Upcoming Public Meetings on January 25, 2017

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Municipal staff recently notified me that there are several public meetings coming up during the January 25, 2017 Council Meeting. These usually start at 7pm, so you don’t need to attend the whole meeting.

If you review these and want to ask me any questions, please feel free to do so via Twitter, Facebook, email, or phone.

If you have any feedback at all, let me know!

What to Expect in 2017 from Middlesex Centre

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Well, in a highly unexpected twist of circumstances (1, 2, 3), I was appointed Ward 4 Councillor in Middlesex Centre on November 30, 2016. You can see the municipality’s press release here.

During the months of November and December, I had the opportunity to hear from many residents already on a number of issues. Some I am supportive of, others I’m not. That is the nature of discourse, and perfectly reasonable. I wanted to highlight a few key measures I voted on during my first few meetings, and what to expect from the Municipality of Middlesex Centre (MXC) and me during 2017.

  • There was a vote to ask a consultant, Nigel Bellchamber, to participate in the interview process for the new Fire Chief. I don’t have any against Mr. Bellchamber, but it seemed there were already too many people involved, and Mr. Bellchamber had already provided a great report on what our firefighters and District Chiefs would like to see in a Chief. I voted no on spending additional money to hire Mr. Bellchamber, but the vote passed to ask him to join the hiring process.
  • Council voted to approve spending $30,000 from the Delaware Hydro Reserve Fund (no impact to taxes whatsoever) to help pay for a new floor at the Delaware Community Centre. We’re hoping that will be ready before Canada Day.
  • Rob Clarke Auto’s expansion was approved, and they have already started building two additional bays. It’s very nice to see a local business, located in Kilworth, grow!
  • Council voted to freeze water and wastewater rates for 2017. No, they aren’t going down, but the cost cutting measures taken in 2016 have enabled us to freeze the rates for this year. It’s a welcome reprieve from multiple years of increases.
  • Staff produced a report on whether fees for paper bills should be enacted. They found no evidence of other municipalities charging a fee for residents to receive paper utility bills, and therefore recommended MXC not being doing so. Council approved the recommendation, but it’s worth noting that water/wastewater bills will be sent out monthly going forward.
    • Yes, moving to a monthly bill increases mail costs a bit, but will also help families manage their budgets more easily. The more families that move to receiving their water/wastewater electronically, whether through Canada Post ePost or email directly from the Municipality, the lower our costs will be overall. You’re welcome to call the municipal office and get signed up for email bills, or use your online banking site to sign up for ePost.
  • We had a very contentious issue over online/phone voting for the 2018 municipal election. I was happy we used this system for voting in 2014, however the extensive research I have done on online voting, the discussions I have had with web development professionals, and even my attempts to design (on paper) a truly secure system that provides all the benefits of a paper ballot have all led me to have a very specific set of thoughts on the matter. Unfortunately, questions I asked like whether or not InteliVote’s code had been audited independently, could not be answered during the debate on December 14, 2016. The vote to continue using InteliVote passed, with me voting no only because I wanted answers to my questions first.
    • It’s worth noting that, at this time, MXC has not voted to introduce other voting systems, like ranked balloting. Given the dearth of contests in the 2014 election, I don’t think it would have benefited us. Hopefully there’s more competition in 2018!
  • I have fielded multiple, valid complaints from residents on the quality of snow maintenance so far this winter. The up/down temperature cycles haven’t helped, but you can easily see inconsistencies in how sand or salt has been laid down, how close (or far) to the curb the plows are getting, and so on. I’ve been actively engaging with staff to ensure your concerns are addressed, and so far it does appear things have gotten better during the last plow. I absolutely want to hear from you, and so does staff, if you have concerns regarding snow maintenance.
  • Lastly, I voted no to continue using our own closed meeting investigator. I wanted to opt for the Ombudsman instead, however I was not able to convince the rest of Council that this was, in my opinion, the right thing to do. I have heard from residents that choosing our own closed meeting investigator makes it look like we’re seeking preferential treatment, and that such a person can be dismissed at a whim if we don’t like what they say, like the integrity commissioner that was recently dismissed (which ultimately started the chain reaction that led to me ending up on Council). If you feel similarly, I implore you to speak with the Mayor and your Councillor and ask them to stop spending $1,000 a year on a service we have not used.

What to Expect in 2017

  • I’m going to be asking staff to do some homework later this year to see if we can lower the minimum water and wastewater usage rates, and what implications that will have.
  • I will help staff to find, and make suggestions on new measures, to continue to cut costs. I’m not out to slash and burn, but always looking at things critically to determine whether products/services we purchase, or services we provide, can be done at a lower cost.
  • I’m going to hold multiple sit-downs at local restaurants where you can come and sit down, enjoy a drink, and speak with me face-to-face. Expect the first one to happen before the end of March.
  • I’m confident that Edgewater Estates will be approved to move forward, and the construction of the new sewer line to Komoka will finally begin. Once that’s done and in service, the Kilworth Treatment Plant will be decommissioned, relieving many residents of awful smells throughout the year.
  • I have two residents, in particular, who are seeking relief from various bylaws. One, I am assisting to allow them to plead their case; the other is in clear violation of the Infrastructure Design Standards, and not allowing the developer of their subdivision to hand over control to MXC, but doesn’t seem to care. You can’t please everyone.
  • The new Ilderton Skating Park will begin construction.
  • MXC is replacing existing vehicles with three fully electric vehicles. I’m really excited about this! They will be shared by two departments, Public Works & Engineering and By-Law Enforcement & Building Inspections.
    • January 11, 2017: I previously stated we were buying two vehicles. This was incorrect.
  • We will receive a report from staff on the result of the off-leash dog park pilot program.
  • Finally, the website is undergoing a bit of a restructuring to make things easier to find. I’ve offered my assistance, providing advice where I can, given my role at a web development firm in London and experience building my own websites over the past 15 years.

Overall, you can expect to get regular updates like these from me, at least monthly. I want everyone to be in the loop on decisions being made that impact Ward 4, and the rest of MXC. If you have any questions at all you can reach me on Twitter, Facebook, email, or phone 226-448-6774 (please leave a message if I don’t answer). My contact information is also on the municipal website.

Community Energy Plan Stakeholder Engagement Meeting

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Christian Tham, Middlesex Centre’s Embedded Energy Manager, hosted a get together on October 25, 2016 to show off what the municipality has been doing to reduce its energy usage, the results of its efforts, a brief review of the results of a survey Christian put out to the community, and then a discussion on what residents of Middlesex Centre can be in their businesses and homes to help reduce energy usage.

Background

The Community Energy Plan will not be a bylaw, it will not be something to be enforced. It’s going to be a set of guidelines, a plan, for residents, businesses, and other organizations in the municipality to follow in order to help reduce their energy usage. A discussion primer was sent out to survey participants.

Amongst those in attendance were an executive on the Ilderton Fair Board, along with his wife (I didn’t catch their names), the Financial Controller of Coldstream Concrete, a Councillor for Newbury, Middlesex Centre staff like Al Marsman, Brian Lima, Christian Tham, Michelle Smibert, and finally folks from Middlesex Centre council like Mayor Edmondson, Councillor DeViet (now Deputy Mayor as of November 3), and Councillor Berze.

The Meeting

As mentioned, Christian sent out a survey ahead of time to find out what citizens were already doing to reduce their energy usage, other actions they feel could be taken to further reduce energy use, and so on. He said there was a “tremendous response,” much higher than other online feedback initiatives the municipality has conducted. One major highlight is that 91% of the people surveyed were very concerned, or extremely concerned, about energy costs.

I’ve got a few highlights from Christian’s presentation, which I’ve linked to here:

  • Commercial or Industrial sector can get up to 40% of cost to build on-site energy generation with natural gas covered
  • Middlesex Centre’s conversion to LED is saving $97,000 per year; the municipality received $85,000 in incentives from Hydro One to help pay for the conversion
  • It will only take 4.5 years to achieve pay back on the investment
  • Municipal office has been converted to LED too, seeing $8,795.12 per year savings, with pay back in just over a year
  • Middlesex Centre’s newest fire hall will be a Net Zero Energy/Carbon building
  • FCM Green Fund is paying for all of green/renewable/sustainable measures put in place; the fire wall will use 55,800 kWh and generate 70,600 kWh using solar
  • No energy storage on-site, it will use power from the grid when needed
  • Regulation 391/11 mandates municipalities lowering their GHG emissions and reporting on steps taken

Questions & Answers/Idea Discussion

A Q&A portion followed, which led to the discussion Christian wanted to have around what other steps we all can be taking to reduce energy usage (which Christian was going to use to help inform the Community Energy Plan). Unfortunately the Q&A turned into a session for people to complain about high hydro rates, water and wastewater lifecycle charges, the municipality taking advantage of the FIT program and placing solar panels on the roof of the Wellness Centre, and so on.

While I am someone who encourages having these types of discussions, they were well outside the purview of this meeting. And, unfortunately, some of the issues were outside the purview of a municipal council that doesn’t have any control over electricity rates. A few of the notes I made during this time:

  • A resident in a very rural area wants to know where all the money comes from; answer: taxpayers, of course
  • Environmental Registry has document laying out technology, methodology, and review for people who want to engage in co-generation, microFIT, etc.
  • Hydro One is supposed to refer you to energy generation methods available if you want to engage in co-generation, microFIT, etc.

Overall, I’m confident Christian didn’t quite get what he was looking for at the meeting, which is unfortunate. I am, however, hopeful that he got enough information and feedback through the survey to assemble an effective Community Energy Plan.

Designing with Empathy Using VR

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We are in a very exciting time, as usual, for technology. Virtual reality has risen from the ashes thanks to Oculus’ successful Kickstarter campaign a few years ago (and subsequent acquisition by Facebook), Google Cardboard, Samsung’s GearVR, and HTC & Valve’s Vive. Not to mention augmented reality platforms like Microsoft’s HoloLens, Meta, and LeapMotion.

The problem? Well, maybe not a problem, but certainly the short-term focus has been on gaming. Almost all of the applications to be released at launch, and shortly thereafter, are games or fun things to do. That’s fine, because it helps generate excitement and sales, which will hopefully lead to long-term platform sustainability. And while there are people talking about other applications, I feel like we need to start seeing some development on them.

One application I’d really like to see more focus on, and development for now, is building and public space design (architecture as a whole, if you will). I would argue that it hasn’t been good enough for decades now for someone to simply design a building, have engineers execute on the design, and then marvel in the result. The more people I meet, the more I realize how inadequate our buildings and public spaces are. If you were to try to get around your neighbourhood or the nearest downtown core in a wheelchair for one day, how would you fare? Not well, I’d bet.

I want to see a near future where designers are not only dreaming up crazy cool spaces, but also experience them the way others do before unleashing their vision on the rest of us. Where an architect will design the first few floors of a building, then plop themselves down in a mock wheelchair of sorts, strap on a VR headset, and wheel themselves around the building. From outside into the building, moving between floors, and determining how easy it is versus the ability to do so on two feet.

Perhaps more importantly, interior designers should be doing the same. I have worked in many workplaces that I feel would be completely unnavigable in a wheel chair, or even crutches! Why? Because an overwhelming majority of able-bodied people own the buildings, design the spaces, and then work in those spaces everyday. Unfortunately we don’t all have the fortune to have full use of all four limbs all day, and it’s high time that we all feel like our abilities are being considered when new building plans are being drafted, or interiors are being renovated, or our public spaces are being built and re-built.

Designing with empathy in mind is a good start. Living the experience yourself is the next step. Virtual reality can put you in the middle of a war zone with a plastic gun, and it can also show you how the world around you has been designed assuming you have four functional limbs, or that you have 20/20 vision, or that you see a full spectrum of colours that others cannot. Being more compassionate at how others will use the things you design and envision will make you better for it.

Kilworth PPM Re: Revised Zoning for New Subdivision

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I attended last week’s public meeting regarding a revised re-zoning request being put forth for the Don Black lands. If you missed the first go around back in December 2013, just click here to see what happened then.

This most recent zoning application was a very, very different story from the first. On a side note, I was pleased to see some new faces amongst the crowd in attendance: some people I know but haven’t seen at a meeting before, some people that have recently moved to Kilworth, and others who have chosen to engage at this point.

For reference, here’s the public information packet. I’m hosting it myself since I don’t know how long the municipality will leave it up on their website. This was the information distributed to council and the public prior to the meeting – council only received it on May 22, just five days before the public meeting.

dbi-tridon-may272015-zoning-amendmentI was a few minutes late for the presentation from Tridon (who has replaced Stantec on the project). Here’s what I got from the presentation:

  • Asking for duplex, twinned, single detached, townhouses in the UR3 areas
  • Minimum 28m height is a typo, should read “maximum”
  • Claim that there will be three multi-use pathways – Daventry, Doan Drive, and the main north/south drag that will connect the South Winds Dev and Don Black dev, up to Glendon
  • Took inspiration from new 3-story walkup near Masonville for Block I
  • Talking about the school like it’s definitely going to be there; not a done deal, despite school board (which one?) expressing interest
  • Municipal staff asking to enhance Optimist Park; DBI/Tridon ready to place one or two soccer fields at Optimist Park; have retained park planner to help sort out the plan
  • Need to widen Glendon at two points, where new north/south street comes out and at Springfield Way

Questions I wrote down during the presentation (answers later):

  • Why is there such a massive difference between the proposal from December 2013 and this latest proposal?
  • It’s been almost 18 months since the original proposal came through. Why are we still at a phase where, really, there is no detail as to exactly what Don Black Investments and Tridon want to put on the land?
  • Who will pay for the streetlights on Glendon, and the eventual enhancement of Glendon/Vanneck/Coldstream/Jefferies (a.k.a. Five Corners)?

Questions and Answers:

  • Got clarification on what setback means, and they want to reduce it from 6m to 2.5m
  • Ken D. asked whether the traffic study had included cyclists or not; it didn’t
  • I followed up and asked why it hadn’t, and the answer was that the original study was very old and Tridon has never seen a traffic study that included cyclists
  • Al D is concerned about traffic, another 120 cars in the current development area; probably looking at ~1,000 cars mostly heading to London
  • Brian Lima, municipal engineer, municipality is looking at EA for Glendon Dr from bridge to 402, focus will be streetscape development; EA will produce baseline info to evaluate how to handle Glendon Dr
  • Mayor Edmondson says the want to get EA done before development starts
  • Al D asked when construction will start; Tridon went over the process, wastewater treatment pipeline still needs to be finished; hoping to have first housing done late 2016 or early 2017
  • Brian Lima says earliest EA will be complete is early 2017
  • Jane C, lives on Komoka Rd; does not support bylaw amendment application; OFA is calling for protection of multiple kinds of land, including this farm property; has a history with Tridon and protesting the way they do development in Komoka and her aunt’s land; much applause
  • Darren on behalf of Ratepayers Association; “I’m for development, but not this development. This development completely changes the face of Kilworth.” Lots of consistency now from river up to Stephen Moore and Baron Cres; and then there’s this proposal; pointing out how other developments by the same company are 40′ wide, 36′ wide, and 34′ wide; this is not for Kilworth
  • Ian T; how many more people is this going to bring? Average of 2.1 per household, but no one at Tridon wanted to do the math for us and give us a total number, potentially because the number of households to be built is still up in the air(?)
  • Zelinka Priamo representative (didn’t catch her name) has a problem with additional C1 (commercial) proposed as a big C1 hub is supposed to go on NE corner of Tunks and Glendon
  • New planning justification not submitted because DBI feels this is the same development with minor tweaks; this woman has been working on planning applications for 30 years and has never seen an application with such a huge lack of information
  • Jim C asks “Can I split an existing lot into a triplex?” Mayor says, “I don’t think you’d want that.” Jim responds “Exactly,” to a bit of laughter.
  • Victor N just moved here from Tecumseh, daughter suggested it as a beautiful area; retired from Canada Post management; seniors centre will likely be 3 or 4 floors, and many of those seniors won’t be able to get their mail; this plan will turn Kilworth into an area that’s no longer nice; no shopping, no buses; doesn’t make sense
  • Donna S is concerned that this doesn’t suit the existing neighbourhood; mentioned the 3 storey walkup in Masonville – it’s ugly, doesn’t belong here; very worried about traffic
  • How many cars is anticipated to exit onto Glendon Dr? 995 during AM peak time.
  • Parking and visitor parking would be put in place as per the bylaw(s) that require them

Answers to my questions:

  • The design is drastically different because the municipality asked us to go from two entrances to Glendon, down to one
  • Don’t have any idea what we want to market on C1 and some UR3 properties because we don’t have the zoning yet
  • Chances are that the conditions laid out by the County will say that the developer must pay for the new streetlights and enhancements to “Five Corners”

Later on I got a chance to read a statement I had prepared. It ended up being the final word of the night, though I didn’t intend it to be so. I was asked to cede the floor to others earlier in the night after asking my questions I had written down. The statement went, more or less, as follows:

I have some serious misgivings about the revised proposal being presented here today. Here are a few:

  1. This looks *nothing* like the original proposal presented December 4, 2013.
  2. I will say, on a positive note, that Daventry Way has been opened up. I appreciate that being taken into consideration after the last public participation meeting.
  3. On the other hand, the original proposal maintained a lot of flow with the existing settlement, and proposed wide path ways that would encourage active transport around the neighbourhood. In the documents we see today, those have been completely done away with.
  4. It appears that a 6 storey building is proposed for Block G. I fully understand the need for mixed housing, however a 6 storey building simply doesn’t make any sense outside of a larger community like Strathroy. People living in apartment buildings typically expect highly walkable areas, which, much as I enjoy living in this area, Kilworth and Komoka do not qualify as highly walkable areas, with Kilworth currently receiving a Walk Score of 9.
  5. The proposal doesn’t appear to contain anything that would significantly alter the Walk Score.
  6. Information about proposed heights for several blocks are missing from the proposal.
  7. The street design, frankly, is pathetic and will make the proposed settlement a nightmare to navigate. It doesn’t use the current set of best practices being used in the most walkable neighbourhoods worldwide.

Overall, this proposal simply contains far too much density for the area. I was mostly in favour of the original, but this has taken a drastic turn for the worse. I was happy to defend the original proposal, despite its minor flaws, but I cannot, in good conscience, ask Councillor DeViet to vote in favour of this proposal as it stands before us today.

That got a round of applause, as did many other statements made and questions asked by members of the public throughout the night. Mayor Edmondson had a hard time maintaining order at several points as people got fed up with the answers – and in some cases non-answers provided by Tridon. Needless to say it didn’t go well for Tridon and Don Black, and we hope the next version of the zoning application is very different. Whether the planner, Ben Puzanov, mandates another public meeting for the next iteration remains to be seen.