The Moss Park community consultation this past July laid bare some very unexpected and potentially unwelcome surprises. Unbeknownst to the community, who were expecting the new community centre to be built on the current John Innes site, it was a surprise for many to hear that the proposed new centre is to be built on the west side of the park next to the Armoury. While we have explained that, in general, we understand the need to see the park and facilities upgraded and redeveloped we have major concerns particularly with the proposed site for the new building and the less than open process.
These concerns include the following:
An executive committee was established to make the final decisions thus far. This committee is apparently supported by analysis provided by civil servants from various departments of the city. When asked where we might find the minutes from their discussions we were told they are not available. From a public perception point of view, this creates the impression that the consultation process is either not open or that the committee is unwilling to explain or defend their conclusions in public.
An open process would document all consultations not just the ones that are held at the Community Centre. This information should be made available throughout the process not once decisions are made. It has also led to some concerns expressed that the “so called balanced decision making” is in fact far from balanced with the private concerns of certain interest groups overshadowing all else.
Sadly it has become a familiar routine to hold separate private discussions with groups, with no reports filed, whose supporters also tend to pack the subsequent public meetings. Without more openness, these processes are vulnerable to being seen as window dressing only.
There was little apparent balance sought for residents – particularly those who are not just users but also neighbours. For example when neighbours purchased their homes, no-one would have thought that the city itself would eliminate mature trees and put a major building in the Park. Further, putting a major public space on the roof so users could get a good view of the city – north and south – would also compromise the privacy of those on Shuter, Pembroke and George Streets most of whom have roof top decks/balconies.
In order to construct the new building a large number of mature trees on the Shuter Street side of the park would need removal (contrary to the city’s own tree by-laws). While the plans call for replacement trees along Shuter, taking down 50 to 80 year old trees and replacing them with saplings is hardly a compromise. In reality, the decision to build elsewhere was entirely based upon the internal activities in the current centre.
This would have been an ideal opportunity to begin to address safety issues at the corner of Queen and Sherbourne. These issues will remain, particularly as their plan calls for various activities (e.g. tennis and other courts) along the Sherbourne side of the site – far from the new building.
It was suggested that they could just as easily situate the new building along the Queen Street facade given that it was serviced by transit and was already a commercial street. It would appear that the city is considering building a treed promenade here – eventually stretching from Jarvis to Parliament. It is interesting that they are prepared to eliminate trees along Shuter, in a residential area (neither a commercial nor a transit serviced area) but not on the Queen St. side. The suggestion was made that if they want a “Promenade” then they could easily incorporate that into building and site plans for a Queen St. facility.
The organizers are surprised that there were so many concerns and that not more members had showed up at the meetings. The GDRA stated that this should have been handled the way a developer consultation meeting is with all residents having full knowledge of what was on the table. The assumption for most residents (and indeed those using the park for say tennis) had always been that the current building would be torn down and that space would be used for the new facility. Given that this was a major change in direction (or had not been previously discussed), it should have been shared prior to the July meeting so that neighbours and outdoor park users were fully aware of what all the implications are such as tree removal and elimination of outdoor activities during construction.
The recently completed Heritage Conservation District (HCD) study recommended a stable historic residential neighbourhood. These plans make a mockery of that work particularly as the park itself was excluded as it was a municipal park!
The driveway for deliveries and garbage is planned for Shuter across from the residential neighbourhood, beside a busy crosswalk. This has the potential to increase truck and vehicle traffic on Shuter and side streets such as Pembroke and George. There are no answers to date as to why this driveway was not proposed instead for the Queen Street side of the park. It was noted that residents already have issues with the Armoury and Grand Hotel driveways and they will not willingly accept yet another.
When questioned about the very busy path along the Armoury side of the park, it was noted that they plan to replace it with a much broader path running behind the new building which would have entrances to the new facility, large windows, a new fence blocking the Armoury and lighting. There are still many doubts regarding the safety of this, particularly at night given the lack of visibility especially at either end of the building.
Concerns have also been raised about the balance between active uses of the park versus passive uses of the park. They have stated that they felt the public consultations made it clear that those who have been consulted wanted more dual usage areas for passive uses such as movie in the park nights, more informal eating spaces/cafes, entertainment, etc. It has been noted however that the balance we have between Allan Gardens (more passive) and Moss Park (more active) works well now.
Finally, in the long term, should the current Armoury property be acquired in the future, the current site decision would cut the potential space in half. We are unaware of any discussions that have taken place with the Department of National Defence and/or the Armoury.
The Garden District Ratepayers Assn. has made it clear that we understand the need for, and support the redevelopment and upgrading of both John Innes and Moss Park.
That said we have made our objections to the current proposal well known to those in charge and are expecting feedback very shortly. HOWEVER WE WOULD ENCOURAGE YOU AND YOUR NEIGHBOURS TO ATTEND THE UPCOMING COMMUNITY CONSULTATION ON SEPTEMBER 14TH AT THE JOHN INNES COMMUNITY CENTRE (6:30-8:30 PM) TO ENSURE YOUR CONCERNS ARE EXPRESSED!