Commentary – Downtown changes won't benefit taxpayers
By: Deane Doucette
| Posted: Saturday, Sep 29, 2012 06:00 am
On Oct. 1, citizens will have one more opportunity, and maybe the last one, to address city council and attempt to derail DARP, the city’s downtown area redevelopment plan. On Monday the issue comes before council as it reconvenes a public hearing for two bylaws that will redefine the downtown district.
In my view, barring very vigorous protest by taxpayers, the result will be really serious expenditures by the city.
On Sept. 24, I emailed (as an open letter) a question to Mayor Nolan Crouse in which I asked: “If DARP proceeds, in what way will residential taxpayers benefit? Just name the most important way.”
Mayor Crouse was prompt in replying. I ask readers to carefully compare my question with Crouse’s answer:
“Thanks for this. You asked ‘if DARP proceeds’ – DARP is proceeding as the bylaw was passed over two years ago and we are already acting in accordance with it. Each move small or large is aligned with DARP such that little by little as change makes it moves toward the vision. Thanks for asking; the bylaw has been approved to benefit the entire community, the businesses, the downtown visitors, the merchants, the buyers of produce etc.”
I think readers will agree that Mayor Crouse's reply in no way answers the question. And I don't suggest that he didn't try. I suggest he failed because the only correct answer is: In no way.
I came up in the construction business in the “hard old days.” When I began, the Second World War was only 12 years behind. One planned every step, every utterance, and every pencil mark … or there was hell to pay. By age 30, I understood that acceptable planning leaves no stone unturned; every eventuality must be considered.
Frankly, I've noticed a series of costly blunders in St. Albert due to careless planning in the last 32 years.
An outstanding example is the poor space planning in our city hall. The architectural art is certainly there, but the space is inefficient because the internal layout (apparently) was not subjected to the hard eyes of a competent interior designer. Somebody who had the responsibility dropped the ball.
Another major clanger was the demise of our Municipal Planning Commission during Paul Chalifoux’s mayoralty. The committee-of-the whole (council) that succeeded it has proven a very inelegant replacement.
The loss of the commission leaves a gaping hole that used to provide checks and balances – sober second thought – concerning major city projects. The commission comprised of appointed local taxpayers provided the input to council that they appear to be ignorant of – or choose to ignore – to properly consider the concerns of residential taxpayers.
And now back to DARP – the failings are astounding. No one who had spent as few as two hours studying Patrick Geddes (“no plan before survey”) would have made such puerile mistakes.
The first failing: DARP will not, in any way that can be seen, benefit residential taxpayers. The second failing: No consideration has been given to geology and associated hydrology.
And, after considering the challenges of geology and hydrology, one then sees that the city's new minimal four storeys for any future downtown building will be prohibitively expensive and therefore will discourage new commercial redevelopment. Not only will the payer not benefit; the beneficiary of this enormous gift will predictably say, “No thanks.” One has to look long and hard for a more crippled plan than that.
Venereal disease is sometimes waggishly described as the gift that keeps on giving. DARP, if instituted, will be a pox that keeps on giving to residential property owners for several decades to come.
Deane Doucette is a director with the St. Albert Taxpayers Association, but this column represents his personal opinion.