If you don’t get boners from reading about finicky little details in city hall documents, skip this post.
For those who choose to continue, prepare your boner….
Remember months back when it seemed like every second article in the prairie dog or blog post here was about the demolition of 1755 Hamilton? The building was home to 46 units of affordable housing. And the city just let the owners tear the thing down. In the middle of a housing crisis. And that is angry making.
At some point I argued that the demolition might have been averted if city administration had gotten around to passing the Downtown Neighbourhood Plan as a bylaw because one of the things the plan says should be done immediately is rezone the downtown as a Direct Control District. That’s action item number four, in fact. And if they’d done that, that would have meant the demolition couldn’t have gone ahead without first going through council. And that would have meant a public process instead of the one city staff opted for which involved quietly issuing a demolition permit while council was blundering around trying to decide if it was willing/able to do anything.
Well, when I wrote that about the Direct Control District, all I had to go on was my own reading of the Downtown Plan and some “interviews” I’d done with some “unnamed people” who “know some shit.”
But then recently I was reading through the city’s 2011 budget. You know. Just for fun. And because I was trying to find out how much the city had budgeted for the construction of the plaza and how much they’d actually spent on it and as it turns out there isn’t a line item for that, surprise, surprise. Never seems to be line items for the things I want to know. Not that I can find anyway. Goddamn useless accountants.
And while I was scanning through the 2011 budget — last year’s budget — I stumbled on this little comment about the Downtown Plan on page 125 of the Operating Budget:
The plan will become a bylaw in early 2011, including new zoning regulations through the implementation of a direct control district.
Ah ha! Seems that whole Direct Control District idea wasn’t so far fetched after all! In fact, city administration was still writing about it in January of 2011 as if they loved the idea. Well, maybe love is a strong word. But they were telling council that they were going to get it done right away.
And then they just didn’t.
And now it’s early 2012 — a whole other year — and there’s still no downtown bylaw. And no Direct Control District.
And 1755 Hamilton was torn down in late 2011 forcing 46 lower-income households out into the worst rental market in the country. And our vacancy rate is still 0.6 per cent. Just like last year.
Now, I suspect there will be some who will argue I’m making a mountain out of a molehill here. Say that the demolition of 1755 Hamilton and the city administration’s failure to pass a downtown bylaw are completely unrelated.
But they’re wrong. Those things are absolutely related. Guarding against short-sighted landowners and developers who hope to make a quick buck in an overheated real estate market by tearing good stuff down or building something crappy fast is precisely what the downtown bylaw is supposed to be for.
I remember a public meeting about the Downtown Plan back in 2009 I think (might have been earlier) where Jennifer Keesmaat of Office For Urbanism (now, Dialog) spoke with some urgency about a recent demolition of a historic warehouse building on Broad Street and how on the site there had been built a hideous, cinder-block of a parking garage (that was later embellished with an embarrassing, amateurish mural of green hills, a waterfall and an eagle because those things just scream Regina).
Keesmaat talked about the importance of adopting a downtown plan because it would mean that this kind of nonsense couldn’t go on any longer. Old buildings would be retained or repurposed, or, at the very worst, something worthwhile would get built in their stead.
That’s the whole point behind rezoning the downtown as a Direct Control District. It will make it possible for the city to protect the things that it values.
And if you don’t value 46 units of affordable housing while you’re in the midst of a housing crisis — value them higher than, say, protecting someone’s right to create another fucking vacant lot — I’d say there’s something wrong with you.