CHANGES AT THE CORE

Slowly, de­spite hitches, the city is head­ing to­ward be­ing pro­gres­sive

Windsor Star - - OPINION - ANNE JARVIS [email protected]­media.com Twit­ter.com/win­star­jarvis

The first new apart­ment build­ing down­town in decades will rise on a va­cant lot on Ouel­lette Av­enue north of Erie Street.

The former Fish Mar­ket on Chatham Street West, a land­mark her­itage build­ing left cov­ered in ply­wood and pi­geon poop, will be re­stored and con­verted to com­mer­cial or of­fice space, high-end lofts and stu­dent apart­ments.

The long-va­cant former Box Of­fice bar on Pelissier Street, where a man was shot to death 10 years ago, will get an ad­di­tion and be trans­formed into com­mer­cial and res­i­den­tial space.

The course of down­town is turn­ing in part be­cause of one of city coun­cil’s big­gest, best de­ci­sions in 2017: a new, ag­gres­sive core plan that of­fers grants and waives taxes to drive de­vel­op­ment.

There was also in­vest­ment in Wind­sor’s dis­tinc­tive neigh­bour­hoods, its his­tory and pub­lic art.

Slowly, de­spite hitches, the city is head­ing to­ward pro­gres­sive.

The down­town plan is more than just in­cen­tives. It rec­og­nizes the im­por­tance of char­ac­ter, a sense of place, good de­sign and lit­tle things that make the core strik­ing and invit­ing. Too bad coun­cil didn’t go all the way.

It re­jected rec­om­men­da­tions for small grants of $500 to $1,000 for sim­ple projects like paint­ing porches. It also re­jected grants to trans­form al­leys into vi­brant pedes­trian thor­ough­fares, like Detroit. Big projects by big de­vel­op­ers get money. Mod­est projects by or­di­nary peo­ple don’t.

Thank­fully, the non-profit Down­town Wind­sor Com­mu­nity Col­lab­o­ra­tive un­der­stands the value of grass­roots en­ter­prise and will of­fer Lit­tle Things Mat­ter mi­cro grants.

All core neigh­bour­hoods got a ma­jor com­mit­ment when coun­cil ap­proved adding three staff and spend­ing an ad­di­tional $264,000 to go af­ter own­ers of derelict va­cant build­ings and force them to clean up their blight in­stead of wait­ing for long-suf­fer­ing neigh­bours to com­plain.

In­cen­tives to clean up and re­de­velop al­most 140 po­ten­tially con­tam­i­nated former in­dus­trial sites re­ally be­gan reap­ing re­wards this year. The three lat­est ap­pli­ca­tions could help con­vert three sites be­tween Walk­erville and Ford City, at Te­cum­seh Road and Howard Av­enue and on Lau­zon Road, into new res­i­dences. It’s not glitzy. You don’t hear about it much. But these in­cen­tives can trans­form huge tracts of derelict land, much of it in core neigh­bour­hoods.

Af­ter more than a decade, coun­cil may fi­nally li­cense land­lords of rental hous­ing, en­sur­ing the build­ings are in­spected reg­u­larly. Coun­cil­lors de­feated a mo­tion to do that in Novem­ber, de­spite a plea by the mother of 19-year-old Univer­sity of Wind­sor stu­dent An­drew Kraayen­brink, who died in a fire in a house he rented with five other stu­dents in 2016.

But Coun. Jo-Anne Gignac, who de­serves a lot of credit for this, bucked Mayor Drew Dilkens and later got the is­sue de­ferred, giv­ing coun­cil an­other chance to do the right thing. The is­sue will be de­bated again when all coun­cil­lors who can vote are present. Two coun­cil­lors, Hi­lary Payne and John El­liott, had de­clared con­flicts and Coun. Bill Marra was ab­sent.

The city has been deal­ing with sub­stan­dard stu­dent hous­ing around the univer­sity since 2003 and noth­ing has worked, Gignac said. It’s time to en­sure these places are safe.

It took two years, but coun­cil fi­nally ap­proved bulk garbage col­lec­tion, an­other is­sue that largely af­fects the core. But it charges $20. The price will drop to $10 un­der the pro­posed 2018 bud­get. It’s an­other step. If you don’t want peo­ple to dump mat­tresses in al­leys, pick them up for free.

The city will also, fi­nally, spend $4.1 mil­lion to clean up the “stinky, lousy” (the mayor’s words) Pelissier and Goyeau Street park­ing garages down­town.

Coun­cil is in­creas­ingly in­vest­ing in the things that make cities in­ter­est­ing, like dis­tinc­tive neigh­bour­hoods and his­tory. It set aside $1 mil­lion to trans­form Wyan­dotte Street East into Wind­sor’s World Mar­ket­place, high­light­ing its rich eth­nic di­ver­sity. It’s build­ing an arch at the en­trance to his­toric Sand­wich. An Asian Vil­lage is planned along Wyan­dotte Street West and a dis­tillery dis­trict in Walk­erville.

Street­car No. 351, built in 1918 and one of three re­main­ing that were op­er­ated here be­tween 1886 and 1939, will be re­stored to mark Wind­sor’s place as the first city in Canada to op­er­ate elec­tric street­cars.

The his­toric River­side Brew­ery will prob­a­bly be de­mol­ished, but the land­mark Walker Power Build­ing is be­ing re­built as a “mod­ern day show­piece” of of­fices and restau­rants.

Coun­cil also saved the 90-year-old former In­ter­na­tional Play­ing Card fac­tory that made Bi­cy­cle play­ing cards. It will be con­verted into a new school. Big win­dows that have been bricked up for years will be re­placed, al­low­ing nat­u­ral light to flood the build­ing again. The Lufkin Rule build­ing may get an­other re­prieve while a prospec­tive buyer in­ves­ti­gates restor­ing it.

The city that spends less than most of Canada’s ma­jor mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties on pub­lic art — only $1.07 per capita — also set aside an­other $750,000 for a $2.75-mil­lion pub­lic art en­dow­ment. A statue of War of 1812 al­lies Gen­eral Isaac Brock and Chief Te­cum­seh will be erected at the en­trance to Sand­wich, and one of whiskey baron Hi­ram Walker will be un­veiled in Walk­erville.

Mayor Drew Dilkens is push­ing an “iconic” new main li­brary, like the award-win­ning one in Hal­i­fax. Open Streets is now part of the city life.

Given all these ad­vances, there’s no ex­plain­ing other de­ci­sions. The worst was the de­ci­sion to spend a whop­ping $795,000 to con­vert com­mer­cial space in the Pelissier Street park­ing garage to 43 more park­ing spa­ces. Park­ing garages kill streets. Store­fronts cre­ate vi­brant streets. Pelissier Street is blos­som­ing. The garage is never full. Yet coun­cil voted to evict ex­ist­ing ten­ants, re­buff new ten­ants and dis­miss an en­ter­pris­ing of­fer to buy and make over the con­crete mon­ster.

De­spite spend­ing mil­lions of dol­lars on bike lanes, we don’t have a sin­gle pro­tected bike lane. So fewer peo­ple ride their bikes. Coun­cil ac­tu­ally con­sid­ered a route along Wyan­dotte Street East that was so Byzan­tine it was dubbed The Zigzag. We’re nar­row­ing Ouel­lette Av­enue be­tween Wyan­dotte and El­liott from four lanes to two to calm traf­fic and an­i­mate the street, but we’re not in­clud­ing bike lanes. We’ve started to ad­dress the Dougall Death Trap, but you’d think a cor­ri­dor that dan­ger­ous would be a high pri­or­ity. Here’s hop­ing for bet­ter in the new ac­tive trans­porta­tion plan.

For a coun­cil so con­scious of how it spends money — it in­creased taxes this year for the first time in eight years, by a mere 1.73 per cent — there were some odd de­ci­sions. Three mil­lion dol­lars for a Christ­mas light dis­play? The first $1.5 mil­lion worth of lights this year is spec­tac­u­lar. Peo­ple love it. But an­other $1.5 mil­lion? Four thou­sand peo­ple are wait­ing for so­cial hous­ing.

Coun­cil agreed to sole­source the street­car restora­tion for a hefty $750,000 in part be­cause it says it al­ready has the money. The street­car and sev­eral other ex­pen­sive projects like the hol­i­day light dis­play are be­ing paid for partly with $7.2 mil­lion ear­marked for a park­ing garage that won’t be built. So they won’t cost tax­pay­ers more money or di­vert money from other projects, some coun­cil­lors ar­gued. As if it’s free. Of course it’s not.

In the dis­tress­ing same old, same old cat­e­gory: di­vi­sive 7-4 votes (for which the mayor votes with the ma­jor­ity) and po­lit­i­cal games. The wards of the three coun­cil­lors who op­pose the mayor the most re­ceived the three low­est amounts of money in the $10-mil­lion en­hanced cap­i­tal bud­get, seen as a way to re­ward coun­cil­lors who vote the right way.

Coun­cil voted twice in the past two years at pub­lic meet­ings to main­tain the store­fronts in the Pelissier Street park­ing garage. Then it voted at a closed meet­ing to elim­i­nate them. Af­ter pub­lic out­rage, coun­cil­lors con­firmed their vote at the fi­nal pub­lic meet­ing.

Coun­cil first voted in 2016 not to is­sue a re­quest for pro­pos­als to con­tract out city jan­i­tors’ jobs. Barely a month later, at a closed meet­ing, it re­opened the is­sue, ask­ing for an­other re­port. At a sec­ond pub­lic meet­ing, it ap­proved is­su­ing the RFP. This year, it voted to con­tract out jan­i­tors’ jobs at Huron Lodge. If the mayor wants some­thing done, it’s done.

Given all these ad­vances, there’s no ex­plain­ing other de­ci­sions. The worst was to spend $795,000 to con­vert com­mer­cial space in the Pelissier Street park­ing garage to 43 more park­ing spa­ces.

NICK BRANCACCIO

Roberta Girdler, left, and Mikaela Morin join a large crowd dur­ing Open Streets Wind­sor in Septem­ber. The event is a sign of the city be­com­ing more pro­gres­sive, writes Anne Jarvis.

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