically eliminate access to any retail along streetfront,” she said from Calgary. Such a “concrete corral” would also attract skateboarders, she said.

So it would appear that achieving the lowest minimum standard for a showcase development like this is acceptable and worries about skateboarders and access to retail trumps treating persons with limited mobility with dignity and respect.

The Lake Placid proposal also does not appear to include the mandatory “destination attraction” defined in the May 2007 expressions of interest as a cultural facility. Furthermore, the developer’s proposal does not appear to comply with the DCD1 Guidelines. The proposed skating rink/reflecting pool and waterfall are not listed as permitted uses.

To add insult to injury the developer has stopped short of promising that the so-called “public plaza” will be open 24/7. This appears to be something the public was not made aware of when the developer’s original proposal was released in Sept. 2007.

There is no shortage of shame to spread around on this ugly issue.

At city council’s Sept. 15, 2008, meeting no recorded vote was taken because no councillor asked for one. So bad was council’s decision that there wasn’t even a show of hands to see how each councillor voted.

The city councillors present for the vote were: Mayor Don Atchison, Glen Penner, Pat Lorje, Maurice Neault, Glen Penner, Gordon Wyant, Bev Dubois and Myles Heidt.

Councillor Tiffany Paulsen did not vote due to a conflict of interest and Councillors Bob Pringle and Charlie Clark were absent.

In an 8-2 vote the Meewasin Valley Authority board of directors approved the plan at its Sept. 5, 2008, meeting. Voting in favour was: Mayor Don Atchison, Councillors Glen Penner and Maurice Neault, U of S president Peter MacKinnon, Jack Vicq, Richard Nieman, Darwin Anderson and Colin Tennent.

The only two board members with the courage to oppose were provincial representatives Kelley Moore and Ann Coxworth.

Saskatchewan Party cabinet minister Rob Norris and Councillor Darren Hill were absent and did not vote.

On Sept. 2, 2008, the city’s municipal planning commission recommended that council approve the project. The commission members present were: Mr. Brad Sylvester, Chair, Mr. Kurt Soucy, Vice Chair, Ms. Debbie Marcoux, Ms. Janelle Hutchinson, Mr. Stan Laba, Ms. Carole Beitel, Mr. Fred Sutter, Mr. Bruce Waldron, Mr. Randy Warick, Ms. Leanne DeLong, Mr. Gord Androsoff, and Councillor Bev Dubois.

The city’s architectural design review committee reviewed the project on Aug. 14, 2008, and also recommended that the plan be approved. The members of that committee, which had been reappointed by city council at its Aug. 11, 2008, meeting, are: Kirk Banadyga, Alan Duddridge, Juan Estepa, Obert Friggstad, Trent Good, Derek Kindrachuk, Ann March, Charles Olfert, Cam Patterson, Colin Phillips, David Powell, Justin Wotherspoon, and Denton Yeo.

The following letter was submitted to city council for its Sept. 15, 2008, meeting:

September 14, 2008

Dear Mayor Atchison and Members of City Council:

RE:Application for Direct Control District Approval
River Landing Village
Parcel YY, Registered Plan No. to be determined
200 Spadina Crescent East – Central Business District
Applicant: S2 Architecture

We would like to provide city council with a copy of a message that was posted on the Internet on Sept. 9, 2008, by someone claiming to work for Lake Placid. The person’s user name is ‘mjl’. The Lake Placid website shows at least one person with these initials: Michael J. Lobsinger.

The message seems clear that the developer considers “aesthetics” and having “a store or coffee shop” and that the interests of “people’s homes and workplaces” within the development are more important than providing a design that is universal and accessible to everyone, something that treats persons with limited mobility with respect and dignity.

The developer indicates that if a ramp were installed it “would be required to be 300 meters long.” This is approximately 984 feet.

In the StarPhoenix article Riverfront plaza access limited for disabled (Sept. 6, 2008) Project manager Genevieve Giguere of S2 Architecture said the ramp “would stretch as long as 75 metres to ensure the grade is safe to the second-storey plaza.” This is 246 feet.

So which is it, 300 meters or 75 meters?

The developer says that its proposal “meets all codes.” Achieving the lowest possible standard at the expense of the disabled is not an accomplishment to be proud of.

The developer states “Let us remember that the reason the plaza is elevated to begin with is to bury all traffic, parking and loading to service the buildings.” It was the developer that chose to go with an elevated plaza that omitted accessibility considerations. No one forced them. The plaza does not have to be raised. Other design options are available.

For example, the Remai Ventures Inc. proposal from May 2005 had underground parking while “loading, garbage and recycling areas are all contained under the second story of the banquet facility.” Remai’s proposed development was not elevated so don’t say it can’t be done.

Lake Placid knew the size of the site when it responded to the city’s expressions of interest and could have taken accessibility for persons with mobility difficulties into consideration early on. It seems that didn’t happen and the elevators are an afterthought to mitigate a design flaw.

The developer states that the plaza is being “donated.” If this is how the developer truly feels, then there are bigger problems with the proposal than originally thought. This arrogant self-promoting attitude might explain why the proposal does not contain the required “destination attraction” defined in the expressions of interest as a cultural facility.

The developer believes “that a choice of two public elevators will be a welcomed alternative to a steep ramp in the winter.”

Why would the ramp be “steep”? Would it not be properly sloped and in the winter be salted and shoveled? Lot’s of buildings downtown have ramps. Built correctly they are easier to use and navigate. The problem goes beyond just elevators. There will no doubt be at least one or two sets of doors that will have to be accessed in order to get to the plaza. Depending on the disability doors can be barriers regardless if they are automatic. We can’t begin to describe the number times we’ve encountered automatic doors that were either out of order, turned off or designed so poorly that someone using a wheelchair cannot reach the button to open them.

Furthermore, the plaza is outside and susceptible to the elements, as would be the ramps, so please don’t use the excuse that the elevators are there as some kind of goodwill gesture to provide comfort in cold weather.

That the developer feels the elevators “are a better concept” and uses the word “handicapped” shows a lack of sensitivity and understanding of disability issues. Who are Lake Placid and S2 Architecture to decide what is best for persons with limited mobility?

This is not a question of accommodation, but one of being inclusive and considering universal design at the outset. The city and developer have the opportunity to address this problem now before anything is constructed.

We feel that Lake Placid should be asked to refine its plans and incorporate a universal design into its proposal before approval is considered.

Thank you for your time.


Georgie A. Davis & Joe Kuchta
, SK


Rod Nickel, The StarPhoenix
Michael E. Lobsinger, President & CEO, Lake Placid Investments Inc.
Genevieve Giguere, Project Manager, S2 Architecture


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