Public consultations are well worth the time and effortPosted by Kyle Slavin
I’m tired, and cranky, and slightly irritable this morning. And I blame UVic for it.
Because they felt they didn’t need to conduct what’s considered “meaningful consultation” with Saanich residents who are concerned about a seven-level parkade being built on McKenzie Avenue, I (and about a hundred interested citizens) sat through a six-hour council meeting last night that ended just before 1:30 a.m.
So UVic, let’s get one thing clear right off the bat: nobody objects to the athletics facility that you’re proposing. The benefits of that part of the project are immense and obvious to all. Nobody needs to be sold on that idea.
But it’s clear, after having sat through multiple presentations from you guys, that you don’t understand this.
Your insistence to focus on the benefits of the athletics facility, rather than addressing neighbours’ concerns about the parkade (which is the only reason this project is stalling), gives the impression that either you think the objections are against the sports complex (which is not true) or you’re brushing neighbours off because the athletics portion does so much good it outweighs any perceived negatives.
I’ve sat in many a council meeting and there’s one recurrence that I see more than anything else. If you don’t consult with the neighbours, your project won’t be approved. It’s that simple.
When Saanich council postponed their decision on this project back in August, it was because they felt neighbours’ concerns were great enough that more public consultation was needed.
But consultation means many things to many people (as we learned last night). And consultation and information session are two different things.
On September 9, UVic obliged council’s wishes and held an open house. But consultation is a two-way street, and that’s not what the UVic provided.
It was an information session where UVic told residents, “These are our plans, thank you for coming.” There was no opportunity to have open discussions and address the white elephants that everyone in attendance wanted to address.
Instead, people were asked to fill out surveys based on their impressions of the project.
The reality of planning for new development – especially one of this size – is that it is a long, slow process. But UVic has timelines they want to stick to, and they apparently rushed through things.
Two months passed between the August and October council meetings, which isn’t nearly enough time to thoroughly address concerns.
Instead, UVic decided to hang some vines and artwork from the side of the concrete parkade and say, “This is what the community was concerned about, we fixed it, let’s get this thing approved!”
But Saanich councillors nixed that idea, postponing their decision, once again, to give UVic another chance at getting it right to appease their neighbours.
And it looks like getting it right is going to mean a huge diversion from the plan they’ve twice presented to council.
“If it comes back again as seven storeys in the same location, it’ll have the same (postponement) vote from me,” Coun. Paul Gerrard told UVic. “It’s still the wrong building in the wrong place, and it’s too massive.”
I understand that the university is getting desperate for parking stalls – they’ve lost more than a thousand in the last decade through either parking variances or building on top of existing parking lots.
UVic projects they’ll need 800 new stalls by 2018 to accommodate growing traffic demands. This proposed parkade only brings 269 of those new ones, so the university must have plans to build more over the next seven years.
That’s likely why council is making sure they get it right the first time.
And that’s also likely why the community realizes the discussion is important.
I can only anticipate that UVic will make significant changes to the project before we see it come before council again – it only behooves them to do so.
Poor public consultation wastes everybody’s time – it also wastes more money the more times you’re sent back to the drawing board.
This is where municipal politics are much more collaborative – and more important – than provincial or federal political processes. Your councillors want you to have a say in the future of your community.
I understand you can’t please everyone on every project, but compromise is key. If that’s not achieved, all you’re left with is hundreds of people showing up in council chambers for a six-hour meeting. That does no good for anyone.
If meaningful consultation is conducted, your application should have little objection when it comes before council. Those six-hour, jam-packed meetings can always be avoided.
UVic, please get on with this proper consultation. Talk to the community. Work together to find a win-win situation.
No one wants to sit through another meeting that ends at 1:30 a.m. (myself included). It’s in your hands to engage residents to find something that works.
Read the news story here.