We learned our lesson

For many years, a gravel parking lot dominated the block bordered by Weber St. E., Frederick St., Duke St. E and Scott Street. When they started building the new provincial courthouse, the downtown finally lost that eyesore.

Never again said city council and it passed council policy I-995 limiting a property’s use as a temporary gravel parking lot to a maximum of three years. If within that time frame the owner was still using it as a parking lot, they were required to pave it and make it look pretty by surrounding it with flowers and trees.

Temporary gravel parking lots were meant to be temporary. Except for when they aren’t. Apparently, temporary parking lots can have a lifetime of greater than three years.

The Tannery parking lot: Two years later

Two years ago when I was a leading voice in the effort to keep the former Lang Tannery intact as a district, we were concerned that the buildings on the Tannery’s second block were being demolished so that the land could be used for parking. We cited the block now boasting the new courthouse as an example that once property was turned into temporary gravel parking lots that they could stay that way for a long time–and at the cost of buildings that created the opportunity for Cadan to create a true district made for people such in the model of the Distillery District in Toronto.

I was personally assured by city staff that could not and would not happen at the Tannery. The city had learned its lesson. They even planned to used the soon to be vacated Bramms workyard as a parking lot by the time the second block was developed by Cadan.

Since three of the buildings came down two years ago, I’ve waited patiently to see this plan unfold.

I assumed the clock was ticking.

I was wrong.

The clock on this temporary parking lot has not even begun to tick.

A three year maximum on use of that block as a temporary gravel parking lot can now be five or more years. How long can remain as it is depends upon when the clock begins to tick.

Let’s start the clock ticking

I was always curious about why Cadan left the one of the buildings that needed to be torn down so urgently standing. I suspected that it might have something to do with when the clock started ticking on the temporary parking lot. But the longer it stayed, the more I gave Cadan the benefit of the doubt. I also assumed that the city would apply its rules for temporary parking lots to those created two years ago.

When I read that the demolition permit for the Tannery’s second block was still active, I was disappointed but sadly not surprised.

I decided to investigate if the open demolition permit had any affect on the temporary gravel parking lots surrounding the last remaining building. I contacted city staff and learned that the clock had not yet started to tick.

I was told:

… the Tannery parking lot has been granted site plan approval in principle (AIP) and the owners are in the process of clearing conditions to obtain final site plan approval. The AIP includes provision for an interim gravel parking lot.  Once final site plan approval has been granted, the interim plan would be in effect for a period of 3 years.

So by not completing the demolition, Cadan effectively kept its options open far longer than I believe city council intended by when it passed council policy I-995.

Yes, I have seen a copy of council policy I-995 and what has happened appears to be by the book. But I maintain that it breaks the intent of the policy. It definitely differs from what we were assured. I’m sure that the process never envisioned taking more than two years (and counting) from obtaining a demolition permit to a final site plan

I back Councillor Frank Etherington 100% in his effort to pull the demolition permit. It’s time to start the clock ticking on those temporary gravel parking lots. Now.

No ya buts…

I can hear it now.

Ya but the Tannery project is a crown jewel in the revitalization of downtown Kitchener.

Ya but shouldn’t we give some slack to an award-winning project that brought Google to Kitchener, kept a growing Desire 2 Learn in Kitchener’s core and boasts the magnificent Communitech Hub?

Ya but the Tannery has recently been sold to a new developer with a major stake in the future of downtown Kitchener especially the Warehouse District now known as the Innovation District. Shouldn’t we find out what they plan first?

Ya but taking action now punishes the new owners.

Yes, the Tannery is a crown jewel in the revitalized downtown Kitchener. It has won many prestigious awards and boasts several A list tenants. All of that was predictable when the gravel parking lots went up.

Still we were assured that the parking lots would be gravel for three years max. No ifs, and or ya buts. Three years.

If I had my preference, there would be less than a year left to develop the property or turn it into a pretty paved parking lot. Realistically, that’s not going to happen so let’s at least get the clock ticking.

Time for a fresh start

Our local daily paper will have you believe that there is a risk in pulling the demolition permit on Allied Properties which now owns the Tannery “District.” Maybe but they’ve been a good corporate citizen that believes in downtown Kitchener has a bright future so I give them more credit than that.

I see the sale of the property as an opportunity for a fresh start.

I believe Allied Properties should embrace the opportunity to have a fresh start. Doing so gives them an opportunity to start a new relationship between the property’s owners and the people of Kitchener. Doing so gives them the opportunity to present a fresh vision with a fresh set of plans.

Why would they want to follow Cadan’s lead and ignore the intent of council policy I-995?

And why should we let them? Yes, I have faith that Allied Properties will decide to use the property in a way that is beneficial to Kitchener’s core. But if they have a plan, I think they should earn support for it with a fresh start. So let’s wipe the slate clean and work together with Allied Properties.

What have we learned?

We have learned that there is an easy way around temporary gravel parking lots.

Let’s make sure temporary parking lots are indeed temporary.

No matter who owns them or what other great things they may be doing. The same rules should apply equally.

Once a piece of land is turned into a gravel parking lot, it has three years maximum in that condition. That’s the intent of council policy I-995. That’s what we were told two years ago. As we learned a lesson before, let’s learn from this situation and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Next up: We can still make the Tannery a true district for people

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