Saturday, January 20, 2018

More Public Intimidation and Misrepresentation of Facts from Greater Sudbury Councillor Kirwan Over Upcoming Arena & Casino Public Meeting

On his Valley East Facebook group, Councillor Kirwan is sharing a private email between citizens that someone has shared with him. Very classy.
I've reproduced his lengthy post at the bottom of this blog. It's the latest in a string of social media announcements that this Greater Sudbury Councillor has made as part of what to me is a clear campaign to intimidation and misinformation over the upcoming public meeting regarding applications filed by a private developer to permit a casino and an arena/event centre on lands owned by the developer on the Kingsway, in a location on the urban fringe of the former City of Sudbury. The public meeting is a required component of provincial legislation. It is inappropriate, in my opinion, for a member of Council to misrepresent the public process in the way that this Councillor has been doing - and it is completely unacceptable that he has engaged in name-calling and bullying those who do not share his opinion of the development proposals.
Let the public process unfold as it the legislation requires it, Councillor. You'll get your chance to participate when the matter comes up for a vote. And if appeals are filed, remember: that, too, is part of the public process for these applications.
Here are a few other observations I'd like to share:
1) The Councillor has said elsewhere that he uses this Facebook group to engage constituents in his role as municipal Councillor - and clearly, many of the posts are written from his perspective as Councillor. So that's something to keep in mind when he publishes a private communication made between two individuals about a matter that has nothing to do with him, personally.
2) The Councillor is now taking the outrageous position that the City MUST approve the applications made by the developer to permit a casino because of the money that Gateway Casinos has already spent based on what the Councillor refers to as being both a "good faith commitment" and an "agreement" between the City and Gateway Casinos. It certainly sounds to me as if the Councillor might be privy to information that the rest of us don't have about an "agreement" of some sort that our City appears to have entered into with the casino operator. Very interesting.
3) What is absolutely fundamentally clear to me is that either Robert Kirwan is deliberately trying to mislead Valley East group members - many of whom are his constituents - or that he just really doesn't have the first clue about how the municipal land use planning system works. Given that he has been a member of Council now for over 3 years, I find it hard to believe the latter. But how else to explain statements which are completely erroneous, like, "So I hope that reason prevails in the end and people avoid filing appeals unless there is something in the applications that is a serious violation of the Acts and Regulations. That is the purpose of the public hearing on Monday, January 22, 2018. We want people to show us where the applications may not be in compliance with the Acts and Regulations."
No, Councillor Kirwan, this isn't about violations of "Acts" and "Regulations" - things that are usually illegal, by the way. The tests that Council will need to apply when making decisions related to the land use applications are as follows: a) having regard to provincial interests as set out in Section 2 of the Planning Act; a decision which conforms to and/or does not conflict with the Growth Plan for Northern Ontario (and any other applicable provincial plans); c) is consistent with the Provincial Policy Statement, 2014; d) conforms with the City of Greater Sudbury's Official Plan; and, e) is good planning.
All of those tests are policy-based tests - they have nothing to do with "Acts" or "Regulations". I'm sure that the Councillor understands the difference between regulatory instruments and policy - so why is he confusing these matters? Perhaps because regulatory instruments tend to put things into a more black and white perspective, whereas policy is a lot more nuanced and subject to interpretation. Again, this is part of his campaign to intimidate and silence opponents to the development proposals, by insinuating that the test for an appeal are at a higher threshold than they are. This is very shameful.
4) The statement made by Councillor Kirwan that "We do not want to hear people who simply do not like the decision that Council made," is really problematic - first because it suggests that Council has already made a decision. No, Council hasn't. The applications in front of Planning Committee have yet to be discussed at Council, much less there being a decision. It could be that the Councillor is referring to Council's decision to select the Kingsway as a site for an events centre, subject to property purchase and rezoning. But there is only one application in front of Planning Committee right now for that project - the other 3 pertain to a casino and a parking lot - uses which have NEVER gone before Council for a decision of any sort - at least in open session. The more the Councillor makes these statements, however, coupled now with the notion that there may be some sort of agreement in place between Gateway Casinos and the City, it leads me to wonder whether there have been decisions made behind closed doors where Council has made some kind of commitment to Gateway to locate the casino on lands owned by Zulich.
And finally, it does not matter what the Councillor wants in terms of who stands up and says what. First, he's not even on Planning Committee, so he gets zero say about who has a chance to speak and who is denied one. And second, the statute that this public meeting is being held under gives residents the opportunity to speak at a public meeting, period. It is the obligation of the City to ensure that all residents who want to have a chance to speak get that chance. Instead, this Councillor seems to want to deny people their right to speak their minds. And that is a real concern.

(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)

Friday, January 19, 2018

Standing Up for a Sustainable Long-Term Vision for Community Development

It has been remarked by a member of Greater Sudbury Council that the citizens will have "no reason" that has a land use basis for a member of the public to appeal a decision by Council to approve an arena/events centre and casino in an industrial park on the Kingsway.  This member of Council has clearly indicated that any appeal filed by a citizen will be for the purposes of delaying the projects, at a cost to the City.

This member of Council appears to believe that all opposition to the Kingsway Entertainment District is coming from a handful of people who live or have businesses in the Downtown.  To bolster this clearly false narrative, the council member has publicly opined about how the Downtown is trying to put its own interests ahead of the rest of the City, and constantly reminds people that there are many other "downtowns" in Greater Sudbury.  He has also offered his opinion that the City's existing downtown really isn't a downtown at all, and that the 'real' downtown of Greater Sudbury includes the big box stores at Kingsway and Barrydowne, and the New Sudbury mall - both of which are actually identified as important "Regional Centres" in the City's official plan - but clearly are places that no sensible person could ever confuse with an actual "downtown".

And some people in my community are starting to echo all of these sentiments, for whatever reason.

With this in mind, I've tried to provide a little evidence-based information here with regards to why strengthening all of our core areas is an important pursuit for our City - and one contemplated by strategic planning documents.  I've also tried to point out why a decision to locate an events/centre arena in an industrial park on the Kingsway is contrary to that vision - and why many members of the public from all over the City are speaking out against what can only be described as a small group of special interests on Council who are trying to make decisions which are contrary to a long-established commitment to sustainable development that our City has promised it will pursue, as articulated over time in numerous planning documents.

I will show that contrary to statements made by one of these special interests who currently occupies a seat at the Council table, our City has made a strong commitment to sustainable development that won't be easily set aside - and that citizens who are engaged in the process of evaluating current community development proposals have every reason to be concerned about the impacts of recent applications filed with the City to permit an arena/events centre and casino on the Kingsway - and that those reasons have everything to do with sensible, sustainable development contemplated by the City's own policies, that have been shaped by years of public consultation and based on an understanding of experts regarding the actions and initiatives that our City should be taking to meet the needs of current and future residents.

The Building Blocks of Healthy Communities: Main Streets and Downtowns

With regards to the function of “Main Streets” and “Downtowns” – another way of looking at this which might be familiar to some is the concept of “local” and “regional”.  Keep in mind that our current Official Plan was put together with this framework in mind – with the downtown core of the former City of Sudbury forming the core of the larger regional community, with local “downtowns” or “main streets” forming the backbones of local communities.  And those local communities aren't all located in the outlying areas, either – they include places like Val Caron, Hanmer, Capreol, Chelmsford, Azilda, Coniston, Dowling, etc., for sure – but they are also the Flour Mill, the Donovan, Copper Cliff – and to a lesser extent, the West End on Regent between Douglas and Victoria.

Strong, vibrant local core areas are extremely important to the health of local communities.  And a strong, vibrant downtown which becomes the focal point of jobs, commerce, entertainment, public services and commercial activity helps create regional identity .  Greater Sudbury is certainly not alone in wanting to re-invigorate local cores, along with building up our regional core.  Think of how the City of Toronto functions with a strong downtown that was not as negatively impacted by the shift of retail out of the core as other, smaller cities like ours were – and how Toronto’s regional core is complimented by numerous local cores, like the new Liberty Village, and certainly other areas like The Annex, Cabbagetown, Yonge-Eglinton, etc.  If you look at most cities that have urban/suburban elements, you'll see the same patterns again and again.  With that in mind, there isn't really anything unique about how the Sudbury region developed - and nor is the prescription for success here any different than elsewhere.

Our Vision: Strengthening Weakened Core Areas for the Overall Good of the City

Keep in mind that the City of Greater Sudbury’s strategic planning documents were not put together from scratch. Our official plan built on local, municipal plans from the former amalgamated municipalities, as well as the Region of Sudbury’s Official Plan, which provided pretty much the same general direction that the City’s current Official Plan does with regards to the desire to see both local cores and the regional core succeed.  Unfortunately, numerous development decisions have led in opposite directions of these long-stated desires, and have impacted negatively on the ability of both local and regional cores to prosper.  Those decisions – especially the decision to locate major retail uses in auto-centric locations, have led to problems for cores – and ultimately higher servicing costs for the City and taxpayers.  They’ve also contributed to a higher degree of car-dependency in our City than in some other similar-sized North American regional centres, and the attendant issues which come with car culture, including health issues and higher costs for homeowners – even with lower-priced housing in suburban and ex-urban areas are considered (the costs of transportation often offset the purchase price of less expensive homes).

The sprawl culture just isn’t as sustainable as following the route long recommended in our official planning documents (and in those documents of other regional centres, too): develop strong local and regional cores which include a significant element of residential uses at higher densities to better discourage car dependency for private individuals and to maximize servicing cost/benefits for the municipality.  This recipe has been used over and over again to create some of the most vibrant cities on the planet.

Communities in Greater Sudbury have had a very difficult time attracting residential development to core areas for a couple of reasons: 1) we’ve been losing population for the last 45 years, so the need for new residential development is quite limited to start); 2) decision-makers in our municipality and predecessor municipalities never really bought in to the vision of strong core areas and made land use decisions which conflicted with stated policy directions; 3) the prevailing notion that suburban living is more desirable and less expensive than urban living has been prevalent throughout North America – especially at times when gasoline for personal vehicles was inexpensive (and I’d go so far as to argue that gasoline remains inexpensive for consumers to this day).

Planning for the Future

As our official plan notes, one of the ways to encourage residential development in the regional core is to develop the amenities which an urban population base needs to prosper.  These include jobs; commercial uses such as retail (including places to purchase food); entertainment uses; and, public facilities.  Since an arena/events centre is both an entertainment use and a public facility, the official plan specifically identifies this use as being an important one for the downtown regional core to retain as part of the effort to attract residential uses.

Who will be these residents of the downtown core?  Downtowns typically attract younger people for a number of reasons: 1) Downtowns often have a higher number of rental units in comparison to ownership units, which is desirable and more affordable for a younger, more transient, less wealthy age cohort. 2) Units tend to be smaller, making them more attractive to younger people who tend more often to be singles, or in a relationship that does not include children. 3) Downtown areas tend to be better serviced by the municipality, including the provision of transit, bike lanes and sidewalks which act as incentives against the need to own and operate an expensive vehicle, and help create more livable public environments (and lately, downtown areas have seen growth in bike-shares, car-shares and programs like Uber - all of which help mitigate against the need for personal vehicle ownership); 4) Downtown areas tend to be places where people want to congregate, creating a vibrancy that is particularly attractive to younger people.

By calling for a focus on local and regional cores, our City’s official planning documents have long been forward-thinking. Our official plan has been complimented by the development of the Downtown Master Plan – a document to help guide municipal investment decisions to help strengthen the regional core, and making the entire City stronger as a result.  Our Economic Development plan recognizes the role that a strong, healthy and vibrant downtown plays in generating commerce and wealth for the city-region, as well as creating opportunities for local businesses to thrive.  And our Community Improvement Plans include programs for the City to work with private businesses to strengthen our core areas (and while the Downtown CIP may be the best-known community improvement plan in the City, there are CIP’s in place for other core areas, including the Flour Mill/Donovan, West End, Capreol and a new Town Centre CIP for many of the local core areas in the outlying communities).

Strong and vibrant core areas, which include residential uses built at higher densities that cost less to service have always been good ideas for communities.  Going forward into the 21st Century, our core areas will play an increasingly important role in creating sustainable communities.  Already, municipalities like Mississauga, Calgary and Los Angeles have started wrestling with the retrofitting of suburbia, in order to better meet resident needs in the 21st Century.  What they’ve been doing is allowing for development at higher densities in traditional suburban areas, often through an approach that sees intensification occur first along major streets where transit is available.  Often, these major streets are transformed from 6-lane highways to more modest roads for cars and other transport users, including those taking transit or using bicycles.  Road diets and other forms of rehabilitation help create desirable outcomes for residents (in the form of livability) and municipalities (in the form of lesser costs).  Continuing to build sprawling, car-dependent communities using a 1950s model of development has rightly deemed to have been a costly mis-allocation of resources, leading to a built form which we’ll have to figure out a way of dealing with, going forward.  Perpetuation of this form of development is clearly not in the interests of any municipality that is serious about wanting to be fiscally responsible.

We All Win with a Strong Downtown

Calls to weaken programs to assist with creating vibrant regional and local cores run contrary to the City’s vision for development.  But there are some on Council who are nevertheless doing just that – by defunding the Downtown CIP, and recently by calling for the Downtown Master Plan to be expanded in scope, so that projects outside of the City’s traditional and identified regional core will compete for scarce municipal infrastructure funding that has in the past been used to help bolster the regional core, for the overall good of the City.

And more over, decisions made by elected officials that perpetuate a car-dependent built form at the expense of creating strong, vibrant local and regional cores not only run counter to our City’s long-established vision for healthy, economically sustainable development, but they are also not in keeping with recognized trends away from minimizing sprawl.

That’s one of the biggest reasons that many citizens in our City, whether they live in proximity to the downtown area or not, are opposed to Council’s recent decision to select a site on the Kingsway for a new arena/events centre – an important public facility and entertainment venue that could otherwise help strengthen our regional core for the good of the entire City.  It’s not just that locating this public facility in an industrial park with limited opportunity for access for those dependent on transit, cycling and walking – it’s about what it means to move this kind of important public facility outside of the regional core, and the impacts that the decision to do so will have on local businesses and the overall health and well-being of the regional centre and the rest of the City.  The decision means that we will have lost an opportunity to do things for the overall betterment of our City, as we sink $100 million into a car-dependent public facility that is intended to serve residents for the next 30 years. Many have recognized that not only is the Kingsway location a poor one to meet our current needs, but a disastrous one to meet our future needs – which includes bolstering the core areas of our City – and especially the City’s regional core, Downtown Sudbury.

Every Good Reason to Oppose the Special Interests on Council

I know that one municipal member of Council has opined that there are no land use planning reasons to file an appeal against a (presumed) favorable decision by Council on the application for an arena/events centre on the Kingsway.  I don’t see it that way.  After careful study, it seems to me that there is no good reason for Council to approve an application for an arena/events centre on the Kingsway – or anywhere else outside of our City’s regional core area, given the long-term vision for the City that has been articulated in successive planning documents.  I believe that Council has no choice but to say “No” to the arena/events centre development proposal due to the zoning by-law amendment’s lack of conformity with our Official Plan.  And a "No thank you" ought to be the response of this Council to Gateway Casinos for a new casino - an economically toxic land use that will do little other than suck money out of our community.

But I am not under any illusion that Council will make a sensible decision that favours enhancing all of our communities when they vote on the Kingsway proposal later this year.  I fully expect that Council will opt to take another step backwards and act against the long-term interests of the City and we residents in an act that sacrifices our long-standing vision for sensible, economically sustainable development.

The good news, however, is that I expect that the citizens of my community will fight for the progressive development vision that we have worked so hard over the years to pursue – even as past one-off decisions ran contrary to that vision.  I know that citizens are standing up and having their say about how our community is to face the 21st Century, and are taking exception to the expensive and costly decision to relocate an important public facility out of the City’s regional core in pursuit of an untested vision for an Entertainment District on the Kingsway in an industrial park – a vision that appears to be largely advanced by a hand-full of municipal councillors who are at odds with not just our City’s official plan, but with the needs and desires of current and future residents of our City.  I have faith and confidence that we citizens will prevail in this latest attack on a sustainable development vision for our community.  Citizens will use the rightful public processes to oppose any poor decision of Council – even as members of Council engage in a public shaming campaign designed to silence opposition.

It’s unfortunate that we find ourselves here, given all of the good work that has gone into developing plan after plan for how our City should grow with sustainability in mind.  But it does highlight the importance that municipal decision-makers play in the development process – and it shows that even the most sensible, evidence-based plan that has received overwhelming public support can be sacrificed by a small group of “special interest” elected officials who want to take city building in a contrary direction – one that continues to erode the health and vitality of local and regional core areas to the overall expense and detriment of our City, and contrary to the evidence and analysis of what we ought to be doing to promote sustainability.

And it illustrates why we all need to pay a lot closer attention to just whom we are entrusting our votes to when we head to the ballot box for municipal elections.

(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)

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Sudbury Councillor Threatens Punitive Measures Against the Downtown Over the Public's Participation in Planning Processes

"The Downtown Master Plan is nothing more than a guide, and a pretty Utopian guide I may add. It was designed by a company in Toronto that created a dream world that is not even close to what could be possible. So to say that the City has to adhere to the Downtown Master Plan is simply not the case. Besides, the downtown is getting a lot of development as well. But I can assure you that because of the fact that the downtown supporters seem to feel that the Downtown Master Plan makes them entitled to everything, I am going to be asking the next Council to review the Downtown Master Plan and allow residents from the outlying communities to have their input as to how that Master Plan should be revised. I am going to recommend that the Downtown Master Plan include as far to the east as Barrydowne Road, as far north as Lasalle, and as far south as Health Sciences North. That is more like Downtown Greater Sudbury to all of the residents who live in the outlying communities." - City of Greater Sudbury Councillor Robert Kirwan, Ward 5 (January 18, 2018)

It's been another interesting day with the casino/events centre matter. There have been personal attacks on social media from members of Council directed at local business owners and the chair of one of our City's Business Improvement Areas.

But the back-and-forth online has dislodged a few interesting tidbits of information. In this recent post to the Valley East Facebook group, Councillor Kirwan writes that developer Dario Zulich is giving land to Gateway Casinos for free.

Free Land for the Casino - Who Could Ask For Anything More?

I didn't know that. I knew that Zulich and the City have entered into an option to purchase, where Zulich's lands will be sold to the City for $10 - close enough to free that I won't quibble. And we knew that Zulich had promised another 40 acre parcel to the Sudbury District Motorsports Association to add to their Crown parcel, should the MNRF ever decide to patent it (see: "True North Strong Centre Site of Future SDMA Race Track," Southside Story, undated). At the rate that Zulich appears intent on giving his land away, will there be enough left for him to make any profit?

Oh ya, that's right - he's going to hold on to the parking lots.

Keep in mind that the City had also offered up free land for the casino in 2013 - on the condition that the casino provide some additional amenity for the City.  So it looks now like the casino is getting the free land, and the City is providing the further incentive of locating a $100 million public facility next to the casino site.  That sounds like a sweet deal for sure - for Gateway Casinos!  The get free land and the they get out of the City's stated desire to create a public amenity.

Sing the Praises of this Bonus: It's a Great Business Model!

Anyway, I thought that was new. The Councillor here also writes about the 3-way deal that the City, Zulich and Gateway Casinos have entered into, which he refers to as being a "great business model". I'd call it something else completely, given that our tax dollars have been going towards concept plan drawings and technical studies to facilitate private development proposals that are at odds with our City's official plan. I suppose that disagreement is more a matter of opinion though.

City of Greater Sudbury Staff are All Satisfied. Good to Know

What isn't a matter of opinion, however, is the Councillor's claim that "staff have looked into everything from traffic to environment to parking and are satisfied with the location." To my knowledge, that just isn't the case.

The City's professional planning staff are currently reviewing land use applications that will permit a casino and events centre to locate on the Kingsway. They will be hearing from the public about this next week, and it is quite likely that information they receive through the public consultation process will inform their recommendation to Planning Committee.

Councillor Kirwan is again misleading those within his echo-chamber Facebook Group. The City's Planning Staff have NOT made any recommendation on these matters - so suggesting that they have no problem with the location is, at the very least, premature. It may be something else all together, though.

If anyone has the ability to participate in discussions in the Councillor's group, at the risk of being banned, you might want to ask him why he continues to mislead his group members about these matters.

The Ulterior Motives of Kingsway Critics!

And it looks like the letter from Susan Thompson, Managing Director of the Downtown Village Development Corporation, to Sudbury dot com has drawn the wrath of at least one member of municipal Council (see: "City accused of not following its own rules when it comes to new arena," Sudbury dot com, January 18, 2018).

In a disrespectful and petulant post to his echo-chamber Valley East Facebook group, Councillor Kirwan assures his reader that Thompson and others like her who oppose the Kingsway Entertainment District concept are doing so for no reason. Further, the Council member states that anyone who participates in the public process related to the land use applications is motivated only by the desire to delay the projects.

I can't help but note that the land use planning process is a public process that contemplates appeals of municipal decisions (and non-decisions) as part of that process.  Appeals on the basis of Official Plan conformity, or the lack thereof as implied by Thompson in her letter, constitute valid ground for filing an appeal, as per provincial legislation.  Of course, one make one's case at the appeals tribunal - but that goes for both an appellant as well as an applicant and/or an approval authority, like the City of Greater Sudbury.

This kind of fear-mongering and smearing of members of the public from Council members has just got to stop. To me it seems very clear that some members of Council are engaging in an orchestrated campaign to silence the public from speaking out about the land use planning applications currently before Council for a decision, as per legislatively-required public processes.  And it certainly seems as if this member of Council, at least, is completely dismissive of the land use planning process and the role that he, as elected official, is required to perform under land use planning legislation.

Punitive Action to be Taken Against the Downtown

But this next part is a real problem.

Councillor Kirwan is also stated that he will take punitive action against the City's downtown - the economic core of our community - by threatening to alter the boundaries of the downtown in an attempt to make the entire concept of a downtown meaningless. By introducing a motion to review not just the Downtown Master Plan, but the area that the City describes as the 'downtown' so as to water the definition down to meaninglessness is nothing short of malicious.  His complete dismissal of the Downtown Master Plan as an out-of-touch Toronto-produced document is so at odds with the robust public consultation process that led to the production of the Master Plan as to be insulting to City Staff and residents of the City of Greater Sudbury who worked together to produce this visionary document, meant to enhance the quality of life for all in our City.

That we have an elected member of Council that wants to economically punish the economic engine of our City just makes no sense - but make no mistake, as an elected member of Council, he is uniquely positioned to carry through with this reprisal against downtown residents and business owners who are participating in a public process as is their right.

This is just shameful and disgusting.  And it's getting out of hand. Can someone on Council please try to reign in their petulant, disrespectful colleague from Ward 5 before investors from outside of the City start noticing that he appears to have made it his personal mission to destroy our downtown?

(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, 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)