Recent Discussion with Councillor DeViet

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I live in Middlesex Centre’s Ward 4, represented by Councillor Aina DeViet. She and I have been discussing various issues lately, especially once the snow started to fly. Below is an email I sent to her following the PPM on the upcoming subdivision and a few phone calls; an attempt to put my thoughts into words instead of just discussing things on the fly. She recently responded regarding snow removal, which is also below.

Given the upcoming municipal election, I would really like to hear from other citizens in Ward 4 (Komoka and Kilworth) regarding the issues below so that we can try and find some common ground leading up to October. These are purely my thoughts and do not reflect those of the Kilworth Ratepayers Association, though I am a participant. I don’t have all the answers, but I do feel it’s important to ask questions.

December 6, 2013

Hi Aina,

Thank you for calling me today! And I’m sorry this email is coming so late. I’ll do my best to be brief, and also offer some potential ideas/solutions for the issues I’m raising.

Snow Removal
You and I discussed this at length. My issues here are twofold:

  1. The quality of snow removal being performed.
  2. The lack of sidewalks being plowed.

The level of snow removal performed it, frankly, atrocious. Several cm of snow is routinely left on the road, causing almost as much trouble to drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists alike as if the snow were never plowed at all. I’m attaching two photos I took November 29, which is several days after a plow last came through Kilworth. I think you’ll instantly see what I’m referring to.

I know you’re looking into raising the issue once more to at least find out what it would cost to have sidewalks plowed. That’s great! And on that note, I would recommend that staff bring that report back and divide each road into primary, secondary, and tertiary roads. The reason for that is that it would probably be much easier to get sidewalks on primary roads (e.g. Jefferies Rd) and secondary roads (e.g. Stephen Moore Dr, Westbrook Dr) plowed, rather than all of them.

An extra hour or two and the sidewalk plow/snowblower that was out here could have had some secondary roads plowed, which also carry a decent amount of traffic each day. Just a thought.

Police
I know we talked about this today, but I wanted to put my thoughts a bit more succinctly.

I was rather mystified when I spotted 4 police officers all, seemingly, inspecting the roof of a home on Stephen Moore Dr in late August (I think it was August). Based on their demeanour, the home belonged to one of the officers present. This was late, probably around 10:30pm. What else could they have been doing instead of socializing?

Just a few weeks ago I came across something similar on Baron Cr. I was walking my dog, going north on Earlscourt Terrace in the afternoon when I saw 3 or 4 police cruisers parked in the driveway and on the road, with multiple police officers milling about fraternizing. It didn’t appear that they were responding to a call, but merely socializing.

Which brings me to my point: Does the OPP have too many officers for this area? I’m sure they have a formula of some kind that says they don’t, but the results appear to suggest otherwise. When I see several employees of any kind, at any organization, simply milling about in the middle of the day, the first thought that comes to my mind is, “Too many employees. Need to optimize that.” I know emergency services should be looked at differently, but in light of the recent negotiations, I think it’s time the OPP take a hard look at their own internal procedures and staffing ratios given the demographics of Middlesex Centre (and surrounding areas they serve).

Roads
Our roads are, for lack of a better word, unsafe. Referencing this Ontario Road Safety report from 2006, and then the most recent from 2009, a cursory glance will show you that Middlesex County experiences a large number of collisions every year, in no small part thanks to a fairly large and increasing number of them occurring in Middlesex Centre. I think much of those, anecdotally, can be tracked to a few causes:

  • Lack of lighting on major roads like Gideon Dr, Glendon Dr, Vanneck Rd, Coldstream Rd, etc.
  • Speed
  • Weather

Two of those we have little direct control over, especially weather (unless we plow the roads better than we do now). I would not, however, propose putting up streetlights down our major artery roads due to the costs involved. I will make a different suggestion though: mid-road reflectors.

I’ve driven down several 400-series highways that have small reflectors dug into the road every 10 dashes (the painted lane dashes) or so. I find these are extremely helpful at helping drivers understand where they are relative to their lane (as they are embedded between lanes), and at alerting drivers to turns/bends coming up in the road. I don’t know how much they cost, but I have to imagine they are far more cost effective than erecting streetlights, especially given that the reflectors aren’t powered.

I’d also like to suggest staff look at lowering speed limits within the villages by 10km/h pretty much across the board. As I said on the phone earlier, I find no reason people should be driving more than 50km/h in Kilworth, Komoka, Ilderton, etc. And when we’re still experiencing an influx of city drivers, I think it’s important to help imbue that village-feel in every way we can.

I don’t have them off-hand now, but I have read the results of several studies that show a speed limit decrease helps improve safety, and does not cause a huge effect in travel times (especially when you consider drivers are mostly making their way to a major artery, with an 80km/h speed limit, anyway).

There is simply too much at stake with elderly people, young children, and some intersections with very poor sight lines to allow for people to think they can drive almost 70km/h down Jefferies Rd. More annual safety reports here.

I will continue to keep tabs on council meetings and public notices, and will continue to send you my thoughts on these matters when I feel I have something to add. I’ll also be putting this letter online so that others in the area will, hopefully, feel emboldened to express their opinions to their Councillors too.

Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you or hear from you again soon!

Response from Councillor DeViet.

January 4, 2014

Re snow removal – see agenda items for General Committee for the coming meeting on January 8th. The status report indicates the current contract will be put out to tender next summer and Council will have a full discussion on this once we have have all the information; however, given the number of kilometers currently plowed versus the total the cost is expected to double.

I will be asking what the overall impact on taxes will be given we will be looking at a figure that may run between $56-92K once we hear results of the RFQ.

All for now,
Aina

Aina DeViet
Councillor Ward 4 Komoka-Kilworth
Municipality of Middlesex Centre
Tel: 519-657-3093
E-mail: deviet@middlesexcentre.on.ca

Kilworth PPM re: New Subdivision

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Last night about 30 members of the public and press arrived at the Coldstream Community Centre for the public participation meeting (PPM) about Kilworth’s new subdivision. This new subdivision is going to be built on farm land that’s owned by Don Black Investments, to the west of the existing settlement.

Kilworth's new subdivision

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Tom Albrecht was at the meeting representing Don Black Investments (or “the ownership group,” as Mr. Albrecht put it). Also attending was a group of four gentlemen from Stantec who were there to talk about the engineering, planning, and traffic aspects of the proposed site plan and rezoning.

kilworth-new-subdivision-site-plan

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The Stantec presentation is summed up as so:

  • Stantec believes the proposal matches provincial policies, the municipal master plan, and secondary Komoka-Kilworth plan
  • The proposed site plan has 391 single detached lots, two blocks for medium residential, and two blocks for village commercial
  • Minimum lot area is 577 m2 (or 5,200 ft2)
  • The Village Commercial portion exists to align with the secondary plan, as requested by council
  • The Master Plan calls for the possibility of a school in the area in the future, so the land has been set aside to allow for that
  • At this time neither school board has indicated they’re interested in purchasing that land
  • The walkways proposed, running right through the middle of the subdivision are about 14m wide (WOW!!), providing a massive trail for the municipality to do a myriad of things
  • Desired phases start from NW to SW, then SE to NE.
  • There is a small hump near the middle of subdivision that would allow for grading and some different house designs in that area, including walkouts and such
  • A new sewage pumping station would be built to the south on an adjoining piece of land
  • Stantec did “quick traffic review,” which reveals that most traffic would be coming from either Glendon Dr, Doan Dr, or Willard Cr
  • “Community desires” at previous consultations have indicated they would prefer less traffic flowing from the existing settlement, therefore Stantec cut off Daventry Way even though they can “think of much better things to do there instead of a cul-de-sac”

At this point municipal staff began reading written submissions into the record. Several issues were raised through the written submissions regarding the land to the south, especially by the current owners of that land. Unfortunately the staffer was speaking fairly quickly as the full written submissions will be included in the minutes — I’ll link to those once they’re up.

One person’s submission indicated they have no problem with cul-de-sac cutting off Daventry Way as long as services can still be extended through that area.

This is when things were opened up to the rest of the public and Council for questions.

Susan, who was sitting beside me, wanted to know how the new subdivision would affect the existing sewage treatment plant. Stantec’s response was that a new sewage treatment plant and stormwater pond would be built to the south of the subdivision, and therefore the new subdivision would have no impact at all on the existing facilities.

I made a comment regarding the cul-de-sac that would cut off Daventry Way, and thanking Stantec for mentioning it earlier. I stated that that road should be opened up as the portion of Kilworth I live in is already heavily segmented from the Willard Cr area, and further segmenting it is completely at odds with current urban planning/design trends promoting walkability and multi-modal transportation. The current site plan diverts traffic through Willard Cr and Doan Dr, while the odds of opening up Daventry Way greatly increasing traffic through the current “core” of Kilworth seems highly unlikely.

The owner of Garden Patch, a garden centre on Glendon Dr, wanted to find out how the new trails around the Wellness Centre would be connected to the new subdivision, especially given the amount of traffic on Glendon Dr. The response from Council was that we don’t know yet, but that Council is currently working with the County on that.

A woman wanted to know what sorts of traffic measures would be taken to ensure traffic got on/off Glendon Dr easily. A Stantec staff member said that initially they see auxiliary turning lanes being put in, and that down the line there will probably be a need for at least one set of lights in the area.

Frank Berze, Councillor for Ward 5 of Middlesex Centre, wanted to know more about the possibility of low-rise apartments on the northeast corner of the property. The response from Stantec was that the zoning change for that corner would allow for buildings up to 20m tall, meaning a building of up to 5 or 6 floors. The same zoning change would also allow for attached townhomes, condominiums, etc. much like those that currently exist on Enterprise Dr.

Ultimately market demand will likely dictate what gets built there, of course, assuming the zoning change is allowed.

A Councillor and member of the public wanted to know what might go up in the Village Commmercial zone. The answer was that Stantec had no idea, but that the zoning bylaw allows for just about any kind of business you can think of — restaurant, drive thru, club, stores, ground floor commercial with up to two floors of residential on top, gas bar, offices, etc.

This is when things got testy.

A gentleman that lives on Pheasant Trail objects to the idea of apartments being located in Kilworth because “they’ll eventually look terrible after a few years.” He said that his taxes have gone up 22% purely to pay for servicing new land, which Mayor Edmondson indicated is not true.

And it isn’t true. Development charges pay for servicing new land.

Anyway, this gentleman wanted to know what kind of assurances we would have that any apartment building that goes up won’t look horrible after a few years. After going on a small tirade at a Stantec staffer for “pursing his lips,” and then on about water/sewer charges and some other things, Mayor Edmonson got things back in check and told the man he would be happy to speak after the PPM.

Someone asked when construction will start. Mr. Albrecht said that everything still has to be approved, that Don Black Investments will have to address the concerns of various agencies, etc. So construction won’t start for at least a few years, maybe longer.

I had the last comment of the night after blanking earlier. :) I raised an issue about the proposed construction phases, stating that I think existing citizens would like to see any disruption to the existing settlement happen earlier – get it over and done with on the east end, and then they can move west after that. The Mayor and several Councillors nodded their heads in agreement, with the Mayor saying, “I hear where you’re coming from.”

After that, there were no more questions, and the meeting was adjourned!

If you have any questions for me, please feel free to leave a comment below. The bottom line is that this new subdivision will go through and be built at some point. Whether the site plan stays as is or not, and when construction will start, is all still up in the air at some point. The family that owns the plot of land to the south has some big issues that need to be addressed, so it could still be, for all we know, another five years (or more!) before this gets moving.

Pints & Politics – August 2013 Edition

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First off, an apology: I walked in wearing sunglasses last night, and kept them on for a good part of the event. While I recognize this is a douchey thing to do, they are prescription sunglasses. My normal prescription glasses are broken at the moment, hence the need for wearing my sunglasses indoors.

Yesterday’s Pints & Politics was a great affair. While, clearly, there was no consensus made about how to “pull together,” a good discussion got started and, at the very least, we identified some barriers that cause people not to get involved, among them:

  • Political parties themselves
  • How the most engaged members, and even elected leaders, representing political parties behave
  • A lack of understanding about civics among the populace
  • A lack of accountability for most elected positions
  • Facing the wrath of your party should you vote against party policy

These are the types of things preventing people from getting engaged in the first place. It’s not that the party faithful are necessarily part of the problem, but their fervent belief in everything their party does certainly turns many people off. Which leads to what, for me, is one of the biggest problems preventing people from working together: ideology. I’ve written about this before, so I won’t go on and on about it again. Simply put: if you go into an argument believing what you believe, and going in “for the win,” you’ve already lost.

All that said, I came of PnP with a few ideas that would help make it easier for citizens to feel like they can, and should get involved, which I feel is the first step to solving the problem. Among them:

  • Ban negative advertising
    • Yes, ban it. No more. It’s not necessary, and it doesn’t answer the questions the electorate has. Not to mention that the majority of it borders on slander.
  • Stop grouping MPs/MPPs/MLAs along party lines in chamber.
    • This is a symbolic gesture, but it could help dialogue among those in power.
  • Bring in the ability to have a recall.
    • We have seen this play out in California several times, notably in the election that brought in Arnold Schwarzenegger as Governor. We can make the barrier high enough so that the privilege isn’t abused, but it brings in a measure of accountability.
  • Proportional representation.
  • Better education for citizens about how government works.
    • Plain and simple. There are some local initiatives working on this now, but it really needs to be part of schooling. Kids must be taught how government works, how it got that way, how to get and stay involved, etc. at an early age.
  • Ban corporate and union donations.
    • I know a lot of people will be up in arms about this one, but corporate and union donations imply that everyone who works for a corporation, or is represented by a union, believes that X Party represents their best interests. That’s rarely true, so we need to let citizens decide for themselves who to donate to, if they choose to donate at all.

Those are some ideas I’ve had before, and were reinforced last night. What do you think? What types of things should be changed so that the average person feels they can get involved in politics, even if it just means increasing the number of people that vote?

A Response to London Chamber CEO Gerry Macartney

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Yesterday, London Chamber of Commerce CEO Gerry Macartney decided to publicly weigh in on the controversy surrounding the PenEquity development on Wellington Rd S and Dingman Dr, just south of the 401. I have written extensively about the topic, and while I appreciate Mr. Macartney’s point of view on the subject as CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, I feel he’s off-base on several topics he addressed (not to mention he clearly hasn’t seen very many, if any, of the well written citizen blogs about the issue).

The PenEquity development is not a watershed moment for London. To believe that new retail development in London, or any city for that matter, is a “watershed moment” does the term “watershed” a great disservice. It’s certainly a high profile one given the tensions surrounding the issue, and the proposed location, but not a watershed moment.

I’ll agree that Sysco Canada choosing Woodstock over London for their distribution warehouse was a bit disappointing, but if I recall correctly there was very little discussion, if any, about Sysco in the media until after Sysco had chosen Woodstock. Was London ever in the running? Maybe not. I’ll give Mr. Macartney the benefit of the doubt in him having more “insider info” than I do, but Sysco never seemed to be on the radar until after we found out London wasn’t chosen for the location.

As for the Sun Life Industrial Park – please Mr. Macartney, give me a break. That was not going to be a boon of any sort to the local economy. It was a highly speculative venture that may or may not have panned out for Sun Life, and the potential tenants. Given the glut of empty warehouse and manufacturing space in the city, mostly on the east and south ends, I don’t see how Sun Life’s industrial park would have been filled in the middle of a recession. Sun Life pulled out because they saw the writing on the wall, and likely decided they could put all of their old paperwork elsewhere for the time being. If you’re going to bring up an issue like this one, let’s look at where the economy was going just as Sun Life decided to nix the entire proposal near the end of 2009.

Of course the City, and the rest of the County around it, will accept deals that cost money, don’t produce only 6 figure incomes, and impact the environment somehow. Have you not seen all of the new high-rise apartment buildings pop up downtown, near Oxford and Wonderland, and at Adelaide and Kipps? Lots of infill and brownfield development, which is much easier for the City to service and re-purposes existing land (as laid out in ReThink London – have you read that?). That’s smart development, if I do say so myself. There have also been several large industrial parks pop up on the east end near the airport, further south on Veterans Memorial Parkway, and of course we have the much-maligned SWAP moving forward somehow (though being ferociously challenged by many of the very developers that will eventually build there). Do yourself a favour and don’t make things are so full of shades of grey into a black and white issue. You’re doing yourself, and the Chamber, a great disservice.

As for the integrity of the woodland and “small pond” on the property, I would urge you to read the “Environmental & Parks Planning Section” of this document (starting on page 10) that went before council on June 25. You will note that, though a thorough assessment had not yet been done before this date, what PenEquity terms an “unevaluated vegetation patch” is of much greater importance than previously believed. In fact, that woodlot is helping to prevent the erosion of the very land PenEquity wants to build on. That sounds important, doesn’t it? As for the “small pond” created by run-off, I would argue that it’s a semi-natural pond now, and removing it could have disastrous consequences for any properties around it. Where do you suppose that water will go if that body of water is filled in and built on? Water doesn’t just disappear, you know? Given how that body of water was created, I would argue it’s actually serving a fairly significant purpose in preventing the flooding of the surrounding land. But neither you, nor I, are environmental experts.

To consider retail a “Gateway” is, dare I say, “old school” thinking. I fear you may not be keeping up with consumer trends. And to use Saks Fifth Avenue as an example of the type of shopping people will do at this new development, again, shows your state of mind. Saks Fifth Avenue is a very high end store that, in all reality, likely won’t do very well in London. And if it does, it will almost certainly be the death knell of similarly targeted local businesses that you don’t seem to care much about (Fisher & Co. and Channer’s come to mind). I am well aware that the City of London’s citizens need new jobs, but the funny thing is that a Saks Fifth Avenue, gas station, new cinema, etc. won’t be generating the types of jobs that keep Fisher & Co., Channer’s, or a Saks in business. Game development companies do, web development firms, manufacturing jobs, and other professional jobs do. I think you missed the “retail follows jobs” argument someone made recently, but it feels you’re thinking the other way around.

A lot of retail does move around, and the City already has plenty of empty properties ready for the filling by the very businesses you’re hoping PenEquity will bring to London. If you haven’t yet, take a look at this non-exhaustive list of under-developed retail properties I identified in June. As Chamber CEO, I would like to think you would be better off advocating for the family that owns London Mall to sell it to PenEquity, and entice PenEquity to snatch up that high visibility parcel of land, and turn it into something special.

Let’s look at some recent failings, in fact. Rona, Westmount Mall (which has been undergoing a hard fought renaissance for several years now, but still requires a great deal more tenants and traffic), and Citi Plaza has been going through a major redevelopment as well into a more office-friendly space, as well as the library relocating there, and only recently does it look to be viable for the future. Without the library, what would Citi Plaza look like? I wonder.

I’ll end this in talking about transit. Sir, what planet are you on? The LTC’s current service to the area is deplorable at best, running only during the morning and evening rush hours. If you’re hoping the LTC will get teenagers to and from PenEquity’s development, you’re either banking on their parents driving them to/from jobs there, or the LTC expanding its service out to (at least) 11pm to account for late cinema showings. Good. Luck. The LTC barely has the funding to continue operating its existing routes, and is woefully underfunded by the City compared to many other transit systems. The LTC does very well given how it’s funded now. So where does this extra funding come from? It won’t instantly come from ridership, which already bears quite a bit of the brunt. Indeed, if you think the LTC is going to start servicing the area, then be prepared to champion the cause for the City to expand funding, and increase everyone’s taxes and/or usage fees. Somehow I doubt you’ll be jumping on that bandwagon.

In all reality, very few of us are calling for the outright rejection of PenEquity’s proposal. What concerns me is the lack of foresight for the existing natural properties the land possesses, and the effect removing the trees and body of water will have on that very property, and properties surrounding it. Costco has also brought up issues with the traffic study conducted by BA Group (on behalf of PenEquity). But hey, no big deal, right? It’s not like ignoring environmental issues as ever caused us (“us” as in “humanity”) trouble before. Oh, wait…

I left out some of your points because I don’t have hard numbers to counter them. We don’t need the next Mayo Clinic or Microsoft to locate here. It sounds like you’re also missing the boat on the fact that small businesses account for more job growth in this country, as in the United States, than medium or large enterprises do. Well done, sir. Well done, indeed.

Letter to Coun. Henderson, Mayor Fontana, and other members of council

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I just sent this letter off to all Councillors, but addressed primarily to Councillor Henderson and Mayor Fontana. Feel free to read it yourself. I assure you it isn’t all doom and gloom, but rather some more practical thoughts on the big developments going to City Council this evening.

Councillor Henderson, Mayor Fontana, and other esteemed Councillors,

I know that you have already seen a deluge of comments on several proposed developments that, to my knowledge, will all be brought to City Council later today. I’m going to do my best to share some pragmatic thoughts on three.

1. Wonderland Rd S & Wharncliffe Rd S – Extension of Wonderland Rd S and Southdale Rd W commercial area.

It is simply too soon to approve York Development’s plan for this area. With the Southwest Area Plan under heavy scrutiny and before the OMB, approving this plan now sends a message to other developers that due process means nothing to the City of London. It also ignores much of the feedback the City has received during the ReThink London process, and the public participation meetings that have provided feedback for the Transportation Master Plan and Downtown Master Plan currently in circulation.

I appreciate that London’s unemployment rate remains stubbornly high following the global recession, but far smarter people than I have pointed out again and again that retail jobs do not lead to prosperity. I would also like to see the City leave some money in its coffers, rather than spending it fighting a needless legal battle.

2. Dingman Drive & Wellington Rd S proposed development.

I have misgivings of this development, but the ultimate success or failure of this development is clearly up to PenEquity, the organizations that choose to locate there, and whether consumers choose to patronize this location. My primary concerns come down to two things:

a) The lack of transit outside of rush hour service (please reference the schedule for the 30 Newbold bus).

b) The PEC’s approval of removing a 4.2 hectare woodlot that, by all accounts, has been deemed environmentally significant.

Coun. Henderson, I note you expressed great appreciation for trees during one PEC meeting last week, but then voted in favour of allowing PenEquity to clear this woodlot. This strikes me as extremely odd in the Forest City, and that we really must push to protect woodlots deemed environmentally significant when possible. I don’t see why PenEquity cannot simply build around the woodlot, and ultimately I hope the development is referred back to staff to work with PenEquity on a new site plan.

However, if it’s true (as I have heard) that PenEquity doesn’t even own the lot in question at this point, perhaps it would be more prudent to encourage PenEquity to acquire an existing parcel of land in desperate need of redevelopment? For example, London Mall at the corner of Wonderland Rd N and Oxford St W. This would also fall in line with ReThink London and the Transportation Master Plan. Please give that some thought.

3. Fincore Development in SoHo.

I am actually quite happy with this development! I know that Fincore has some issues to work out with adjoining property owners, but overall I think this is a development I would like to see go through, with a few notes:

  • The City needs to do what it can to make sure it actually happens, like institute a clause in the land sale contract stating that, if Fincore does not begin development within a specified period of time, then the property is to be returned to its original owner (including the City and Upper Thames River Conservation Authority).
  • Ensure the general public has equal, or better access, to the waterfront after building is complete.

I thank you for your time and diligence on this matter. And for the record, I don’t feel a replica Eiffel Tower would do much for the City on its own, or without the Downtown Master Plan, Transportation Master Plan, Cultural Prosperity Plan, and the entirety of ReThink London comint to fruition. :) Besides, the Eiffel Tower’s been done. We would need something unique!

Derek E. Silva

UPDATE: As of 2:53pm, both Councillors Denise Brown (Ward 11) and Joni Baechler (Ward 5) have responded thanking me for my comments, and Ms. Brown and I have had a short back-and-forth about the changing attitudes amongst young people with regards to driver’s license acquisition and car ownership (dropping fast!). As I said on Twitter, acknowledgement goes a long way.