Monday, September 01, 2008

River Landing Village: Persons with disabilities could be forced to use elevators to reach “public” plaza; proposal missing “destination attraction”

The debacle at Parcel “Y” in River Landing is showing no signs of subsiding. In fact, it’s getting worse. Now it appears that, due to a serious design flaw, persons with disabilities and others with mobility difficulties could be forced to use an elevator to reach the developer’s proposed “public” plaza – which might not be so public after all.

At its Sept. 2, 2008, meeting the City of Saskatoon’s Municipal Planning Commission (MPC) will consider an application for Direct Control District approval for the River Landing Village. A report from the Community Services Department recommends that the project proceed to the next stage, which includes the city entering into a Development Agreement and the issuing of Development Permits.

The following letter was submitted to the MPC:

September 1, 2008

Municipal Planning Commission
City Hall
222 Third Avenue North
Saskatoon, SK S7K 0J5

Dear Commission Members:

RE: Application for Direct Control District Approval – River Landing Village
Parcel YY, Registered Plan No. to be determined
Existing Zoning DCD1 (AC1)
200 Spadina Crescent East – Central Business District
Applicant: S2 Architecture

With respect to the above agenda item and the application submitted by S2 Architecture on behalf of Lake Placid River Landing Inc., the proposed development will negatively impact persons with disabilities and others with limited mobility. Of concern as well is the alleged “public” nature of the proposed plaza and the fact that the developer’s plan does not appear to comply with the DCD1 Guidelines. Furthermore, the mandatory “destination attraction” in the form of a cultural facility that was called for in the River Landing Parcel Y Expressions of Interest (May 2007) is still missing from the proposal.

The Community Services Department report, dated Aug. 20, 2008, states on page six that “Access control in the area is facilitated by four stairways from the street level to the plaza level.”

The report states further that “The overall accessibility of the plaza is limited to able-bodied pedestrians. It does not appear that bikes, strollers, wheelchairs, or walkers could access the plaza from the stairways. It is our understanding that there will be two elevator access points to the plaza.”

According to city administration one elevator access “is through the hotel lobby” and the other is “just off the stairway at 19th Street and 3rd Avenue.”

“Cyclists, strollers, and those with mobility issues will not be able to access the plaza except through the elevators. The 19th Street public elevator access appears to exit inside the office building into a public lobby that has no surveillance at all, natural or otherwise,” the report notes on page eight.

Funneling and forcing persons using wheelchairs, scooters, strollers, walkers or bikes to use an elevator to access the so-called “public” plaza is absurd, disrespectful and lacks sensitivity.

The public areas where the elevators are to be located are likely to be busy and will, at times, no doubt cause significant congestion. It is reasonable to assume that more people will use the elevators than just those with limited mobility.

From the outset there have been accessibility concerns with the Lake Placid proposal. The need for elevators was not mentioned in the developer’s original proposal released in Sept. 2007. In fact, there appears to be nothing in the original proposal that speaks to accessibility for seniors and persons with disabilities. It is obvious that accessibility wasn’t a consideration and that the elevators are now being included, as an afterthought, to mitigate a very serious design flaw. In this day and age one would expect that this kind of thing should not be happening, especially in new developments. The best time to address this problem is now, before anything is built.

The DCD1 Guidelines note that “All uses and development of land should make provision for the ease of access and circulation for people with disabilities.”

The elevators and their location do not provide “ease of access and circulation” for people with disabilities.

The option being proposed by Lake Placid sets persons with special needs apart and draws attention to differences. More appropriate would be a universal design, something that everyone can use. The goal should be to make the entire site invisibly accessible. This is what city administration should be striving for and recommending, not a band aid solution that smacks of segregation.

It is extremely disturbing that the Community Services Department and Design Review Committee, which is comprised of design professionals such as architects, landscape architects, and community planners, support this deeply flawed proposal and are not calling for significant changes.

Another concern with the Lake Placid proposal involves the “public” aspect of the plaza.

Page four of administration’s report states that “It is important to ensure that elevator access to the plaza level is provided at all times when the plaza is open to the public.”

On page twelve the Design Review Committee recommends approval of the Concept Plan for River Landing Village subject to, in part, “Accessibility to the plaza being provided through the elevators at all times when the plaza is open to the public.”

These two passages imply that there could be occasions where the plaza will be closed to the public. If this is true then it is something that the public was never previously made aware of and would obliterate any assertion by the city and developer that this is truly a public place. What we’d essentially have is a private development where the public is permitted – but only at certain times. In fact, on page ten of the report the city now refers to this area as a “public private plaza.”

Contrary to what city administration claims the Lake Placid proposal does not appear to comply with the DCD1 Guidelines.

The DCD1 clearly state that “The only permitted uses in the DCD1 are those listed in the following table: Uses for the DCD1.” The operative word here is “only.”

In the Culture & Tourism category of the table the “only permitted uses” are interpretive centres, theatres, heritage facilities, museums, art galleries, amphitheatres, display space, events programming, tour offices, box offices and public institutional offices.

In the Recreation category of the DCD1 the “only permitted uses” are Equipment Rentals, Marinas, Pavilions, Cafes, Tour Boats, Street Vendors, Docks, and Sportsfields.

The public component of Lake Placid’s development consists of a raised plaza that includes a skating rink in the winter and a reflecting pool in the summer. A waterfall is also proposed. These are not listed as permitted uses.

S2 Architecture’s statement in its July 16, 2008, application for DCD1 and ARC review to city that “All proposed uses for the site are permitted uses of the applicable Bylaws” seems to be erroneous.

City administration, in its Aug. 20 report, considers the plaza and its features as “ancillary.” Nowhere in any previous administrative report concerning Lake Placid’s proposal, however, does this occur. Why is it happening now?

At its Sept. 17, 2007, meeting city council considered the following city manager’s report: Administrative Report No. 20-2007 – F1) River Landing Parcel “Y” – Lake Placid Investments Inc. Proposal Evaluation.

On the issue of land uses the city manager states: “In addition to a wide mix of proposed uses (5 out of 6 allowable uses under DCD1), the proposal addresses an important planning objective for year-round, daily, and evening activity. A new restaurant, extensive retail, a public plaza, boutique hotel, office space, a health facility (open to the public via membership), extra public parking, and residential opportunities offer a great range of uses which will promote activity on the street.”

It is clear that the “public plaza” is a land use on par with the hotel, office space and residential components of the development. It is not merely “ancillary.”

It is unfortunate that city council and administration continue to mislead the public in claiming that the Lake Placid proposal is in compliance with the DCD1.

Finally, the Lake Placid proposal does not appear to include the “destination attraction” that was listed as a required element in the River Landing Parcel Y Expressions of Interest that was released on May 1, 2007.

Section 5.0 of the EOI states that “A destination attraction’s purpose is more clearly defined under “Permitted Uses” within the DCD1 guidelines: “to build on the Downtown’s role as the cultural heart of the city by the development of cultural facilities which can improve economic prospects and encourage tourism”.

This mandatory element remains missing from Lake Placid’s proposal. Why is the city allowing this?


Joe Kuchta

cc: Meewasin Valley Authority Board of Directors


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