Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Dangerous Myths and Public Intimidation – Where Greater Sudbury is at with the “Kingsway Entertainment District”


There are a lot of dangerous myths about the so-called “Kingsway Entertainment District” that are being advanced by some members of Greater Sudbury's Council, accompanied by what can only be described as tactics meant to intimidate the public and silence people from speaking up - just at a time when citizens will finally have an opportunity to participate in a formal public consultation process regarding a new casino and events centre.  

I understand that most of us are now familiar with how the land owner, Dario Zulich, Lyle Lanley'd City Council and many others to buying into our very own monorail by promising to build an arena on his own dime (with just a guarantee from the City to back it - see comments from Dario Zulich: "The operations will pay for the financing and the city will have to guarantee it," Zulich said. "I believe I have a plan that would have a net zero cost to the city." from "Who will pay for the arena?" the Sudbury Star, March 8, 2017), and how the True North Strong centre would come complete with a casino, hotel, soccer bubble, motorsports track, drive-in theatre and who knows what else (sorry, I haven't watched the video in a little while now).  And of course, the clincher: As much free parking as anyone could ever want!  (for more on this, see Sudbury dot com President, Michael Atkins' excellent piece, “Atkins: Your taxes and how not to manage risk," Sudbury dot com, December 1, 2017)

That was bad enough, but Zulich is a land developer, and developers do what developers must to make money.  And let's face it, the Jack Nicholas industrial park where all of these uses are going to go likely wasn't going to be moving forwards towards finding industrial tenants any time soon.  In the past, Zulich made a bet on industrial growth in the community – against the odds, of course, because no one has been predicting much in the way of growth here for the past decade or so, and the latest numbers will see our population stabilized until 2031 at least.  He made that bet, and he lost – and was left with an empty industrial park.  So of course, repurposing those lands became job one.

So Zulich's pitch wasn't all that surprising, perhaps.  Underhanded and misleading, definitely - but not surprising.

But now we have examples of at least a couple of municipal councillors making public statements in defiance of the facts – or at least in defiance of information available to the public.  

No Such Thing as a "Kingsway Entertainment District"

First, though, let's dispel this thing: Despite the term having been used repeatedly by members of Council, municipal staff, members of the public and the media, there is no such thing as the “Kingsway Entertainment District”.  What we have is an industrial park that is being re-purposed, piece by piece, into something else which, so far, includes just proposals for a public events centre facility and a casino.  There may be something legitimate about the inclusion of a hotel.  Oh – and parking lots – how could I forget the parking lots?  But that's it.  Two uses which are nothing more than proposals at this time, each proceeding along through separate land use applications and processes.  And a parking lot is proceeding through yet another application and process.  None of these uses have ever been approved by anybody at this time.

I myself have used the term "Kingsway Entertainment District", but in a rather different context (see: “An Open Letter to Greater Sudbury Council Regarding a Kingsway Entertainment District," Sudbury Steve May, July 11 2017, and, "Mapping the Way Forward for a Kingsway Entertainment District," Sudbury Steve May, June 30, 2017).  I wrote about the need for comprehensive planning that lays out a vision for the development of the District, and includes policy to ensure development is completed as contemplated.  In short, a Secondary Plan.  But that is a far cry from whatever the thing that Councillors are calling the "Kingsway Entertainment District" is.  It's not actually really a thing at all.

And here's where the disinformation campaign from your municipal councillors seems to start.  

If We Build It, They Will Come

Recently, Councillor Robert Kirwan posted in his moderated Valley East Facebook group, to inform his readers as to just what's going on.  Here is the Councillor's definition of the "Kingsway Entertainment District": “The Kingsway Entertainment District is a 170 acre development that is starting out with the critical mass that will contain an arena / event centre, plus a casino plus a hotel all integrated into one facility.” He describes this almost as if it were a real thing – and not just several disconnected land use planning applications in front of planning committee that haven't been approved by anyone.  How someone can state that this development “will” happen when it lacks necessary land use approvals is extremely presumptuous and misleading.


And if that wasn't enough, here's the real fast one he's trying to pull off, stating that these developments are “going to lead to many other developments on the site that will generate more commercial taxation and assessment growth that will cover the investment of the city's.”  Keep in mind, the investment  he's referring to is the approximately $100 million that the City has committed taxpayers to spending on a new events centre.  What is simply astounding, though, is to pass off to the public the idea that there are other developments out there, waiting in the wings somewhere, that are going to happen IF ONLY the events centre and casino get put in place first.  And that those new developments will leave the City better off, fiscally speaking, than we are now – to the tune of $100 million.  All at a time when growth isn't anticipated, and with the city encumbered by a new provincial casino that will be picking the pockets of Sudburians to the tune of maybe as much as $100 to $150 million annually (as reported by Casino Free Sudbury). 

Now you know what, I'd like to see that guarantee.  I'd really like to believe that the presence of the casino and events centre will lead to tax growth to cover the City's $100 million capital expense for a new events centre.  I am willing to concede that it could very well be that given his privileged position on Council, that behind closed doors Robert Kirwan has seen a lot more information about some of these development proposals than you or I have.  Perhaps he's seen options agreements to purchase Zulich's lands for who knows what kind of entertainment uses - agreements just waiting to be exercised once Zulich's 2010 industrial subdivision is finally registered and lots can be sold.  

But I find a couple of things very interesting.  During the June 27th Council meeting, where the Kingsway site was chosen to host the City's new events centre, our Mayor Brian Bigger tried to include a commitment in the motion that the developer try to obtain to the City's satisfaction that all of the other uses he had been talking up for the True North Strong site were on-board first.  But Council didn't want to hold Mr. Zulich to actually coming through on the promises he had been making to the public for months in advance of the vote.  Mayor Bigger's motion was voted down.

And of course, with official plan and zoning amendments moving forward now for just two uses, why not address the Kingsway Entertainment District comprehensively, through a minimum number of development applications, as I had recommended back in June, 2017? 

All of this begs the question, are there really other users just waiting in the wings, who are going to come to the City's rescue with $100 million in new tax revenue to offset our costs for building a new events centre?

I'm hoping someone from the City can tell me something different than the fantasy story that Robert Kirwan is telling his echo chamber Valley East Facebook group.  I'm sincerely concerned that the City's actual financial plan to not be out $100 million in capital costs to build a new facility that is going to run an operating deficit expected to be $800,000 a year is placing a bet on the notion that “if we build it, they will come”.  That might have worked out in Iowa for W.P. Kinsella – but it hardly forms the basis of a solid financial plan in Greater Sudbury, in real life.

Where Is the Plan? Because I Can't Find It

So about a plan – just where is it?  Apparently, Councillor Kirwan has that one covered too.  He writes, “what we have done is structure a master plan that will create two destination centres – one on the Kingsway and one in the downtown.” 

That's interesting.  I'd very much like to see this plan.  It sounds like the sort of thing that I, as an engaged member of the public, might have already provided some input into via a municipal public process of some sort.  Goodness knows I've haven't been reluctant to voice my opinion on much – especially when it comes to the healthy and sustainable development of my community.  And yet, I don't recall ever having had the opportunity to say about creating these “two” destination centres – especially the Kingsway Entertainment District.

I do recall participating in the very public and very comprehensive processes that culminated in the  City's Downtown Master Plan (see: "Next steps taken in Downtown Master Plan," Sudbury dot com, April 19, 2012) and our economic development strategy, “From the Ground Up” (see: "From the Ground Up - gs2025 : Consultation for Greater Sudbury’s Economic Development," the City of Greater Sudbury, December 18, 2014).  Those public input processes were just fantastic.  And those processes led to actual plans in that members of the public can read them and decision-makers can refer to them with confidence that the decisions they are making are in keeping with the expressed will of the public where those decisions are in keeping with plans.  Kind of like how it's supposed to work: get the public's input first, craft a plan on the basis of what the public wants, and make decisions in keeping with the plan.

But there is no plan for the Kingsway Entertainment District, as much as Councillor Kirwan wants to mislead his readers into believing that there is one.  What Kirwan describes as a “plan” for two destination centres actually sounds a lot like the “plan” unveiled by Dario Zulich at the Fromagerie back before the events centre vote took place – the one where Zulich championed the development of some new facilities in the downtown core, while his Sudbury Wolves would move out to the Kingsway and play in a new events centre there (see: "True North Strong wants to convert downtown arena into arts centre," CBC, June 22, 2017).  But again, Dario Zulich is a developer – and developers are going to do what developers do.  He's certainly not an elected official or a member of municipal staff – you know, the kinds of people who initiate actual master plans for development in the City.  

If the “master plan” Robert Kirwan is referring to is Zulich's plan, it sort of kind of makes one wonder just where the Councillor is coming from by promoting this fiction.  Especially given the fact that the City has actual plans, like the official plan, the Downtown Master Plan and the economic development plan that all state that an arena/events centre should be located in the downtown core. 

So just who's plan is Councillor Kirwan referring to?  And where can I get my hands on a copy of it?

Keep Quiet, It's a Done Deal

What's becoming pretty clear is that Councillor Kirwan wants his constituents to believe a lot of things which lack a basis in fact or evidence.  Take what he's recently written about the casino as another example. Put aside his expression of personal animosity towards Laurentian Univeristy Professor of Economics, Dr. David Robinson – someone who has actually been key in bringing new economic development and jobs to our City through the downtown School of Architecture initiative.  And put aside that the member of Council is ascribing ulterior motivations to Dr. Robinson, related to the events centre, something that Robinson doesn't even mention in his January 2, 2018 letter to the Editor of the Sudbury Star (see: "Letter: Casino will not help local economy," Sudbury Star, posted online January 1, 2018; published in print, January 2, 2018).  Just read why Councillor Kirwan wants others to believe that opposing the casino is a fruitless waste of time.  Kirwan writes, “the reality is that the casino will be built in Sudbury, because there is already land that is zoned for such a facility and Gateway has an agreement with the OLG to make sure that Sudbury has a new casino.”



This one statement actually defies logic on a couple of points.  First off, what does OLG's agreement with Gateway have to do with our City determining whether or not we want to continue to play willing host to a casino – especially if the casino only wants to locate in an area which many are calling very inappropriate?  To use a contract between a provincial agency and a private sector business as a reason for the municipality to collectively shrug its' shoulders and ask “what can we do but approve the thing?” is just so simply in defiance of the reality of the range of actions our Council could take, if it wanted to, as to be little more than the sort of nonsense statement that a child with his hand caught in the cookie jar might make as his rationale for why you should let him now eat the cookie he was trying to steal.

Look, I get that the City has had several Council motions endorsing a full casino.  But here are two observations: those motions were made by a previous Council – our current Council has actually never voted in public on whether the City should host a casino.  And second, at least one of those motions – the most recent, identified what the City wanted to get out of a new casino in terms of municipal benefit, and that it specifically identified a new convention centre or events centre (see Minutes of Greater Sudbury Council meeting held on February 26, 2013).  But instead of now leveraging new public facilities from the casino operator, Gateway, which would actually be in keeping with what a previous Council approved, this Council has done a complete 180 by accepting Gateway's proposal to build on the Kingsway – because of the proximity to the City's new publicly-funded events centre.  

The price of our support for a casino was getting a public facility out of the deal.  Now the price of Gateway building a new casino on the Kingsway seems to be that we foot the bill for a $100 million public events centre.  How did that happen?

The other part of the Councillor's statement that is completely misleading is that the casino is going to come to Sudbury regardless because lands are already zoned here.  That may be the case, but those lands are located where Sudbury Downs presently resides, and as we've heard from Gateway, that's not a location that they're entertaining at present.  So, Gateway needs to have lands rezoned (and that can only happen subject to an Official Plan amendment) if it's going to pursue a casino in the city, as per its public statements.  The point here is that Council can't just abdicate its responsibility to assess whether the Kingsway lands are appropriate or not based on the notion that other lands that Gateway doesn't want to use might already be zoned for a full casino.  But that seems to be Councillor Kirwan's point, which he makes in such a way so as to suggest to his readers that they, too, should keep silent and sit on their hands when it comes to participating in the upcoming public processes regarding the casino – because “the reality is that the casino will be built in Sudbury”.  

What is an Appropriate Location for a Casino in Greater Sudbury?

I personally don't know what kind of process the City went through with Gateway regarding finding an appropriate location for a new casino.  I recall participating in a public meeting back in 2012 that looked at four different locations for a casino, and solicited public feedback on those locations.  Two locations were in the downtown, and one was in the South End at the Four Corners.  The other was on the Kingsway – but at Barrydowne and the Kingsway, not Levesque Street and the Kingsway, the location of the True North Strong proposal.  I certainly don't recall reading or hearing about any technical studies that the City or Gateway have undertaken that might identify the best location or potential locations for a new casino.

It would be interesting to know just how closely our City or Economic Development Corporation worked with Gateway in the lead-up to Gateway selecting the True North Strong site.  And yes, Gateway was the one to select that site – it sure wasn't the City's decision.  The City hasn't yet made any decision on the location of a casino for Gateway at all, despite having entered into a cost-sharing agreement with Gateway and landower Zulich to develop an integrated site plan and design concept for an events centre and casino.  Yes, you heard that right: in absence of any decision by Council regarding the location of the casino, public money has been spent by the City to justify's Gateway's decision to locate on lands owned by a private developer, Dario Zulich.

Did the City even look at any alternative locations for the casino before voting to give Cumulus Architects, Gateway's preferred design firm, about $130,000 in the form of a sole-sourced contract to develop the so-called “Integrated Site Plan”? (see: "Sudbury to enter into single-source agreement with outside architecture firm for new arena site design," CBC News, August 22, 2017)  If the City did look for other locations within the municipal jurisdiction to locate the casino, the process certainly was not clear – and nor did it involve the public.  After that one public meeting back in 2012, the City shut down any opportunity for the public to be involved in selecting a site for the casino – at least up until now, as land use applications have finally been filed with the City.  

And given that the public finally gets a chance to have a say on the location of the casino, it's really too bad we have at least one municipal official telling his constituents that they shouldn't bother opposing the casino now, because it's coming whether people like Dr. David Robinson want it or not.

Whose Development Proposal Is This Anyway?



And then there is a bizarre statement from the Councillor that land use applications for the Kingsway Entertainment District were submitted by “two” proponents.  It's factually incorrect, although I might be willing to give the Councillor the benefit of the doubt on this one, given the misinformation about the land use applicants that has been coming out of the City's website, which at one time actually identified the City as an applicant for the land use applications (the City has since updated its website, but these two stories from local media initially mis-reported that the City was an applicant, based on the City's original January 8 press release. See: "Have your say on the Kingsway arena and casino," the Sudbury Star, January 8, 2018).  For the record, there is only one applicant for all 4 of the land use applications currently in front of Planning Committee related to development on the Kingsway site (the four are: a zoning amendment for the events centre; an official plan and zoning amendment for the casino; and a zoning amendment for the parking lot), and that single proponent is a numbered company owned by Dario Zulich. 

At least that's what the copies of the applications that I have in my possession say.

The City's website, despite the recent update to remove the reference to the City being an applicant for the events centre rezoning, continues to identify Gateway Casinos as an applicant.


That might not seem like much, but by intimating that there are other partners involved in the submission of applications, the Council member here is telling the public to either believe that Gateway Casinos is an applicant, or that the City itself is the other applicant, as per information reported in the media and formerly posted on the City's website.  Either way, it goes to help justify the notion that there is nothing that can be done on the part of the public to stop a casino from coming.  For Gateway to be an applicant, they must already own the land (they don't – and they are not an applicant).  For the City to be an applicant, there must be some sort of strategic partnership in place between the developer and the City, and there...Oh wait!

There is a strategic partnership – it's the Cost-sharing agreement where the City, Zulich and Gateway all chipped in for one-third of the total costs for the Integrated Site Plan.  And there must be more going on behind closed doors, too, because we know that Dillon Consulting was retained by the City of Greater Sudbury to prepare a traffic impact study for the events centre, casino and hotel uses on the Kingsway (note that traffic impacts for any of the other “entertainment” uses like the motorsports park, soccer bubble, etc., have not been assessed).  Dillon also prepared the massive Planning Justification Report for the applications for casino – although it is not clear from that report just who was paying their retainer.  


Dillon was also retained by the City and apparently by the private developer/applicant for rezoning, Dario Zulich, for the 4-page planning justification letter submitted in support of the rezoning of Zulich's property for an events centre.  That's very interesting, given that the City has entered into an agreement to purchase some of Zulich's property for just $10 for the events centre – subject to the City first rezoning the lands to permit an arena.  


Now, having entered into an agreement with a private land owner for the opportunity to purchase property for something significantly below market value for the purpose of a building a new public facility might lead a skeptical person to conclude that any process the City now undertakes to rezone the lands might be a bit of a sham.  I'm not willing to go there, but I do understand that others might – especially when at least some of the municipal Councillors who will be voting on the application are telling constituents that there is little point to opposing an events centre or casino in this location.

Campaign to Silence Opposition

Personally, I don't buy it.  I still have faith that the majority of Council members will do the right thing, once all of the reports are in and members of the public have been heard from.  Despite what appears to be a campaign to silence Kingsway event centre and casino opponents from even showing up at public meetings to voice their concerns, I continue to believe that Council will see that the applications that are now before Planning Committee are not in keeping with the City's official plan or provincial policy, and that the uses proposed in the location that they've been proposed isn't in the public's interest.  I state this knowing that the City is already at least one hundred grand of taxpayer's money into this Kingsway Entertainment District thing – but I'll continue to  have faith in the system, and to voice my concerns.  Even if that leads to the kind of public tar-and-feathering that others like Dr. David Robinson and Tom Fortin have had to endure from elected members of our Council.

Councillor Lynne Reynolds recently got involved in the campaign to silence critics with an Op-Ed to the Sudbury Star, in which she described those as opposing the casino as being, “naysayers" "who would want to hold back prosperity, progress and job creation," and the "biggest and most dangerous threat to our community" (see: "Column: Casino is not a threat," the Sudbury Star, January 2, 2018).  Yes, I suppose that's a fair assessment of what casino opponents want to accomplish, if you look at it from a certain point of view - one that is far from in keeping with reality.



Earlier, Councillor Kirwan stated that if the anti-Kingsway forces got their way, innocent downtown merchants may suffer “collateral damage”.  He's even suggested that the City may end up losing the Sudbury Wolves should the Kingsway events centre be delayed.


Now, these may seem like harmless predictions – but keep in mind, these statements are coming from an elected member of our Council – someone who is in a unique position to punish those innocent downtown merchants if they can't reign their colleagues in.  And we may have already seen it.  Councillor Kirwan and Councillor Reynolds recently voted to defund the Downtown Community Improvement Plan -  a program that downtown property owners have accessed to help enhance their businesses for the economic good of our City and to help the City meet other objectives as per the Official Plan.  Claiming that the Downtown already had too much, funding was axed for the next fiscal year in the City's recent budget vote (see, "But several councillors, including Lynne Reynolds (Ward 11) and Robert Kirwan (Ward 5), said they would not support the business case for the downtown CIP.", from "Sudbury councillors sorting through 2018 budget," the Sudbury Star, December 6, 2017)

With all of this going on, who in their right minds would really want to stand up and tell our Council how they feel about a casino or events centre on the Kingsway, if they opposed it?  I mean, what local business owner is going to feel that they can have their say knowing the next day that they risk being singled-out on Facebook, potentially by an elected member of Council, in the way that Dr. David Robinson and Tom Fortin have been identified?  With this campaign of intimidation going on out of our City Hall, I expect that a lot of people who might otherwise be stepping up to express concerns will feel that it's in their best interests to remain silent.

Where is the Integrity?

And really, there's not much that we can do about it.  In 2015, Council  had the opportunity to vote for having an integrity commissioner to whom matters related to the behaviour and ethics of individual members of Council could be investigated and reported on.  But this Council didn't support that proposal, and the public has been left with little recourse.  Later this month, Council will be revisiting its earlier decision not to have an integrity commissioner (see the somewhat misleadingly headlined, "Sudbury doesn't need integrity commissioner: report," the Sudbury Star, January 17, 2018).  Let's see what they decide now.

Because really, the public has little opportunity to challenge the City related to decisions that are being made that affect our community without first having had the benefit of public input.  The site selection process for the events centre, the decision to host a full casino, even this month's earlier decisions regarding the Downtown large development projects – none of these decisions of Council were ever preceded by a formal public consultation process.  And now with the Mayor flying to Finland to look at ferrochrome processing, it looks like Greater Sudbury will be giving the nod that it's a willing host to a new ferrochrome facility, again without the benefit of public consultation (see: "Sudbury officials head to Finland to learn more about 'world class' ferrochrome smelter," CBC News, January 12, 2018).  Clearly, this is an endemic problem in our City – but there's little that we can do about this between elections.

But really, in a City where elected officials make public statements in defiance of facts and at odds with public plans, use electronic town halls as echo chambers for these statements, and whom engage in character assassination as part of a campaign to silence the public and to prevent the public from participating in statutory public processes, it's really no surprise that the City fails to take public consultation and engagement seriously.  

Without legitimate public consultation and engagement built into decision-making processes, the integrity of the processes will always be questioned.  We can do better than this.

Nevertheless, I will continue to participate in public processes when and where I can.  I hope others will as well, but I understand that we all have other interests outside of these municipal issues which we have to consider.  Putting ourselves at risk in order to stand up and have our say is one thing; but putting our business or family at risk – that can be quite another entirely.  And that's where things are at now, in my view.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Sustainability Key to Solving 21st Century Crises


At the end of this century, in the year 2100, my son Brian will be 87 years old.  With a life expectancy of around 80 years for boy babies born in Ontario in 2013, the mathematical odds may be stacked against my son, but with people living longer than ever before, I want to believe that it’s more than possible that Brian will be around to see the dawn of a new century (see: “Life Tables, Canada, Provinces and Territories (2011 – 2013)” available at Statistics Canada – Alternative format). After all, don’t all parents hope that our children live long, happy and healthy lives?

What Brian experiences on December 31, 2099 is sure to have a little something in common with what those of us who partied with Prince in 1999 experienced – minus that whole ‘Y2K bug’ thing. I remember waking up and turning the television on just in time to see the fireworks going off at midnight above the Sydney Opera House.  Throughout the day, people tuned in to see New Year’s celebrations in Beijing, Mumbai, Moscow, Paris, London, Rio and L.A. For one day, the planet forgot about its troubles and came together to celebrate our hopes for a brighter future.

Those troubles, though, proved to be systemic – and going deeper into the 21st Century, they’ve become impossible to ignore.  But it’s not like we weren’t told about the deteriorating health of our planet.  Earlier this month, a ‘second warning to humanity’ in the form of a letter signed by 16,000 scientists  reminded us that 25 years ago, the scientific community put us on notice that we needed to get our act together – or else (see: “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice,” William J. Ripple  Christopher Wolf  Thomas M. Newsome  Mauro Galetti Mohammed Alamgir  Eileen Crist  Mahmoud I. Mahmoud  William F. Laurance 15,364 scientist signatories from 184 countries, Bioscience, November 13, 2017; and, “16,000 scientists sign dire warning to humanity over health of planet,” CNN, November 15, 2017).

And yet, every year, we lose more productive agricultural land through desertification, water resource depletion and urbanization.  We destroy life-sustaining forests, leading to decreased biodiversity – especially of the megafauna that are indicator species of healthy ecosystems. We continue to sterilize our oceans and warm our planet.  We have failed miserably at learning to live sustainably, within our means.  

At least we’ve reversed course on one of the more dire concerns from 1992.  International co-operation towards repairing the hole in the ozone layer should have paved the way for plans and agreements to address other environmental issues.  But for all of the positive talk from the international community, what’s clear is that far too many of our leaders continue to put profit ahead of people and the health of our planet. 

Look no further than on-going international climate change negotiations, where the latest round just wrapped up in Bonn, Germany. The United Nations recently reported that the Paris Treaty’s goal of holding warming at 2 degrees Celsius is already in jeopardy because countries like Canada have committed to weak emissions reduction targets – and have no plans to achieve them (see: “Paris agreement targets leave 'alarming gap' to slow climate change: UN report,” CBC, October 31, 2017; and, “Catherine McKenna Says Canada Has a Climate Plan. Prove It,” Ross Belot, DeSmogCanada, November 15, 2017). 

That ringing alarm you’re hearing isn’t just warning us about an imminent cluster of environmental crises.  What we’re already hearing is the sound of full-blown social, economic and political upheaval. And it’s only going to get louder, as long as leaders look for ways to prop up an economic system that relies on growth at the expense of everything else – and the political systems which enable it.

My son Brian might beat the odds and celebrate the arrival of a new century, but his chances of doing so will be significantly influenced by just how my generation acts on the warnings that are all around us.  Unless we begin demanding that our leaders commit to transforming our political and economic systems to better prioritize the health of people, communities and the natural world - the odds for a long, happy and healthy life for Brian, and for all of our children, are going to be even tougher to beat.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

An edited version of this post originally appeared in the Sudbury Star, as "May: Sustainability key to solving looming crises" online and in print, November 25, 2017 - without hyperlinks.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

An Open Letter to Greater Sudbury Council Regarding the Downtown 'Large Projects' Site Selection Process


The following is an open letter to Greater Sudbury Council regarding a request for decision on a report to Council dated November 15, 2017, titled, “Greater Sudbury Convention and Performance Centre / Library Art Gallery Update,”. The request for decision recommends that the current site of the Sudbury Community Arena be selected by Council for the home of a new convention/performing arts centre, hotel, art gallery and library.

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I read with interest the report prepared by Staff recommending that the existing Sudbury Community Arena be selected by Council to be the home for the Greater Sudbury Convention and Performance Centre (formerly known as 'the Synergy Centre'), a new library branch, an art gallery and a hotel facility. I understand that the City assembled an internal team to evaluate sites based on Council's previously selected and prioritized criteria, and are now recommending that Council proceed by formally selecting the Sudbury Community Arena site.


I support the initiatives as identified by Council through the Large Projects exercise. However, selecting the existing site of the Sudbury Community Arena to be the home for these projects is problematic and fraught with risk for the City and we taxpayers.


That Council is being asked to make this decision before engaging with the public and business community as part of a public process to determine the best site or sites for these facilities is a real concern and appears to be yet another example in what can clearly be described as this Council's systemic lack of interest in public consultation.


Prematurity


Selecting the Sudbury Community Arena site to be the home for the Downtown 'Large Projects' is a very risky choice for taxpayers at this time. Built into that decision is the need to relocate existing tenants of the Sudbury Community Arena to a different facility before construction can begin. While I understand that Council has expressed its intention to build a new community events centre on a site located on the Kingsway, that site is currently zoned for industrial uses.


Until the Kingsway site is determined to be viable through an appropriate and public land use process, and until lands in that location are acquired by the City and ready for development, it is premature to conclude that the Kingsway site is in fact suitable for the use recommended by Council. This is not an academic argument, by the way. It is within the realm of possibility that Council's decision to select the Kingsway site for a new community events centre will not be supported by future land use decisions of Council, or by the Ontario Municipal Board, due to a lack of conformity with the City of Greater Sudbury official plan.


Risk of the Kingsway site not moving forward, however, did not form any part of Staff's site evaluation to Council. This appears to me to be a glaring omission – and one that could lead to a domino effect where none of Council's 'Large Projects' end up proceeding.


Lack of Public Engagement


Along with a missing risk assessment, municipal staff are recommending Council make a decision on a site in absence of any significant and orderly public consultation process. Instead of consulting with the public prior to recommending a decision for Council, staff have instead built public consultation into the process only after Council has selected a site. This appears to me to be fundamentally at odds with how the City should be reaching out to we residents. Real public engagement should start with a relatively blank slate. Public engagement should seek out impacted stakeholders, such as in this case the residents of the Downtown and the Downtown business community. There should be opportunities for all citizens to share observations and make suggestions that contribute to an outcome whereby the City has obtained a social license for development.


Again, this isn't an academic observation. The lack of a defined public process leading to Council's 6-6 decision to refuse a Downtown Community Events Centre created real division in our community – division that would likely have been tempered had all stakeholders and members of the public been able to participate in a public engagement process prior to Council's vote. What happened regarding the events centre appears to be about to happen again.


A Better Outcome


There is no good reason for Council to opt to make a decision on a site for the convention centre, library and art gallery at this time. Council should defer making any decision until a fulsome public engagement process has been undertaken by the City, and cost/benefit analyses have been prepared for each of the competing sites, so as to better inform public consultation.


The public should be engaged throughout the site selection process, including the formulation of site selection criteria and their prioritization. After all, it is our tax dollars which are in part going towards funding these uses, and it is we citizens who will achieve the majority of the benefit of these uses – through active use on our part, and through the economic activities which these uses are expected to contribute to the community.


And further, until a more fulsome land use process has determined the appropriateness for the Kingsway industrial site to play host to a new community events centre, offering up the existing Sudbury Community Arena site as a potential home for other 'Large Projects' should not be considered at all.



Thank you for your consideration of this input.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

An Open Letter to Greater Sudbury Council Regarding the Draft Integrated Site Plan for the Kingsway Entertainment District


The following is an open letter to Council and select municipal staff with regards to the Integrated Site Plan for some proposed elements of the so-called “Kingsway Entertainment District”. It is intended to be my submission as part of the public consultation process. As I have been unable to submit this text via the online survey, I have instead emailed it direction to all members of Greater Sudbury Council and select staff involved with the Integrated Site Plan.
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Thank you for providing an opportunity to the public to provide Council with feedback with regards to the Integrated Site Plan presented to Council by staff and consultants on Wednesday, November 1, 2017, for lands which are now being called the 'Kingsway Entertainment District'. I have been following this matter quite closely, and I understand that it was Council's direction to receive a report in the form of an integrated site plan for the following elements: a) a community events centre; a casino; a hotel.

While I continue to maintain that there are no existing land use permissions for the establishment of either a casino or community events centre, and that the Integrated Site Plan is therefore a premature exercise (and a costly one for Greater Sudbury taxpayers), I will nevertheless focus the majority of my comments in this letter to you on elements of the Integrated Site Plan. For a much more fulsome analysis of the Integrated Site Plan and land use permissions for the 'Kingsway Entertainment District', you may wish to read more of my thoughts at the following link: “The Kingsway Entertainment District - How Council's Vision Fails Greater Sudburians," Sudbury Steve May, November 6, 2017.

Council may also wish to note that I have provided previous correspondence on the elements that I would like to see incorporated into the Kingsway Entertainment District (see: “An Open Letter to Greater Sudbury Council Regarding a Kingsway Entertainment District," Sudbury Steve May, July 11, 2017). I also participated in one of the earlier public open houses held at the Radisson, and shared my thoughts through that process with staff and the City's consultants. It is fair to say that I am quite saddened to see that very few of the elements that I have highlighted to the City on several occasions have been incorporated into the Integrated Site Plan.

High Quality Urban Design

Section 14 of the City of Greater Sudbury's Official Plan identifies urban design policies that the City will use, where it is able, for all new development within the municipality. In part, policies here advise,

Urban design policies contained in this plan will apply to the City's public and private developments. Although there are limited planning tools available to Council to influence the design of private development, good design principles must be encouraged in order to improve the aesthetic qualities of our urban spaces.”

What this policy suggests to me is that the City will strive for high-quality urban design at all times – but that it recognizes high-quality design will be difficult to achieve where the developer is a private enterprise. And that also suggests that there is no good reason why a public facility shouldn't strive to have high-quality design elements – especially when that facility is intended to be a marquee facility that helps promote the City's image.

I have reviewed the Integrated Site Plan proposal, and it is not clear to me that the Site Plan is in keeping with the desire expressed in the Official Plan to promote good design principles with the goal of creating high-quality public spaces. There is little in the Integrated Site Plan that could be considered innovative, save perhaps the presence of a “Festival Square” and maybe a pedestrian skywalk linking the events centre to the casino/hotel complex. Given that the City proposes to spend between $80 and $100 million of scarce revenue on a public facility which may need to service the needs of residents for more than 30 years, I was extremely surprised to discover the lack of design ambition for this facility. I note that the Kingsway Entertainment District is presently a blank slate, and at least a part of these lands are intended to be developed by the City as a public facility. As such, there is no good reason here that the City should be striving for mediocrity in terms of design. For the outlay of public funding that taxpayers are being asked to make for this events centre to become a reality, we deserve more.

I further submit that locating a community events centre and other facilities in the midst of a sea of paved parking lots leaves a lot to be desired from an aesthetic standpoint. While I understand that the provision of ample parking at this location was one of the reasons cited by some members of Council as part of their rationale to support a new community facility on the urban fringe, I can't help but question why the Integrated Site Plan places the events centre and casino/hotel complex right in the middle of parking lots. Good urban design techniques would suggest trying to 'hide' parking at the rear of facilities, and creating a strong edge along traveled roads like the Kingsway with the close presence of the facilities themselves.

Energy Efficiency and Climate Change

One of the objectives of the Urban Design section of the Official Plan is to “promote a built environment that is safe, energy efficient, aesthetically pleasing and productive.” (from Official Plan Section 14.1, Urban Design Objectives). I point this objective out because one of my earlier comments pertained to designing the events centre in such a way as to be energy-neutral – to incorporate energy conservation measures along with energy production facilities, such as (maybe) solar panels or wind turbines. A district heating and cooling system (like the one that is in operation in the Downtown) would also go along way to help achieving #NetZero energy neutrality (or better). While there may be additional upfront costs to create facilities to achieve #NetZero objectives might, long-term savings should more than compensate. At the very least, Council should request a technical study which assesses the costs and benefits of achieving a #NetZero energy standard. That kind of design element would also go far with regards to helping the City achieve climate change objectives – something that siting a community events centre on the fringe of the City, making it primarily accessible only by personal automobile use – has already been exacerbated by Council's decision, in my opinion.

Designing for Winter Cities

Official Plan section 14.2 states:

Council will encourage urban design solutions that enhance winter livability. Such methods may include: Fostering building design and orientation to take advantage of climactic conditions and utilizing passive solar heating and cooling techniques; Investigating the feasibility of covered sidewalks at key locations; Encouraging landscaping treatments which enhance winter microclimate conditions and which minimize wind chill level.”

Without question, Greater Sudbury is a Winter City – so it's no surprise to me to see urban design policies in our Official Plan that speak to how best to locate new buildings and other infrastructure in a way that is mindful of the effects of winter. Some Winter Cities, like the Cityof Edmonton, have developed entire plans to help guide developments and get people thinking about how to get the most out of our urban environment in the winter time.

While I heard from staff and consultants during the November 1st presentation to Council that they themselves heard from members of the public that facilities should be designed for four-season use, there is little to no consideration for the impacts of winter in the Integrated Site Plan design. The outdoor elements of the Integrated Site Plan, especially the Festival Square, are to be located in extremely problematic areas with regards to winter weather.

With specific regards to the centrepiece Festival Square that will have large openings facing the northwest and the southeast, with multi-level buildings on either side (the community events centre to the northeast and the casino/hotel complex to the southwest), the layout here appears to create the perfect channel for winds to roar out of the northwest and right through your public open space.

Further, putting the taller of the two buildings (the casino/hotel complex) on the south side of the Square is also problematic. During winter afternoons when the Square could be used most often by the public, the casino will be casting a significant shadow on the Square.

To maximize exposure to sunlight, Winter Design Guidelines the world over suggest a southern orientation for open spaces like the proposed Festival Square – and yet the Integrated Site Plan for these elements of the Kingsway Entertainment District depicts one that faces northwest. There is some southern exposure, but the presence of an upper-level pedestrian walkway pretty much means that the focal point of the Square will be its northwestern opening – and that's where most of the people will be accessing the square from, given the presence of the Loop Access Road for buses and the many parking lots to the northwest. This orientation for open spaces uses appears to be at odds with designing for winter activities, as per the City's Official Plan. Frankly, I'm extremely surprised that this orientation was proposed at all – especially given the significant public feedback cited by staff and the City's consultant during the November 1st presentation to Council related to a desire for all-season use.

A Better Design

Rather than having the parking lots as the central feature that facility users will see from just about everywhere when on the site, the casino and events centre should be oriented towards the Kingsway, so that they are largely fronting on one of the City's major thoroughfares. By orienting the buildings so that they both face the Kingsway, and are physically closer to it, the parking lots can be located behind the buildings and accessed via the interior of the site.

By having the entrances to the buildings face the Kingsway, the Festival Square could be located between the two buildings, with a south-facing exterior (one the faces the Kingsway). The Square in this location could be more easily accessed by foot traffic from sidewalks on the Kingsway and potentially from new cycling infrastructure along the Kingsway. Buses wouldn't have to go into the site via side streets and an Access Loop – there could be special bus lanes and bays right off the Kingsway to facilitate transit. Indeed, priority high occupancy vehicle lanes could be located along the Kingsway between at least Barrydowne Road and Levesque Street in order to better facilitate the use of transit to the site – which would greatly assist with another, somewhat surprising, issue.

Given that ample parking was identified as one of the reasons for selecting this site in the first place, from the presentation to Council on November 1st, it appears that only a minimal number of surface parking spots are intended to be provided – less than are presently available in the City's downtown. With this in mind, the City should do all that it can to encourage alternative transportation options to the Kingsway Entertainment District, including prioritizing transit use and creating safe, separated all-season cycling infrastructure. Further, to encourage car-pooling to free up scarce parking spots, the City should establish a tariff for parking, based on the expected use of the event centre. A parking tariff – to help recover some of the costs for setting aside what amounts to a vast area of publicly-maintained parking – only makes sense. While I understand that this is not a site plan issue, I believe that the City should nevertheless consider a tariff, and being upfront with residents about having to charge for parking.

Additional Elements

I was surprised to discover that staff and consultant's recommended additional elements for Council's consideration as part of the Integrated Site Plan process. Specifically, an additional ice pad has been identified. An additional ice-pad is clearly beyond the scope of Council's direction for the Kingsway Entertainment District. The addition of another ice pad in this location should only be undertaken further to a cost-benefit analysis and a determination of how the City will pay for operating this new facility – and whether that might mean closing existing ice pads, such as the Carmichael Arena.

Going Forward

With the above comments in mind, it is certainly my hope that Council will send staff and its consultants back to the drawing board with regards to the Integrated Site Plan. Clearly, the plan lacks vision, will not implement high-quality urban design, is not in keeping with our Official Plan, and will prove problematic for facility users – especially during the winter. There is no good reason to rush this project. Please, let's take the time to get things right with regards to design. Should land use approvals ultimately determine the suitability of this site for the uses proposed, Council needs to bear in mind that this public facility will likely serve several generations of Greater Sudburians. We owe it to future residents to ensure that we are getting the design right.

And with that in mind, I would be remiss if I did not provide some comments with regards to the public consultation process that has been rolled out for the Integrated Site Plan post-November 1st. Frankly, the narrow time-frame for public comment – less than one week – is an insult to Greater Sudbury residents. Council should not have agreed to this tight timeframe – nor to the opportunity to provide comments through an online survey that asks only a single question about whether one is 'excited about the future'. Truly, what's happening here makes a mockery of engaging the public. Greater Sudbury Council should be ashamed that it has insulted its citizens in this manner.

However, it speaks volumes that so many committed Greater Sudburians are providing feedback, despite what appears to be the City's desire to charge forward. Many of us recognize just how important a new community events centre is to our City and future residents, and have dropped everything in order to engage with the City on the Integrated Site Plan proposal. The respectful thing for Council to do now, in my opinion, would be to require staff to undertake a legitimate public engagement exercise with citizens with the aim of improving the Integrated Site Plan so that it is better able to meet everyone's needs, going forward. That real public engagement can lead to public buy-in for a project should not be under-estimated. But when you shut the public out of participating in decision-making that will impact us for decades, you should expect the sort of hostile feedback that I have no doubt this mockery of a public process has generated.

Again, I think you for your time – and for the opportunity to provide these comments.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Kingsway Entertainment District - How Council's Vision Fails Greater Sudburians


1.2 – Vision

The Official Plan functions as much more than a land use planning document – it also encompasses our objectives related to social, economic and environmental matters. The vision statements below reflect the collective aspirations of those who live in Greater Sudbury by drawing on past community initiatives and public consultation.”

-City of Greater Sudbury Official Plan, 2006

On Wednesday, November 1st, in a presentation to Greater Sudbury Council, staff and consultants unveiled the Integrated Site Plan for what has come to be called the 'Kingsway Entertainment District'. Earlier, Council had directed staff and hired consultants to develop a site plan for a new casino, hotel and events centre, based on Council's recent decision to locate a new events centre at approximately the Kingsway and Levesque Street – and on letters of commitment that Council was in possession of from Gateway, a casino operator, and from a major hotel chain. Costs for developing the Integrated Site Plan were to be shared on a one-third basis by each of the partners (the City; the casino; and the hotel). Public consultation on design elements took place in the form of two in-person meetings and via online feedback.

During the presentation on November 1st, it was made clear to Council that some of the elements being requested by the public were included in the draft design. Marquee elements include ample parking; a Festival Square for outdoor gathering; and the addition of a second ice pad and a new permanent home for the Sports Hall of Fame. These last two elements have not yet been approved by Council and will likely carry additional costs for the development of the events centre, already pegged at costing between $80 and $100 million.

from "Integrated Site Plan Presentation", City of Greater Sudbury. November 1, 2017.

Other features include a pedestrian bridge to link the events centre to the casino/hotel complex; a loop access road to the Festival Square that could be used by re-routed transit; and a Feature Pond surrounded by green space located roughly between the Kingsway and the back end of the events centre and casino/hotel complex. There was also mention of alternative transportation infrastructure, but the only specifics I heard would be to paint edgelines for cyclists along Levesque Street (and here it needs to be noted that edgelines cannot be considered dedicated cycling infrastructure).

Integrated Site Plan - Initial Analysis

Based on the Integrated Site Plan, what staff and the consultants have come up with can be described as two large boxes floating in a sea of parking spaces – well, with greenspace on part of one side. All set back from the street in such a way so as to isolate it from the Kingsway, one of Greater Sudbury's major thoroughfares.

In my opinion, the only really interesting element is the Festival Square – a public space that is intended to have hard edges on the northeast and southwest sides (by the events centre to the northeast, and by the casino/hotel complex to the southwest), where the restaurants and small commercial venues might locate. To the northwest, the Festival Square will face the loop access road and, behind that, one of the many parking lots. To the southeast, the Festival Square will face the covered walkway that will connect the events centre and the casino/hotel complex at an above-grade location. Beyond that, to the southwest the Festival Square opens up to greenspace, a parking lot and what appears to be a sidewalk but may also include cycling infrastructure.

During the presentation, Toronto's Maple Leaf Square was referenced as an inspiration for the inclusion of the Festival Square.  Maple Leaf Square is a decently sized open space located to the west of the Air Canada Centre, home of the Toronto Maple Leafs. It is a seriously successful example of a public space utilized by sports fans and others - but especially by sports fans in support of the home teams that play out of the ACC.  It is definitely an public space integrated into the urban neighbourhood.  It differs from the proposed Festival Square in several important ways, including its pedestrian nature and the presence of multi-use urban buildings and activities.   There are no large parking lots in proximity.
Maple Leaf Square. 680 News, May 14, 2013.
All in all, there isn't very much here which is innovative or interesting. To call the design 'car centric' would be to state the obvious. Given the location, though, it's hard to imagine that staff and our hired consultants could have come up with a design that wasn't focused on moving cars around as a top priority.

But in all honesty, I expected a lot more than – this.

Guiding Development for the Kingsway Entertainment District - the Official Plan

But then again, what did staff and the consultants have to work with? Yes, they heard from the public – and they selectively incorporated some of the things that they heard about. I promise you that they did not include everything that was on the public wish list, because I participated in the public consultation exercise and shared my own wants with City staff. You can read about many of them here, in my earlier open letter to Council (see: “An Open Letter to Greater Sudbury Council Regarding a Kingsway Entertainment District," Sudbury Steve May, July 11 2017 - informed by an earlier piece that expands on the Secondary Plan suggestion, "Mapping the Way Forward for a Kingsway Entertainment District," Sudbury Steve May, June 30, 2017). None of my priorities made the cut.

Besides public consultation and the bare-bones direction from Council, where else might staff and consultants have looked for ideas for these first elements of the Kingsway Entertainment District – including the centrepiece of the attraction – a community events centre, bought and paid for by Greater Sudburians via our municipal corporation – a true public facility in every sense of the word.

I might have expected staff and the consultants to dust off and open up the City's Official Plan to see if there might be some words of wisdom within regarding how new public facilities should be developed. The Official Plan, after all, is essentially a public promise made by the City to its residents – a policy document that sets out where and how development is to occur. It often includes specific policy directions for certain parts of the City or certain kinds of development initiatives that are deemed critical or of a higher priority. It's informed by extensive public consultation that follows a legislative process. One might think that there could be some interesting ideas and directions for the City to follow contained in the dusty pages of our Official Plan with regards to a $100 million community events centre.

I write 'dusty' not because of the age of the Plan, but rather because it is becoming evident to me that our Council seems to have largely forgot that the Plan exists. I realize that many that are presently now on Council were not around in 2006 when the original plan was adopted by a previous iteration of Council. I understand that present councilors might not have taken part in the extensive public consultation exercises that preceded adoption. It may very well be that their lack of involvement in those processes has left them feeling rather, well, unbound by the policy direction articulated in this document. Council has certainly been keen to avoid our Official Plan at almost every occasion as it relates to building a new community events centre.

And the Integrated Site Plan is no different.

Purpose of the Official Plan

The purpose of the Official Plan is to establish goals, objectives and policies to manage and direct physical change and its effect on the social, economic and natural environment for the twenty year planning period. Actually, the preceding sentence ought to be in quotations – it is, after all, the very first sentence of policy text in the City of Greater Sudbury's Official Plan (note to readers: from here on in, I will put quotes around statements taken directly from the City's Official Plan, and provide references to the Sections of the Plan from which they were taken. I will highlight text that I want to specifically draw your attention to by using a bold font - but all of these highlights are mine, and are not in the Plan). 

From reading the above text, one might be left with the idea that choosing a location for an $80 million publicly-funded new community events centre and designing a site plan for it – that these initiatives might fall under the purview of the Official Plan. I know that was kind of the direction that I've been leaning in – but our Council has clearly taken a different approach.

The Importance of Greater Sudbury's Downtown

During the site selection process for the new events centre, four priority sites were selected by consultants PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC). While PWC's report referred to the current Official Plan designation for each site, along with the zoning, little reference was made to the actual policies of the Plan. Had PWC taken a close reading of the Official Plan, they would have run into some pretty big ideas about how an events centre is a critical piece of public infrastructure that contributes to the health and well-being of the City, as well as acting as a driver of economic development. The presence of a community events facility is also intended to act as one of several catalysts to spur affordable, low density development in a certain area of the City. Why just one area? Well, the Official Plan really only contemplates a facility like this being located in one area of the City – that would be the Downtown.

Indeed, the Downtown is the only physical sector of the City singled out in the Official Plan's Vision statement. Goals, objectives, policies and programs found throughout the plan that address issues such as economic development, sustainability, developing quality of place, healthy communities, attracting and retaining a vibrant workforce, promoting arts, culture and entertainment – all point towards making the Downtown an even better, more dynamic locale that acts as the City's economic engine.

The heart of Greater Sudbury, its most urban place, is and will be the Downtown. With the changing role of downtowns, there is a continuing need for appropriate policies and programs to enhance the Downtown as a location of government, commerce, cultural and entertainment facilities. Residential development in and around the Downtown is needed to support new and expanded facilities and amenities.” (from Section 1.4, Context).

We all know that the more people living in and around the Downtown, the healthier a downtown it will be. Our Downtown acts as the focal point for the City – not just in terms of jobs, commerce and wealth creation, but also as an actual focal point for Greater Sudburians through our significant expressions of culture, arts and entertainment (think about parades like Santa Claus and Pride; festivals such as the multi-cultural festival and Upfest; arts initiatives like the Arts Crawl; and especially entertainment via the many venues for live concerts and performances, including the Sudbury Theatre Centre, the Sudbury Community Arena, and private venues like Little Montreal and the Townhouse). The Downtown occupies a central location for so much that goes on in our City. It's no wonder that making our already vibrant Downtown an even better place is a goal of the City's Official Plan.

After all, Greater Sudbury has an image to maintain. We are in a competitive marketplace for the jobs of the future. To “facilitate a smooth transition to the knowledge economy” (an objective of Official Plan Section 17.1, Economic Development), there are numerous things which the City promised its citizens it would do.

Improving quality of place is directly tied to the success of our economic engines. Council must recognize the importance of recreation, arts and culture, and cultural diversity for attracting and retaining the creative talent that will contribute to the economic prosperity of the City and its entrepreneurial spirit. Given its impact on the City's image and appeal, the physical appearance of the urban landscape must be improved through a renewed focus on good urban design. Recognizing that quality of life is a key component of its economic development strategy, Council will strive to protect the community's natural environment, to improve its built form, and to enhance its social environment. The development of venues to showcase local and visiting talent, as well as our vibrant ethnic and cultural activities and organizations, is essential to improving quality of place. Special emphasis on creating a youth-friendly city is required.” (from Official Plan Section 17.5, Development Quality of Place).

The Kingsway vs. The Downtown - Contrasting Official Plan Policy Environments for a Community Events Centre

OK, so what does any of this have to do with an events centre on the Kingsway? Don't most of the policies that I've highlighted here pertain to the Kingsway as well as to Downtown? Well, generally speaking, yes they do – but keep in mind: the Kingsway is a designated Industrial area. While the Downtown is intended to be the home of arts, cultural and entertainment facilities. Let's just see what more the Official Plan has to say about the Downtown – especially in the context of attracting and retaining creative talent; the City's image and appeal; quality of life; physical venues tho host entertainment and cultural activities; and creating a youth-friendly City.

Downtown Sudbury forms the historic core of the amalgamated City, retaining its important function as a centre of retail, arts and culture, government and business services. The Downtown services a large catchment area that extends beyond Greater Sudbury. Compact and walkable, the Downtown possesses a distinct built form that sets it apart from other urban areas, offering unique opportunities to protect, develop and sustain its role as the vibrant hub of a dynamic city.” (from Official Plan Section 4.2.1, Downtown)

Council will develop the Downtown as a creative district by promoting arts and culture, encouraging public art initiatives, and partnering with the non-profit sector and other levels of government. The development of a performing arts facility in the Downtown core will be a key priority.” (from Official Plan Section 4.2.1, Downtown)

Amenities such as the Farmer's Market, Sudbury Theatre Centre, Greater Sudbury Public Library, Sudbury Arena and the Centre for Life contribute to the appeal of the Downtown. In order to make it more attractive as a place of residence, additional amenities necessary to enhance the livability of the Downtown will be identified.” (From Official Plan Section 4.2.1.1, Downtown Residential Development – note that the presence of the Sudbury Community Arena is highlighted as one of the amenities to be used to fuel residential development in the Downtown).

The Downtown offers a unique urban environment that is characterized by its distinct built form, heritage resources, street configuration, pedestrian spaces, and linkages to neighbourhoods and amenities such as Bell Park. The Downtown plays a key role in defining the City's image and quality of place, perceptions that are essential to the success of a number of City initiatives.” (from Official Plan Section 4.2.1.2, Downtown Urban Environment)

It is a policy of this Plan to preserve those aspects of the Downtown that contribute to the image, character and quality of life in the City, including natural features, landmarks, design attributes and heritage resources, linkages to existing trails, pedestrian walkways and other desirable elements of the built environment.” (from Section 4.2.1.2, Downtown Urban Environment)

To sum up, the Official Plan recognizes the importance of the Downtown core to the City and wider region, and acknowledges that the health and well-being of the Downtown promote the City's image here and abroad, and is important to municipal initiatives, including economic development. Preserving existing amenities and developing new amenities, such as a community arena, are part of a larger strategy to enhance the Downtown – for all of the good reasons stated.

The Downtown section of the Official Plan is riddled with references to image, arts and culture, entertainment, quality of life and economic development. Clearly, all of these aspects of healthy city building are tied together – and come together in a unique way in our City's Downtown. And that's why so many are truly upset that our municipal Council has opted to construct a new community events centre on the urban fringe of the City – accessible primarily by cars and catering to a specific economic elite. 

In short, locating a community events centre in an industrial park makes little sense in the context of the City's Official Plan – that public promise the City has made to us residents regarding how the City will be shaped in the future.

Council Reversing Course on a Public Promise to Residents

Oh, but the Kingsway Entertainment District isn't going to be an industrial park! Right? No one is contemplating building any industrial enterprises out there. And surely, that is the truth, because although the lands are designated for industrial development, and went through a subdivision process as recently as 2010 for the purpose of creating an industrial park, there just isn't any demand for the municipality to extend servicing to this part of the city. So the lands have been sitting vacant. What to do, what to do. I know! Let's turn this failed industrial site into a new entertainment district! And we'll start with building a new community events centre! And that actually seems to be how all of this has actually come about.

Look, maybe this whole Kingsway Entertainment District thing isn't a totally lousy idea. Maybe there is some merit to it. But right now, what's completely missing from the exercise is any articulation of the vision. Turn to that Section of the Official Plan that references 'Kingsway Entertainment District' and you won't actually be able to do it, because it's not there. The comparable section in our Economic Development Plan, 'From the Ground Up” also does not actually exist. There has been no articulation of public policy or programming that actually exists that lays out why the Kingsway Entertainment District would be a 'good thing' for Greater Sudbury – one worth pursuing by Council and the administration, and requiring the use of scarce taxpayer resources. There has been no cost-benefit analysis prepared. There has been no greenhouse gas emission inventory undertaken. There has been no public process to ascertain whether the citizens of this City want to turn our backs on the public promise Council has already made to us with regards to the Downtown, and instead embrace a new concept (well, more like an old concept – one we call 'urban sprawl') as a priority.

No policies. No programs. No public consultation. No direction. Just a Council decision that reverses course – one that takes us back to the past, rather than forward into the future. But maybe its what residents really want, costs be damned. But we don't even know that for sure, do we? Frankly, we don't even know what we're really talking about here at all, right?

Guiding Principles for the Development of a 'Kingsway Entertainment District'

During the presentation of the Integrated Site Plan, one member of Council remarked that he was unhappy to see that the talked-about motorsports park was not included as an element of the Plan. Of course, Council itself didn't direct that this element actually be included, so I'm not sure why the member of Council was surprised. But given that we've all been hearing about how a motorsports park is intended to be a part of this Entertainment District, perhaps the Councilor could be forgiven for thinking that maybe the consultants might have included that element in the Plan anyway. Goodness knows that they included a couple of items that were never on Council's list for the Integrated Site Plan – including an extra ice pad and a location for a Sports Hall of Fame. And what about that waterpark? Soccer dome? Mini-golf? Go-kart track? Zip line? Large Hadron Collider (ok, that one comes courtesy of Steve Ripley, and might not have been on anyone else's list)? Weren't many of these features cited by some on Council as factors that influenced them to vote against putting an events centre in the Downtown and instead moving our community facility out to the Kingsway?

In my opinion, the City should have never considered any site for the development of a new community events centre other than those that were within the Downtown. The Official Plan makes it pretty clear that it is a priority of the City and we residents to have this community facility located in the downtown. Whether you might personally agree or disagree with that statement is really immaterial – what is relevant is that when Council voted for the Kingsway, it failed – absolutely failed – to keep its promise to we residents.

You might be curious, though, in a way that our Council hasn't been, about what the Official Plan currently envisions for the 'Kingsway Entertaiment District' lands. Let me summarize. The lands are primarily designated “General Industrial”.  And keep in mind - no one at the City is talking about changing this designation for the community events centre use (although the City is contemplating an Official Plan amendment to permit a casino to locate on the site, as a casino is clearly not a permitted use on the Kingsway Entertainment District lands - or anywhere else in the City).

Permitted uses may include: manufacturing, fabricating, processing and assembling of industrial and consumer products, repair, packaging and storage of goods and materials and related industrial activities. Complimentary uses, such as administrative offices, which do not detract from, and which are compatible with, the operation of industrial uses are also permitted. General Industrial uses must have minimal environmental impacts. Any use which may impact surrounding areas and may cause nuisance will be appropriately buffered and screened. Where development occurs in areas that are not fully serviced, only dry industries that generate less than 4,500 litres of wastewater a day may be permitted. Heavy industrial may also be permitted by rezoning.” (from Official Plan Section 4.5.1, General Industrial).

You will note the absence of any reference to anything that might sound like a community events centre. Or a casino. Or other kinds of entertainment venues. The only non-industrial uses specifically contemplated here are those that are intended to be complimentary and inoffensive to industrial uses – so things like offices and potentially a restaurant. A motel might even be ok – but event that's a stretch, I think.

These are the land use policies that are intended to guide development of what we're now somehow calling 'The Kingsway Entertainment District'. These are the policies that the City is using to inform the Integrated Site Plan. These are the policies that were in place when Council voted to locate a community events centre on the Kingsway instead of in the Downtown. As a public promise was made to the citizens of Greater Sudbury about the Downtown via our Official Plan, so too was that public promise made to us that the City would develop the Kingsway lands in keeping with the policies of the Plan.

And again, it's no wonder that so many Greater Sudburians are upset – because clearly, Council's decision to locate the community events centre on the Kingsway was a broken promise to residents.  It's more than a broken promise, really. It's an abject failure to consider the needs of current and future residents. By opting for the Kingsway over the Downtown, Council demonstrated a lack of commitment to the future health and well-being of the City.  

A Secondary Plan - Establishing Policies to Guide Development in the 'Kingsway Entertainment District'

To help mend this situation, I wrote to Council and suggested that while I did not agree with their decision, if they were truly serious about wanting to develop lands on the Kingsway as an entertainment district, it would be prudent first to create a policy environment to guide development – and to do it through a public process. I recommended that the City develop a Secondary Plan for this District. I received no response from any member of Council about this proposal.

Instead, Council opted to proceed with the Integrated Site Plan, which is intended to inform the zoning amendment that is presently being worked on to permit a community events centre on part of the site. It now seems that it is the goal of the City to have the Integrated Site Plan finalized in mid-November, with the zoning amendment proceeding to Planning Committee by the end of the month.

Let's shift gears back to the Integrated Site Plan for a moment. As I wrote earlier, in absence of any specific Official Plan policy direction for the development of a casino, events centre and hotel in the Kingsway location, staff and consultants were kind of left to make things up as they went along – informed by some of the public input that they received, admittedly - but somewhat lacking in policy to inform a direction forward.

Guiding the Design of the 'Kingsway Entertainment District'

Let's just take a peak and see what sort of guidance the Official Plan might have provided if the community events centre and other uses were to have been located in the Downtown. Staff and the consultant would surely have noted the following policies about urban design:

High quality urban design in the Downtown will be promoted, compatible with the existing character and scale. A special focus on public spaces is intended, utilizing such design elements as street trees, landscaping, street lighting and furnishings, public art, gateway entrances and playgrounds that are wheelchair and stroller accessible.” (from Section 4.2.1.2, Downtown Urban Environment)

The innovative use of new environmental technologies will be promoted, including the development of green buildings, the utilization of alternative heating and cooling methods, and the re-invention of public spaces utilizing recent advancements in eco-sensitive designs.” (from Official Plan Section 4.2.1.2, Downtown Urban Environment).

And that's just a sampling, taken specifically from the Downtown portion of the Official Plan. Other design elements are identified throughout the Official Plan in various sections, including the Healthy Community and Urban Design sections.

Oh wait – there's an Urban Design section in the Official Plan? What does it have to say about the design of new community facilities?  Might there be some guidance there for the development of the Kingsway Entertainment District?

Urban design policies contained in this plan will apply to the City's public and private developments. Although there are limited planning tools available to Council to influence the design of private development, good design principles must be encouraged in order to improve the aesthetic qualities of our urban spaces.” (from Official Plan Section 14.0, Urban Design)

What this policy suggests to me is that the City will strive for high-quality urban design at all times – but that it recognizes high-quality design will be difficult to achieve where the developer is a private enterprise. And that also suggests that there is no good reason why a public facility shouldn't strive to have high-quality design elements – especially when that facility is intended to be a marquee facility that helps promote the City's image.

One of the objectives of the Urban Design section of the Official Plan is to “promote a built environment that is safe, energy efficient, aesthetically pleasing and productive.” (from Official Plan Section 14.1, Urban Design Objectives). I point this objective out because one of my “asks” was that the community events centre be designed in such a way as to be energy-neutral – to incorporate energy conservation measures along with energy production facilities, such as (maybe) solar panels or wind turbines. A district heating and cooling system (like the one that is in operation in the Downtown) would also go along way to help achieving #NetZero energy neutrality (or better).

And I also question whether there is anything 'aesthetically pleasing' about siting a community facility in the middle of a massive parking lot in an industrial area.  Espcecially one that is influenced at certain times by constraints from neighbouring land uses.

Designing Public Spaces in Winter Cities

There is one other area of the Urban Design Official Plan Section that I'd like to draw your attention to – and to ask that you keep in mind the layout of the site as proposed by the Integrated Site Plan, and especially the location of the Festival Square public space.

Council will encourage urban design solutions that enhance winter livability. Such methods may include: Fostering building design and orientation to take advantage of climactic conditions and utilizing passive solar heating and cooling techniques; Investigating the feasibility of covered sidewalks at key locations; Encouraging landscaping treatments which enhance winter microclimate conditions and which minimize wind chill level.” (from Official Plan Section 14.2, Community Design).

Without question, Greater Sudbury is a Winter City – so it's no surprise to me to see urban design policies in our Official Plan that speak to how best to locate new buildings and other infrastructure in a way that is mindful of the effects of winter. Some Winter Cities, like the City of Edmonton, have developed entire plans to help guide developments and get people thinking about how we can get the most out of our urban environment in the winter time (see: "Winter Design Guidelines: Transforming Edmonton into a Great Winter City," City of Edmonton).

While I heard a little bit about how the Integrated Site Plan development process considered the impacts of winter (including setting aside space for snow machines and a desire to connect to snow machine trails), when I look at the Integrated Site Plan, it's pretty clear to me that no one really gave much thought to winter when they put this together.  And we here in Greater Sudbury get a lot of winter.

Look, I'm no urban designer, but even I know that if you put in a large open space like the Festival Square, and have large openings facing the northwest and the southeast, and then you put two multi-level buildings on either side, you've gone and created the perfect channel for winds to roar out of the northwest right through your public open space.  And we get a lot of wind out of the northwest in the wintertime. 

Further, by putting the taller of the two buildings on the south side of the Square during winter afternoons when the Square could be used most often by the public, the casino will be casting a significant shadow on the Square.  Wind and shade is not an enjoyable combination for all-season outdoor space use.
Festival Square. From the Integrated Site Plan presentation, City of Greater Sudbury.
Winter design guidelines the world over suggest a southern orientation for open spaces. Here, we have one that faces northwest. There is some southern exposure, but the presence of an upper-level pedestrian walkway pretty much means that the focal point of the Square will be its northwestern opening – and that's where most of the people will be accessing the square from, given the presence of the Loop Access Road for buses and the many parking lots to the northwest.   I appreciate that the concept design depicts some evergreen trees along the northwest frontier to act as wind breaks, but I question just how successful these trees will be - especially when there is every opportunity to consider a different orientation for the development.  Right now, we have a clean slate - let's get this right before we're all standing out there with our kids freezing our collective buns off.

Again, I'm not an urban designer or an architect. I don't get paid to think about things like wind channels and shadows. I wasn't on the City's professional team that came up with this Integrated Site Plan – the one that is getting paid about $300,0000. No, I'm just some guy who read a few Winter City design guidelines and is trying to figure out how to reconcile what I've read with what I'm seeing in the Integrated Site Plan.

Promoting Walkability and Community Health through Site Design

I would have hoped to see a few other things in the Integrated Site Plan, too. Rather than having the parking lots as the central feature that you're going to see from just about everywhere when you're on site, why not orient the casino and events centre to the Kingsway, so that they would largely front on one of our main thoroughfares? Right now, the Integrated Site Plan sets back the buildings significantly from the Kingsway – so that in the future, when you're driving down the Kingsway you'll see mostly just the open space area, the pond and the parking lots. And when you're exiting the casino and events centre, you'll see the Square and beyond that, the parking lots.
From True North Strong - site plan concept.
Although far from good, the original 'design' from the True North Strong people at least contemplated direct exposure of the events centre from the Kingsway, and a bit of a hard edge.

By orienting the buildings so that they both face the Kingsway, and are physically closer to it, you could hide the parking lots behind the buildings in the interior of the site. By having the entrances to the buildings face the Kingsway, you could still have a Festival Square by locating it between the two buildings, with a south-facing exterior (one the faces the Kingsway). The Square in this location could be more easily accessed by foot traffic along sidewalks on the Kingsway and potentially from new cycling infrastructure along the Kingsway. Buses wouldn't have to go into the site via side streets and an Access Loop – there could be special bus lanes and bays right off the Kingsway to facilitate transit.  And if you wanted to link the events centre to the casino/hotel complex, you could put the pedestrian overpass along the north side of the Festival Square, where it would act as a permeable edge.

Now it may be that this kind of orientation is impractical due to stormwater management issues (the pond, to be located near the Kingsway, might have no other place to go). But if there is an opportunity to create a strong edge along the Kingsway by using the buildings themselves and public amenities like a south-facing Festival Square, the City would be remiss to pursue that, in my opinion.

Next steps – Zoning

So after reading all of this, you might be wondering just how the City is going to work its way through the next step – the zoning by-law amendment. When you go to amend the zoning by-law, municipal officials can't simply ignore Official Plan policies in the same way that Council has been doing. In fact, zoning by-laws are required to conform to Official Plans. With the high test of Official Plan conformity in mind, you may be wondering just how Council is going to justify amending the zoning by-law to permit a community events centre on lands designated for General Industrial development. I know I am.

Council might be thinking it has two outs. I understand the arguments, but I don't think they hold much water.

First, a community events centre is an Institutional use. Section 4.4 of the Official Plan provides policies for institutional uses. While there is a specific land use designation for Institutional uses, the Plan makes it perfectly clear that not all institutional uses are going to be located in these areas – in fact, the Plan states, “Institutional uses are permitted throughout the municipality in accordance with the needs of area residents and policies set forth below.” (from Official Plan Section 4.4, Institutional Uses)

Those “policies set forth below” provide a list of items for Council to consider when establishing a new institutional use on lands not specifically designated for Institutional uses. These elements include: sewer and water servicing; traffic; parking; transit; integration of the new use within the larger context of the site; buffering and landscaping.

On the surface, there appears to be a very good argument that one might try to make that since Institutional uses can locate anywhere in the municipality, including within General Industrial areas, and since the criteria that Council must consider for that to happen actually consists of elements that Council is considering through the Integrated Site Plan, that should be good enough to locate a community events centre in an industrial area.

Not so fast, though. All of the above actually makes a lot of sense when you're talking about a community facility like a recycling centre or an office attached to a waste disposal site. By their nature, those uses are somewhat industrial – but also institutional because they are municipal facilities. An events centre in an industrial area still doesn't make a whole lot of sense – and Council will need to take into consideration the entirety of the Official Plan's policies. And that's not just my say-so:

It shall be the policy of Council to ensure that the Zoning By-law and amendments thereto conform with the Official Plan. To this end, it is the intent of Council to evaluate each rezoning application according to all applicable policies – simple conformity with land use designation does not automatically guarantee a rezoning to the proposed use.” (from Official Plan Section 20.5.2, Rezoning Applications)

So all of those policies about how an events centre help create a healthy Downtown and assist with the economic development goals of the City? Yes, Council is going to have to consider those when making a decision on the new events centre – because the multitude of the Plan's policies clearly direct that kind of institutional use (the events centre kind) to the Downtown – a location where other institutional uses, like a recycling centre, may be permitted – but where they would make absolutely no sense to locate.

Private For-Profit vs. Municipal Facility

The second matter on which Council may try to hang its hat for a favorable decision related to a zoning by-law amendment would be the existing zoning permissions on this specific site. Back in 2014, Council authorized a by-law amendment for a private commercial recreation centre use – essentially, something that might physically look a lot like the events centre that we're all talking about today. Council may suggest that since that permission already exists (and even after reading the staff report, I frankly have zero idea how that permission conforms to the General Industrial policies of the Official Plan, but Council in 2014 said it did, and no one else said otherwise, so it must conform – somehow) for something that looks the same, what's the problem?

The problem here is actually considerable. What Council approved in 2014 was a private enterprise – they essentially gave the landowner permission to go ahead and build and operate a private events centre – one that would compete with the existing Sudbury Community Arena. Presumably, it would also be a facility that made money for the owner – why else would anyone build this sort of enterprise, if not for profit?

Anyway, thing is, it never got built – maybe because the owners figured out that they couldn't make money – or maybe it was because of some other reason. Point is, what we're talking about now is a community facility – not a for-profit business enterprise. We know going into this, thanks to the PWC report, that there will be no direct return on our investment. We know that we will be operating this facility at a loss going forward. We know that we aren't building this thing to make money for the City. What we hope is that a new events centre will contribute to our quality of life and act as a catalyst for economic development by stimulating new development in proximity, and creating a more livable community for residents.

Of course, a new community events centre would do all of those things much more easily if it were located in the City's Downtown, in accordance with the Official Plan. And that's why the potential argument that 'something-that-already-looks-a-lot-like-a-community-events-centre-has-permission-from-Council-to-locate-on-the-Kingsway' doesn't hold water. In this case, I agree that a private facility looks like a duck – but in this case it does not quack like a duck and is in fact, not a duck. A private events centre, if one were ever built on the Kingsway, would go to profit a private enterprise. A community events centre will be built on the basis of the services it provides to residents - and while it might aspire to turn a profit, it's purpose is not about profit – it's about public amenity. And that is a significant difference.

Council Should Reverse Course - Before Going Any Further Down the Rabbit Hole

So again, I've no idea how Council is going to justify amending the zoning by-law to permit a community events centre in this General Industrial area. Maybe they'll use this opportunity to reverse course. Right now, Council is only waste-deep in this quagmire – maybe after reading the reports, dusting off their copies of the Official Plan, and listening to the public to whom they made promises that are articulated in the Official Plan – perhaps this will be the opportunity that Council needs to throw the brakes on things, admit that they made a bad decision when they voted for the Kingsway, and reverse course. Sure, that's a hard thing for Council to do. But with voters keeping an eye on things, maybe it's better to admit you were wrong and do something about it, rather than have voters tell you at the ballot box just how wrong you were.

Or maybe there is an opportunity for a middle-ground solution. While there are no policies in the Official Plan that I can find right now that support an events centre on the Kingsway, that doesn't mean that there couldn't be. I've already suggested a way forward with a middle-ground approach to Council: the development of a Kingsway Entertainment District Secondary Plan. If there aren't any policies to guide development in the Plan right now, put them in – but do it before zoning and site plan, so that those policies are there to guide those processes. Sure, it may mean an extra year before the project can start rolling forward again – because real public processes take time – but given that this new community facility is going to be one to serve our City for decades – maybe as many as 5 or 6 of them – what's one extra year's worth of time to slow things down and put things a little more right than they are now.

If this Council really believes in the merits of a Kingsway Entertainment District, they will get serious about developing this new area – and start to follow established processes to get there. Processes that include public consultation and engagement, and which will address the desire of residents to shift an important City-building public facility out of the Downtown and into a Disney-land type district. That's the kind of conversation that has been completely lacking – but that's the conversation that we're going to have to have if we want to get this right.


And judging by the Integrated Site Plan that went to Council on November 1st, there doesn't seem to be a lot of desire to 'get things right'. And that's a shame for our City. I hope Council gets this message – because ultimately, the approval of the upcoming zoning amendment isn't something that they will have complete control over.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Additional Notes: In earlier blogposts, I noted that issues pertaining to the presence of threatened and endangered species had not been resolved and should be investigated prior to development.  Since writing those blogposts, I have had the opportunity to meet with City staff, and through information communicated to me by Stafff, I am satisfied that there are no identifiable issues pertaining to the presence of threatened and endangered species and their habitat on the lands subject to the Kingsway Entertainment District proposal.