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.
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.
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)