September 29, 2012

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DARP:
A Pox On St. Albert Taxpayers

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"Venereal disease is sometimes waggishly described as "the gift that keeps on giving". In my opinion, DARP, if instituted, will be a pox that keeps on giving to residential property owners for several decades to come.

Dear Editor:

Thank you for this opportunity to express my view of the St. Albert Downtown Area Redevelopment Plan (DARP). I hope, as I believe, that it's also the view of the great majority of residential taxpayers.

I am, and have been since the first day, a director at SATA (St. Albert Taxpayers Association). SATA was formed in May, 2008, shortly after a protest in the courtyard of city hall against an exceptionally annoying move by Council.
SATA advocates better municipal government for the benefit of all taxpayers.

I prefer to speak (personally) to the interests of residential taxpayers. I find that their wants and needs are much more monolithic. From residential taxpayers, come more than 85% of all taxes collected by the City. That constituency will do me.

What follows is my personal opinion.

The Chamber of Commerce does an admirable job of promoting the interests of commercial taxpayers. They have no need of my help.

On October 1, citizens will have one more (last?) opportunity to address Council and attempt to derail DARP before really serious expenditures are launched. In my view, barring very vigorous protest by taxpayers, Council will launch.

On September 18, St. Albert's Place published a question from me:
“If DARP proceeds, in what way will residential taxpayers benefit? Just name the most important way.” That ran for a few days. All respondents replied: “In no way!” (Except for several appearing DARP-supportive, who obfuscated).

On September 24, I emailed (as an open-letter) the same question to Mayor Crouse, each councillor, the City manager (and copies to Gazette and mybirdie.ca). Mayor Crouse was prompt in replying (copying councillors). After an appropriate wait, I again asked all councillors if they would answer individually. And saying that, failing their reply, I would take it that they are satisfied to stand on Mayor Crouse's reply. None replied.

I ask readers to carefully compare my question with Mayor Crouse's answer:

"Thanks for this. You asked "if DARP proceeds", DARP is proceeding as the bylaw was passed over 2 years ago and we are already acting in accordance with it. Each move small or large is aligned with DARP such that little by little as change makes it moves toward the vision.

Thanks for asking; the bylaw has been approved to benefit the entire community, the businesses, the downtown visitors, the merchants, the buyers of produce etc.

Regards,

Mayor Nolan Crouse
City of St. Albert,"


I think readers will agree that Mayor Crouse's reply in no way answers the question. And I don't suggest that he didn't try. I suggest he failed because the only correct answer is “In no way!”

I came up in the construction business in the “hard old days”. When I began, WWII was only twelve years behind. One planned every step, every utterance, every pencil mark … or there was hell to pay.

By age thirty, I understood that acceptable planning leaves no stone unturned; every eventuality must be considered. Frankly, I've noticed a series of costly blunders in St. Albert in the last 32 years due to careless planning.

An outstanding example is the poor job of space planning in our city hall. The architectural art is certainly there. But the space is inefficient because the internal layout (apparently) was not subjected to the hard eyes of a competent interior designer. Somebody who had the responsibility dropped the ball.

Another major clanger was the demise of our Municipal Planning Commission during Paul Chalifoux's mayoralty. The “committee-of-the whole”(council) that succeeded it has proven a very inelegant replacement. It's loss leaves a gaping hole that used to provide checks and balances and sober second thought concerning major City projects. The commission comprised of appointed local taxpayers provided the input to council that they appear to be ignorant of, or choose to ignore regarding DARP: to properly consider the concerns of residential taxpayers.

The planning failings in DARP are astounding! No one who had spent as few as two hours studying Patrick Geddes ("no plan before survey") would have made such puerile mistakes.

First failing: DARP will not, in any way that can be seen, benefit residential taxpayers.

Second failing: no consideration of geology and associated hydrology.

And, after considering the challenges of geology and hydrology one then sees that the city's new minimal four stories for any future downtown buildings will be prohibitively expensive and therefore will discourage new commercial redevelopment!

Not only will the payer not benefit, the "beneficiary" of this enormous gift will predictably say: "No, thanks". One has to look long and hard for a more crippled plan than that.

Venereal disease is sometimes waggishly described as "the gift that keeps on giving". In my opinion, DARP, if instituted, will be a pox that keeps on giving to residential property owners for several decades to come.

Deane Doucette
Grandin


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