Okay, so I was wrong. It turned out to be a long meeting after all. Good thing that I qualified my prediction of an early finish by saying “you never can tell”.
At first, it seemed as if I was right on the mark; the reports of the Built and Natural Environment (BNEC) and the Community and Neighbourhoods Committees (CNC) were dealt with by the dinner hour at 6:30 p.m. and dinner hour was cut to a half hour to speed things along. I’ll be out by 8 o’clock, I guessed.
Even the controversial issues to that point had been few and far between. There was no discussion of cameras or methadone clinics, not even from Steven Orser. He was biding his time for the International Figure Skating Championships.
Councillor Dale Henderson asked staff if it had considered limiting methadone dispensing to our local hospitals since they have the space and the security systems in place. He was advised that this is not within the city’s jurisdiction; it would be up to the province and the province has determined that the service should be provided through private pharmacies. This is an example of how council members can speed things up; those kinds of questions can be asked by means of a phone call to staff before the meeting.
An issue that drew some fireworks was the report on the development on Reservoir Hill. Since it was simply a report about which questions may be asked but debate is not permitted, I had anticipated that council would simply receive it, despite the fact that a citizen delegation on the matter requesting clarification had been met with what bordered on rudeness from committee chair Bud Polhill and Mayor Joe Fontana and paternalism from Joe Swan.
At issue is the development of a highrise apartment building on Reservoir Hill which had been repeatedly opposed by the city and its citizens for more than 10 years. The building was permitted by a decision of the Ontario Municipal Board but with a limited footprint. The plans put forward by the developer, Ayreswood, far exceeded that but, over the objections of city staff, was approved by a majority on council for whom every development is a good development.
The last step before the trees are clearcut is the acceptance of a site plan which will involve a public meeting. Staff has indicated that several reports, namely the geological reports and the slope stability reports have not been completed. Until that happens, a site plan meeting can’t be convened. Staff indicated that they expected to have that completed with a recommendation to council by December 12th.
Councillor Paul VanMeerbergen, within whose ward this development is taking place, was impatient. He wanted to know why a report couldn’t be brought back by the end of November. The developer had waited long enough. Any further delays would just give credence to the belief among many business persons that London is a difficult place to do business. He chose to ignore the fact that the residential community which he is supposed to represent has consistently opposed this development.
Staff replied that a lot of technical reports were still incomplete. They had to be fully analyzed before the site plan could be evaluated.
VanMeerbergen was not mollified. He thought this was highly unusual to have these kinds of delays.
Councillor Joni Baechler entered the questioning. She had been present at the BNEC meeting where the citizen delegation has been alternately chastised and patronized and had done her best to ensure that she received a fair hearing.
Baechler has dealt with this development from its inception and has witnessed the sudden reversal of council by approving the development after 10 years of trying to minimize its impact.
She noted that it’s not highly unusual to want to ensure that the tests have been met. The development is on the side of a hill full of till and built on gravel. She reminded VanMeerbergen that, although he appears to be wearing the hat of developer, he has an obligation to represent the taxpayers. The reports that staff are waiting for are to keep the building from sliding down the hill, she pointed out. She directed a question to staff: “Is there anything we are doing to hold up this development?” she wanted to know.
Staff assured her that the reports had to be completed before they could bring back a recommendation.
VanMeerbergen interjected on a point of personal privilege. He was acting on behalf of the taxpayers, he claimed. London needs the business. The delay was costing us money.
“How much would it cost the taxpayers if that building started to slide down the hill?” countered Councillor Nancy Branscombe.
As predicted there was not much discussion on the child care issue, although Councillor Matt Brown observed that “A barrier to child care is a barrier to employment is a barrier to economic prosperity.” He encouraged the city to continue to lobby the province for more funding.
Also as predicted, the lifeline thrown to the River Road Golf Club drew a number of objections but when it came to a vote, only Councillors Orser, Branscombe, VanMeerbergen, and Denise Brown voted against the additional year’s reprieve.
The final item to receive significant discussion was the presentation by the Western Fair Association (WFA). Since his London Music Theatre business no longer exists in the former Imax, Henderson felt free to speak his mind on what is being proposed there. From his perspective, good buildings are being torn down to make way for parking and flowerpots. He expostulated on a litany of bad business decisions, forgetting that this was only a report, not an item for debate or decision.
The mayor helped him out. “Your question is, can we do something about this?” he prompted. Others shared similar worries about the plans put forward by the Western Fair Association until they were reminded that that the Western Fair Board, which drew up the plan, is not a committee of council. A motion to write to the WFA was easily defeated.
A brief reference to the accessible parking issue, and then the report of the Community and Neighbourhoods Committee was complete. It was only 6:30. There was light at the end of the tunnel.
First a bite to eat and then the final act.