Dear Tim Bousquet,
Despite not quoting me (or perhaps because of it!) in your feature, "Downtown's missing buildings" (Nov. 27), I really enjoyed the piece on development. Well done. You're bang on with the need to invest in ways that make this city, especially downtown, a better place to live. Many US cities have downtown residential strategies (New York City, Dallas, Pittsburgh, Portland, etc.) and they are all based on building the needed infrastructure first.
My only minor quibble was the statement: "HRM by Design...takes approval power away from the council and gives it to a small, unelected committee dominated by city planners and business reps." Sure, written that way, it sounds ominous.
The reality is that the planning policies are formed as the result of extensive public input, and isn't that better than a plebiscite on every development? Yes, there will be a professional design review committee, with decision-making powers---only on the exterior architectural design of new buildings. But this is neither made up of "city planners" (which makes it sound like it's HRM staff), nor business professionals. The committee will be comprised of professionals from various design fields (architecture, planning, engineering, etc.) as well as a member of the public. It will have no representation from the business community. Also, appeals will still be widely available to HRM council, rather than the Utilities and Review Board. You don't get to complain council is removed from the decision-making process, but complain they are the body who will hear the appeal. Further legal action to the provincial Supreme Court is also always an option.
Our hope is that with clear rules, we won't see as many appeals, regardless of who is hearing them. And with a design review committee, we'll see better buildings.
Sorry if this sounds harsh, but I spent the day yesterday listening to detractors accusing us of trying to subvert democracy. Who says democracy is best served by having an (ineffectual) public hearing over every single individual development? One person said that "a bad decision made by council is better than a good decision made by non-elected people." Really? Don't we want to strive for good decisions? Why can't democracy be about our representatives putting in place a good plan with clear rules?
Even with the new plan, public meetings will be maintained where developers can get input from the community on how to improve their development.
Anyway, that's my two cents.
By ---Paul MacKinnon, executive director,