Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Lake Placid River Landing Village: City of Saskatoon and Meewasin Valley Authority ignore accessibility concerns; AODBT called for ramps to plaza

According to records obtained through a freedom of information request the city hired AODBT Architecture Interior Design at a cost of $6,110.44 to review the Lake Placid River Landing Village proposal for overall compliance with the South Downtown Local Area Design Plan which forms the basis for the Architectural Control overlay within the DCD1 Zoning District.

AODBT’s Aug. 5, 2008, report notes that the developer’s proposal does not meet the guideline for accessibility and states: “The accessibility for the public into the plaza does not appear to exist. AODBT strongly feels that the plaza should be accessible at both the 19th Street/2nd Avenue entrance as well as the Spadina Crescent/3rd Avenue entrance. This way, a connection between the 2nd Avenue corridor and the accessible pathway to River Landing through the public plaza of this development can be achieved.”

AODBT, a credible and well-respected firm, said “The proposal is not clear as to how the plaza is accessible to those in wheelchairs, with strollers, or on bicycles. AODBT believes that access would be enhanced by introducing ramps at the corner of 19th Street and 2nd Avenue along with the access point by the traffic circle at Spadina Crescent and 3rd Avenue. This way, those people using wheels to travel can not only get into the plaza, but move through to the ramped area developed in River Landing Phase One leading to the Meewasin Valley Trail or Traffic Bridge.”

City council and the Meewasin Valley Authority board never received the report. It seems city administration tossed the expert advice and let the developer off the hook by allowing the lowest standard to prevail, one that will force persons with mobility problems to use elevators to get to the public plaza. Apparently aesthetics and retail opportunities take priority.

The raised plaza appears to be designed to keep out certain elements i.e. skateboarders, cyclists, panhandlers etc. The fallout from this is that persons with disabilities might be less inclined to visit the area, which is not fair.

AODBT’s report seems to also confirm a concern that was voiced early on, which is the plaza feeling more like a private courtyard than a public gathering place.

“The width and height of the Spadina Office tower is not obtrusive or offensive, but it does block any chance of the public space having a direct connection to the river. Without this connection, the fear is that the areas described as public space may become a private space for the tenants and guests of the buildings surrounding it,” the report notes.

“To remedy this, AODBT suggests that the 2nd floor of the Spadina Office tower be revamped to allow public to access portions of the south edges of the property more freely, allowing movement from the central plaza to an area with views overlooking the river.”

The consultant’s report noted a concern that was raised shortly after Lake Placid’s original plan was released in Sept. 2007: “The introduction of a water feature in both the waterfalls and fountain is a good tie-in to the River. However, the use of the pool as a skating rink may be a duplication of the popular rink currently run to the north of the Bessborough Hotel. With that in mind, AODBT realizes that it is not easy to develop winter amenity spaces in a limited urban space.” The rink in question is the Meewasin Skating Rink, rated by the Reader’s Digest as the best outdoor skating rink in Canada.

Despite the concerns the consultant generally likes the proposal saying “the project concept of buildings with mixed-uses tied together with a public amenity space is a good approach for the property.”

“AODBT hopes that the changes suggested in this document are considered as the project moves forward into the next stage of design,” the closing paragraph states.

The AODBT report was considered at the city’s design review committee meeting on Aug. 14, 2008. The committee members present were: Ann March, SAA, FRAIC; Campbell Patterson, FCSLA; and Denton Yeo, PPS, MCIP.

Representing the applicants were Stephen Purdy of S2 Architecture and Rob Crosby of Crosby Hanna and Associates.

The City of Saskatoon was represented by Tim Steuart, the manger of development review.

The committee’s report does not mention AODBT’s advice that ramps be installed to enhance accessibility. The committee merely recommended that “Accessibility to the plaza being provided through the elevators at all times when the plaza is open to the public.”

With respect to the Spadina Office tower the committee did not recommend anything, but only “encourages the applicant to give consideration to… The massing of the office building adjacent to Spadina crescent should be reconsidered to create more variety in its design and to improve visibility form the plaza to the river. Consideration should be given to terracing the building to enhance linkages to the street and plaza.”

There is no mention about allowing the “public to access portions of the south edges of the property more freely” as AODBT had suggested.

“The Committee noted that certain elements of the design of this project are not in strict compliance with each individual provision of the South Downtown Local Area Design Plan. In the opinion of this Committee these individual provisions are intended to serve as design guidelines in order to achieve an overall design vision for this area,” the committee’s report states.

Unfortunately, it appears that accessibility for persons with disabilities was a casualty of neandertholic thinking.

When the Meewasin Valley Authority (MVA) reviewed the River Landing Village proposal the outcome was just as bad.

According to records obtained through a freedom of information request the MVA’s development review committee met on Aug. 21, 2008, at 11:30 AM in the Meewasin Valley Centre Boardroom.

The committee members present were: R. Picklyk, H. Klypak, A. Wallace, G. Grismer, A. Otterbein, T. Werbovetski, M. Velonas and D. Tastad.

The Meewasin staff present was: B. Wallace, D. Lowes and A. Burke.

The minutes for the River Landing Village portion of the meeting are skimpy taking up less than one-page. With regard to accessibility is this disturbing comment: “access issues (separate barrier-free access & some staircases to upper-level courtyard appear unwelcoming).”

What did the committee do about this problem? Not a thing. It made no recommendations concerning accessibility and approved the plan with only a few conditions.

Meewasin’s version of the DCD1 Guidelines is called the South Downtown District Development Policy. When applied to the River Landing Village proposal the lack of accessibility seems apparent with Meewasin stating: “Public linkages into and through the site are not strong. Accessibility for persons with a mobility challenge is separate from other citizen access (requires an indoor elevator).”

When Meewasin applied the policy objectives of the city’s South Downtown Concept Plan 2004 to the developer’s proposal the following was noted: “A strategy for barrier-free access into public spaces within the development has been articulated. Barrier-free access in separate from other pedestrian access points to the site.”

With respect to the key principle of strengthening connections and access Meewasin said: “Four (4) points of access into and out of the site are provided. Visual and perceived connection and public accessibility may be questioned – especially for stairs at either end of 3rd Ave. Barrier-free access is also a challenge.”

Meewasin also reviewed the Lake Placid proposal for compliance with the city’s South Downtown Local Area Design Plan, which the MVA has adopted for its purposes. When it came to accessibility and the requirements of the National Building Code the MVA noted: “Building accessibility meets with National Building Code. Persons with mobility challenges must use separate means to access the public courtyard than other citizens.”

The fact that persons with mobility difficulties are seen as being “separate” from everyone else is reprehensible. Meewasin appears to be completely oblivious to how unacceptable and hurtful this kind of thinking is in this day and age.

And what did Meewasin do about the lack of respectful and dignified accessibility for persons with disabilities? It did absolutely nothing.

The Sept. 5, 2008, memorandum from Meewasin resource planning manager Brenda Wallace to CEO Susan Lamb regarding Lake Placid’s development review application states: “I recommend the application to construct River Landing Village be approved with the following administrative conditions:

– Submission of a wind study
– Provision of landscaping details (including exterior lighting) as they are available
– Provision of information regarding the environmental considerations incorporated into the project
– Provision of greater detail on how the heritage features (i.e. elms and James Clinkskill house foundation) will be handled
– Provision of final drawings for the project

The approval shall remain in effect for 36 months.”

The Meewasin Valley Authority Board of Directors approved the application by Lake Placid River Landing Inc. to construct a mixed use development comprised of four buildings connected through public amenities and architectural features at its Sept. 5, 2008, meeting.

Saskatoon city council approved the application at its Sept. 15, 2008, meeting.

Unlike city council, the design review committee, the municipal planning commission, Lake Placid, S2 Architecture and the Meewasin Valley Authority, AODBT seem to be the only ones in this whole sorry mess that care about and understand the importance of universal design.


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