What’s that smell?
There was a distinctly fishy aroma at Monday’s CNV Council meeting when, at the behest of Mayor Mussatto, Council re-considered Starlight’s proposal to develop 40 units of infill rental housing around the existing high-rise building at 151 East Keith (fronting Victoria Park).
The development had already been discussed at a public hearing on April 23, and Council had turned it down by a 4-3 vote. That should have been the end of it under the rules, which state: “No further information or submissions can be considered by Council once the Public Hearing is closed.”
Then suddenly last week, the mayor directed that an item be added to the May 14 council agenda: to reconsider (and approve for third reading) the zoning bylaw changes that Council had rejected on April 23.
No one seemed to know what the mayor was up to. Had one of the dissenting councillors decided to change his or her vote? Surely he wasn’t bringing up new information received after the public hearing had been closed – that would be against the bylaw.
And we know the mayor was sensitive about upholding the bylaw, because at the start of the May 14 Council meeting, he did not allow two members of the public to speak about 151 East Keith in Public Input Period. “We’re not allowed to receive any new information,” he explained.
Then came the mayor’s big reveal. In their original proposal, Starlight had promised to apply the “10-10-10” affordability formula, meaning 10% (i.e. four) of the new units would be rented for 10% below market rates, for 10 years. Now, the mayor told Council, Starlight was proposing to make 20 per cent (i.e., eight) of the new units available at 10% below market rates, in perpetuity. More affordable housing! Who could be against that?
But didn’t this contravene the rule about “no further information or submissions…once the Public Hearing is closed”? Heavens no, claimed the mayor – Starlight had informed him of this pot-sweetener before the public hearing. Apparently, they just neglected to mention it at the time.
In the subsequent discussion, both the mayor and Councillor Keating revealed they had had discussions with the developer offline about this offer. Keating claimed the rule had not been violated because it’s OK for individual councillors to receive new information, just not Council as a whole. (Hmm.)
Despite the mayor’s urging, and some passionate oratory by Councillors Keating and Buchanan on the crying need for more rental housing and more affordable housing, the dissenting councillors (Clark, Back, Bell and Bookham) stuck to their guns and the mayor’s motion was defeated.
Some closing thoughts:
Either the mayor was less than entirely truthful when he claimed Starlight told him about the deal sweetener before the public hearing, or Starlight’s project team is amazingly incompetent for neglecting to mention such an important detail at the April 23 hearing.
It seems municipal bylaws governing public hearings are merely suggestions, unless you’re just a taxpaying citizen, in which case they are iron-clad.
Could it be that this whole exercise was just to provide a platform for Councillors Keating and Buchanan to kick off their election campaigns with some thundering rhetoric about the need for more rental development? We’ll see.