Weed, Sprawl And Kids

This summer, give your shrieking children a City Council playdate

City Hall | by Paul Dechene

Summer’s here! And if you have kids, you know how hard it is to keep them occupied for two whole minutes, let alone two months. You want them to engage in wholesome activities like mud skipping, spin-the-doodle and hacky jacks. But the second you turn your back they’re on their i-devices, goading virtual goats to attack virtual cheerleaders or exploring the universe as a vomit-propelled toddler.

Need an alternative activity? How about getting the little screen junkies to watch the council meeting videos the City of Regina makes available online at regina.ca?

It’s all stuff kids need know. Like, where will they be able to afford to live when they grow up? And where will they buy their pot?

Take for instance council’s June 25 meeting…

Density, At A Cost

Building in Regina just got more expensive as council passed new “intensification levies” at their June 25 meeting. The fees apply to any development that increases the density of an established neighbourhood.

The Regina and Region Home Builders’ Association sent in a letter to council expressing their support for the change, arguing the new levies are reasonable within the context of the city’s “Growth Pays for Growth” strategy. Council passed the new fees without any debate.

“No debate?!? No controversy?!? Then why are you wasting my time with this stuff, Dechene?” you may ask.

Because this change reverses a decades-long practice of exempting infill developments from Servicing Agreement Fees and Development Levies. And that could impact the city’s ability to implement the Official Community Plan program of encouraging compact urban development.

Currently, the OCP aims for 30 per cent of population growth to occur within established neighbourhoods while the other 70 per cent of growth follows a typical sprawl pattern on the city’s fringe. Unfortunately, Regina has rarely come close to hitting that number. In 2014, the city achieved 26 per cent infill development — a high water mark. That number fell to 11 per cent in 2016 then to a mere five per cent in 2017.

Of course, it’s not surprising that greenfield development would outpace infill. Typically, undeveloped land is cheaper than developed property. And construction is less costly when you don’t have to work around old buildings, mature trees and existing infrastructure.

And then there’s always the threat of NIMBY protesters demanding concessions and rounds of angry consultation that can lead to a project getting shut down outright. It makes infill a highly risky proposition.[1]

Traditionally, the big break infill developers could count on was the exemption from development fees when building within the area bounded by the Ring Road and Lewvan Drive. But these new intensification levies apply to any development that occurs within Regina’s 2013 boundary.[2]

It’s all part of the city’s plan to cover the costs of expanding and improving infrastructure that services new development. And, increasing the population within existing neighbourhoods increases demands on city infrastructure and thereby the costs of maintenance.

Mayor Michael Fougere says that we will have to wait and see if these new levies will be an obstacle to infill development.

“We have the policy that growth pays for growth. And we’ve identified the cost — which is minimal compared to greenfield development — the cost of intensification in developed areas of the city. So we’ll see how it goes. And we’re going to get a report back as to, does this work and what [do] we need to change to make sure it works?”

So maybe the new intensification levies will be little more than a pebble on our path toward 30 per cent infill. But considering we’ve heard barely a peep in the last year about the city’s one major infill development, the Railyard project, and considering developers will soon turn sod on sprawling new subdivisions such as the Southeast Lands and Coopertown in the northwest, it seems pretty clear that Regina’s vector of growth is aimed, infinitely, at the horizon.[3]

Don’t Bogart That Bylaw

Heated debates over highly specific municipal trivia? A fixation on administrative minutiae? Routine approvals that stretch out to months of work?

It’s almost like handling a cannabis bylaw is enough to give council a contact high.

While council approved zoning changes to accommodate cannabis retailers at last month’s council meeting, they couldn’t quite manage this month to pass the specific zoning bylaw amendments needed to make retail pot a legal reality.

The chief stumbling block were rules agreed upon last month whereby cannabis shops would be a discretionary use downtown, meaning any retailers hoping to locate in the core would have to go through a four-month approval process and pay an additional administration fee. In a presentation to council, Judith Veresuk, executive director of the Regina Downtown Business Improvement District, argued that this put the downtown at a competitive disadvantage to other parts of the city where retail cannabis would be considered a permitted use.

Leasa Gibbons of the Warehouse Business Improvement District also raised concerns over rules limiting cannabis sales to the commercial fringe of the Warehouse District.

Most councillors found Veresuk’s and Gibbons’ arguments persuasive and voted to permit retail cannabis throughout downtown and the Warehouse District. Only Councillor Bob Hawkins from Ward 2 voted against the changes.

City administration now has to rewrite the zoning bylaw — again — to accommodate the latest changes. But rules of order dictate that the bylaw needs unanimous support at the July council meeting if it is to become law. If even a single Hawkins votes against the modified bylaw, it will have to wait until the August meeting to be passed.


Footnotes

[1] ^ Everybody seems to agree upon the advantages of a compact urban form — its positive contribution to walkability and sustainability — just so long as any increases in density happen in somebody else’s neighbourhood and don’t require demolishing a single house or building more than three storeys.

[2] ^ Also, the new intensification levies only apply to construction that increases population density. So, tearing down a single family home to replace it with another won’t be charged a levy. Tearing down a single family home and putting up townhouses on the lot will.

[3] ^ There’s no reason you should remember this but Regina’s official slogan is “Infinite Horizons”. I haven’t seen much of it lately either. Sometimes I think I use it in punchlines more often than the city does in promotional material.