More Bad Ideas

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Doh!Arguably the worst decision ever made by a Collingwood Council in my memory was to rescind the heritage permits from the Admiral Collingwood development, back in 2007. The results of that motion – moved by former Mayor Carrier and seconded by Councillor Jeffrey (the same one who sits at the table today)  – can still be seen in the empty lot at the corner of Hume and Hurontario Streets. Locals called it Carrier’s Pond for years, before it was filled in.

Had that council not put personal ideologies over the public good, the site would today be a thriving downtown development with residences,  businesses and a seniors’ home. For the past nine years, our town has had to live with the legacy of that stupid, selfish decision, and the legacy of an unwise council.

But neither the town nor the council is short of bad ideas.* The latest comes via the debate about the proposed airport development that has been hamstrung by this current council in keen pursuit of the same anti-business mentality that killed the Admiral Collingwood. I’ve written about this several times in the past few months.

A comment was posted on Facebook by one of my “friends” who wrote:

Why don’t the developers sign a letter of intent?
Interesting point: Why not make the developers promise to deliver?
Think back to The Shipyards residential development, now sitting there one-third (or thereabouts) completed. A letter of intent would not have resulted in the project being any further developed. The Shipyards project fell victim to market conditions.
Perhaps the same thing could happen a few years from now with an aviation business park. I hope not!

Aside from being surprised that someone I thought had more business (and common) sense than this, I was amazed that anyone who had even a modicum of understanding about business, development, economics or governance would propose something so overtly anti-business. Not to mention daft.

It’s also an attempt to sidestep the facts by making the disaster council created into someone else’s fault. Blame the developers instead of the problematic, unethical behaviour of council. The writer didn’t even mention the law-breaking media release sent out by renegades Saunderson and Edwards – but then, how do you defend the indefensible?

What sort of legal position does any government have to make such demands of a developer? None I can think of in any of the many laws and bylaws I’ve read over the years.

I mean, really. If the town did this, what would we do next?  Demand housing developers fill their homes within a specified time? Demand car dealers sell their stock before the next year’s models arrive? Demand grocery stores will sell all their fruit and vegetables without having to throw anything away? Demand retail stores create a fixed number of full-time positions? Demand malls guarantee a minimum number of customers? Why not demand local banks promise our mutual funds will always provide positive returns?

And what sort of penalties could the town assess if the exact numbers or targets weren’t met? Imagine the precedent it would set and how much further our already battered reputation would fall.

Imagine Collingwood taking the developer to court because only 1,400 jobs were created instead of 1,600. Imagine the town suing the developer because the development came in at $285 million instead of the estimated $300 million. Imagine the town rescinding access to the airport (assuming it is ever given) because two fewer planes used it instead of some estimated number.

It not merely a bad idea: it’s probably the worst idea I’ve heard about the airport this term.*

The reference to the Shipyards also baffles me.

Developers ALL have site agreements, as well as other zoning, and Official Plan controls over how, what, where and when they can build. Anyone familiar with municipal governance would know that. Anyone even vaguely familiar with the Municipal Act, the Planning Act, and our Official Plan would know how our planning process works.

What we (and developers) don’t have is control over the economy. When a worldwide recession kicks the feet from your funding – which happened here as well as many other places, in 2008 – you stop building until you get your money back. Fram will be building again in 2016.

No promise to build anything would have changed the recession.

But Fram didn’t ask for any letters of intent because they didn’t need any. Those are covered in the site plan agreements. They had access to the roads and services through the site plan agreements. Had they needed one, I am confident they would have received it.

Fram didn’t have the awkward situation of one town’s airport being located in another municipality, which means such access needs to be negotiated differently. They also didn’t face the current council’s private agendas and personal ideologies that make the airport issue a very personal conflict, not one of policy, planning or the greater good.

The airport business park has site plans and agreements with Clearview township. All they asked for was a non-binding letter of intent that said both parties (Collingwood airport and the developer) wanted to progress and would work out mutually beneficial terms in future. Nothing more difficult than that.

Unfortunately, this simple request so baffled and confused our council that a year later, council still doesn’t understand what to the rest of us is a clear, simple, request. It’s too complicated for council.

After a year of collective head scratching, council still retreats into secret discussions to avoid public scrutiny while it hears all sorts of mumbo-jumbo from staff and allegedly from lawyers about this. In a year, council hasn’t managed to figure out what the rest of us got it in the first ten minutes. Go figure.

Sure, the aviation park might face problems if another recession sets in, as will every other development. That’s not a reason to dawdle and dilly-dally for a year.

Here’s a better idea, for what it’s worth: Since Collingwood Council doesn’t understand business, especially the airport business, rather than continue to bang itself in the head with this virtual two-by-four, why not just give the airport away to Clearview?

That’s right: give it away. The airport runs an annual deficit of from $125,000-$160,000 (not counting the cost of buying opinions from out-of-town lawyers and consultants as the administration seems prone to doing). Giving it away means that much money goes back into the town’s coffers every year. Solves the problem.

Sell it? Why? Apparently no one is offering to buy it (it’s not like airports are a hot real estate item). And I suspect no private sector company wants to get entangled in the massive red tape involved in moving it from the public sector (or perhaps in dealing with Collingwood at all).

If council stalls much longer, the developer may take its business to Simcoe County Regional Airport. Then, our airport will be worthless; the deficit will only climb while the users and businesses fly – literally – to Simcoe. It will be another white elephant.

Giving it away would also mean council won’t hold more secret airport discussions (already of dubious legality and morality) or pay for more out-of-town consultants and lawyers. It would mean administration staff stop wasting their time chasing this pointless effort and get on with the work actually laid out in their job descriptions.

If we don’t do something positive and do it very soon, the airport will share the legacy of the Admiral Collingwood development: another piece of avoidable council blundering that hurts the town.

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* The first bad (really bad) council decision this term was the decision to destroy the efficient and effective 150-year-old relationship between our power and water utilities, while souring the formerly cooperative relationship with our utility partner, Powerstream. We have no service agreement now (it was left up to the CAO to devise one a year ago and still nothing has been submitted…); confusion now reigns in both water and hydro services, the former professional, experienced water board was replaced by a committee of inexperienced and witless councillors, the relationship between the town’s administration and Collus is toxic, and staff morale throughout the municipality has been irrevocably damaged. Another memorable legacy of the “council of bad karma.”

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