What did City Council do?
Draft Parkland Strategy
Staff have prepared the City of Waterloo Draft Parkland Strategy for circulation and feedback. You can review the document and provide feedback at the link below.
This document is intended to be a guiding document with a 10-15 year vision for the state of our 407 hectares of parkland across the 134 parks in the City. This strategy will work with other guiding documents such as our Sports Field Strategy and Waterloo Park Master Plan. It is also likely to spur other documents such as a plan to classify unofficial park spaces and a special events strategy. A corresponding financial plan to help us achieve our goals will be forthcoming prior to the next budget cycle. There are 77 recommendations within the document, based on a variety of notable trends, such as; barrier free playgrounds, increasing the quantity of splash pads, tennis and basketball courts, outdoor rinks, off-leash dog parks, outdoor fitness equipment, washrooms, community gardens, public art, WiFi, shade structures, wayfinding signage, benches, picnic tables, potable water and power! There are a lot of things to consider as part of this plan and I hope you will review and provide your feedback.
Official Plan Initiation
The OP is the guiding document for growth and change throughout the City. It is perhaps the most important document within the City as it directs Land Use Planning, Economic Development, Environmental Issues, Transportation, Housing Affordability and more. The OP must be updated every 10 years and was last done so in 2012, the timing works as it also must complete with the Region OP, which is currently under review. You can review some documents and answer questions about the OP at the link below.
Council received a few key facts and considerations as we begin the journey of updating our OP. Here are some that I found interesting:
- Our current population (including students) is 146,010 and is projected to grow to 160,183 by 2041.
- Household growth is outstripping population growth, which is creating even more pressure on housing needs in our community.
- The number of post-secondary students in our community is projected to continue to increase.
- Even without students, the City of Waterloo has a younger median population than most communities (37.7).
- As is the trend in most communities ownership rates are declining and there is a significant increase in rental households (from 2006 to 2016 we’ve seen a 21% increase in renters and a 6% increase in ownership).
- Household size is projected to continue to decrease (current average is 2.73 people per household, 2041 projection is 2.41).
- The current rental market vacancy rate is lower than what is considered healthy, which is perhaps why our average rental pricing is above the Ontario average and speaks to the need for more purpose built rental.
- 50% of our community commutes less than 5km to work.
- Although we have limited greenfield land to build and a hard urban boundary, our current framework can accommodate the projected growth, with the majority of this growth planned in Major Transit Station Areas and along Major Nodes and Corridors.
Leaf Collection Review
Council reviewed the roadside leaf collection program and decided to continue with the program as is. This program is intended to assist homeowners with leaves that have fallen from street trees, by permitting residents to rake those leaves to the street (at appropriate times) in order to ensure that those leaves do not block storm water drains. Not every municipality offers this service, with some asking residents to bag these leaves, to be collected with other yard waste. For many folks, I suspect a change would have minimal impact, however there are many residents for whom this is an extremely valuable service as they would be required to bag hundreds of leaves due to the nature of their properties and the maturity of their trees. The program has many challenges, in particular climate change considerations are making this service more and more difficult to implement. Extreme weather events in November often require us to shift focus from leaf collection to snow removal, which creates budget pressures due to overtime costs associated with keeping both programs operational at the same time. Combined with the infeasibility of collecting leaves that have frozen into ice blocks and I believe that eventually this program is likely to be a victim of climate change in the end. However, at this time I analyzed the program from a cost perspective and decided to vote to maintain the program as is. Based on five-year averages this program costs $320,000 to administer. Even if we eliminate the program, roughly $50,000 of this budget will need to be kept to handle ad hoc issues pertaining to keeping storm drains clear (actual savings to eliminate are $270,000). Assuming that all of the leaves we deliver to the Region were to be bagged, the Region would assume additional costs of $195,000. The Region also estimates that the cost of bags to residents would be approximately $60,000. On top of all of that, not all of the savings are likely to be seen by residents as we would need to retain employees who would be shifted to other (admittedly valuable) tasks, creating an additional $70,000 budget pressure. I think it is necessary for us to continue to monitor the program in the coming years. We are seeing the budget for this service continually increasing (again, due to Climate Change issues) and I think eventually the cost will outweigh the benefit. In my opinion I did not see that to be the case today.
Informal Public Meeting – 525/565 Conestogo Road West – Former Kraus Carpet Property
Council reviewed a proposal that would completely reimagine the former Kraus Carpets property into a mixed-use neighbourhood. The proposal includes 15 buildings, between 3 and 35 stories. As the proposal currently exists it would accommodate 2,530 residential units, 4,560 residents and 870 jobs. Although the proposal is in initial planning it is proposed to include a variety of dedicated play spaces that may operate as Privately Owned Public Spaces. The development includes a proposal to build a pedestrian/cycling bridge over the expressway directly to the Northfield LRT stop and is estimated to boost ridership by 3,000 daily trips. Check out more information below and let me know what you think in advance of a future formal public meeting where decisions will be made.
Formal Public Meeting – Foamflower/Raspberry Place
Council approved a minor zone change amendment to permit 12M stacked townhomes in three development blocks within the Foamflower and Raspberry Place development area of Vista Hills. The zone change is considered minor, because existing zoning already permits 12M apartment buildings, there was no increased density proposed, nor any other changes requested (parking, setbacks, amenity space, etc). 12M stacked townhomes are a relatively new housing ‘product’ and this likely needs to be reflected in future planning documents. While these new homes will not be considered ‘affordable’ units, in my opinion, this type of housing is the exact ‘missing middle’ type of housing that we need more of in our communities. It will be more attainable for young families and offers the housing choice that is desperately needed between detached dwellings and high-density development. Although there are still details needed to be worked out in order to ensure compatibility with our Urban Design Guidelines through the Site Plan Approval process, the development is intended to have 64 multi-unit dwellings within the Foamflower block, 24 within the block in the North part of Raspberry and 32 within the South part of Raspberry. This development will include some great benefits for the broader community including the completion of parks in this area and pedestrian connectivity to Columbia Street, the Hydro Corridor trail and potentially the Geo-Time Trail.
Permanent Residents Voting Motion
Over the past number of months, I have been working on a motion advocating to the Provincial government to allow Permanent Residents to be electors in local elections. This would permit them to seek office and vote in elections for local Councils and School Boards. Council supported this motion and we now join two other municipalities (North Bay and Toronto) in Ontario as well as a number across Canada seeking the same permissions. I thought I would share with you my full statement as to why this is something that I felt so strongly about:
‘I’m not allowed to vote’ – The first time I heard this when I was door knocking during the 2018 campaign, I’m ashamed to say that I probably thanked them for their time and moved on to the next door. 10,000 doors to hit in 8 weeks, I can’t spend time on someone who isn’t allowed to vote. The second, third and fourth times it started to resonate. I’d say, ‘Whether or not you are allowed to vote, it is possible that I may be your Councillor and I at least want to introduce myself’. As I continued to hear it, I would stay and engage with them, ask questions, share my vision for the Ward and the City. Their opinions matter, their voice matters and I wanted them to know they could reach out to me in the unlikely event I became their Councillor.
We should not be afraid to hear from more voices. On the contrary, inclusion makes us better. To suggest that permanent residents are not already an integral part of City building would be incorrect. As stated in the motion, they contribute greatly to the economic prosperity of our City. They also contribute through their community involvement, volunteering, philanthropy, arts, culture and more. Our local elected officials should be accountable to them.
Waterloo is an extraordinary, world class, vibrant city with residents from a host of backgrounds and yet our Councils and our school boards are not reflective of that. Encouraging political participation early in residents’ journeys toward Citizenship may help us change this representation.
The process to become a permanent resident is costly and time consuming. Permanent residents, as the name suggest are residents who intend to be in Canada long term. It is true that the vast majority of permanent residents eventually become citizens. You could take that in one of two directions; we are encouraging citizenship today and things should not change, or these folks are extremely likely to be permitted to vote in local elections eventually, so why not let them vote sooner.
In an increasingly mobile world, I question whether citizenship is still the strongest reflection of participation in local municipal services. We are far likelier to have an influx of new residents to the City via inter-city migration than we would have decades ago. We welcome them to the City, encourage them to participate in municipal services and indeed they are afforded the right to vote, even if they have only been here for a short period. Permanent residents on the other hand can live in a city for many years, work towards their citizenship, utilize these services and yet have no voice in the process.
When Statistics Canada citizenship data is analyzed, a few unfortunate trends emerge, lending more credence to permitting voting in local elections as a permanent resident. First, the process is taking longer than it ever has. More alarmingly, we are seeing a noticeable decline in citizenship rates, correlated directly to income levels. In 1996, there was little to no difference in citizenship rates by income bracket. In the ensuing years, we have created a citizenship inequality based on income levels. This is disenfranchising our most vulnerable residents and from a municipal perspective is disproportionately impacting the voices in our community that we are hearing from.
‘Why do you care what I think, I’m not allowed to vote anyway?’ – The words echo in my head. I was asking about leaves, chickens and fires. They are homeowners, they are residents of the community, they are taxpayers, their children attend the schools that my children attended, they are as much a part of this community as I was, if not more. And yet they feel like their opinion does not count, because they are not permitted to hold me accountable at the ballot box.
When we talk about the disenfranchisement of these residents, it is not theory. The barriers to engagement at our local municipalities and within our school boards are real. Harnessing the enthusiasm of permanent residents to participate in our local elections can only help us collectively build the inclusive and equitable community that we all desire.
In what was an extremely busy month, Council also approved the reconstruction of Mackay Crescent and Alexandra Ave and directed staff to end the pilot project for separated cycling infrastructure on Albert Street and Columbia Street, with an ask to come back with a more permanent solution in both instances for next year. We also reviewed our 2020 financial statements and capital projects report, approved redistribution of funds from RIM Park baseball diamond upgrades to improve diamond space in other areas of the City and finalized an agreement with Wilmot Township for maintenance of the Wilmot Line. Traffic calming was approved on some streets in Ward 4 and a Section 40 agreement was authorized for a minor parking exemption to facilitate the build of Affordable Housing by the Region at 555 Beechwood. Lastly, we heard a delegation from TheMuseum regarding The Rolling Stones exhibit coming to Kitchener this Fall! If anyone would like to learn more on any of the above topics, please don’t hesitate to reach out for a chat.
Outside of the Council Chambers
June was a busy month outside the virtual Council chambers as well. June is Indigenous History Month and I had the pleasure of attending a Regional education session as well as attending a University of Waterloo guest speaker series with the Honourable Murray Sinclair. To suggest that I have much to learn would be an understatement. Each of these events are an extraordinary learning opportunity for me as the City, Region, Province and Country tackle our Truth and Reconciliation commitments.
I had the pleasure of attending an All Council Meeting for elected officials across the Region. During this meeting we received updates from the new incoming CEO of Communitech, Waterloo Region Tourism Marketing Corporation, Waterloo Region Community Energy and on Transform WR (the Community Climate Action Plan). A few takeaways on each:
- Communitech is helping drive significant economic growth to the Region. The Cities need to ensure strong planning principles to accommodate this growth and address housing challenges.
- The number one issue continues to be talent attraction and retention.
- The tourism industry is still the hardest hit from COVID, with about a 26% drop in employment in the industry (26,000 jobs vs. 18,000 jobs).
- It usually takes years to plan large scale events and as such the industry may not fully recover to 2019 levels until 2024.
- Only 13% of the money we spend on energy stays in our community.
- Current Initiatives: District Energy Studies, Residential Energy Retrofit Loan Program and Energy Mapping.
- Priorities: Energy use within Land Use Planning/Development, Literacy and Communications and Municipality Leadership.
- Future Plans: Green Development Standards and Net Zero Neighbourhoods.
- We need a combination of Safe Bets and Wild Cards to achieve our Climate Goals.
- Safe Bets: Commercially available and limited barriers to scaling (EV’s, Heat Pumps, Gen 1 Renewable Natural Gas).
- Wild Cards: Demonstration stage and have scalability concerns (Carbon Capture Technology, Gen 2 RNG).
- To achieve our 2030 targets about 2/3rds of the reduction can be achieved through safe bets, while achieving our 2050 targets only about 1/3rd will be safe bets.
- We need to use everything in our municipal toolbox (Implement, Invest, Regulate and Encourage) to help us achieve all of our goals.
I also attended a town hall hosted by the KWCF on affordable housing. I know I talk about this a lot, but along with racial equity and justice and climate change, it is the seminal challenge we are facing today. In fact, each of those three topics are interconnected and we must find ways to accomplish our collective goals in an intersectional manner.
Lastly, I attended Mayor Jaworsky’s virtual State of the City address. There is so much optimism for the future and I encourage anyone who missed it, to check it out here:
Sorry, for the super long newsletter this time J
Take care, stay safe and get vaccinated!