Napier Street closure & Churchill Park extension – Update

Since it was announced that the possibility of closing Napier Street between Brock and Mack, and extending Churchill Park was on the table I had been in full support of the idea. Any new green space would be a welcome addition to the Williamsville community, and our parks really help bring our community together.

Over the past number of weeks I’ve spoken with many residents in the area, and the possibility of Napier Street being closed was concerning to many. As your City Councillor, my job is to listen to you and bring forth your concerns in City Hall. Given the feedback I’ve received from local residents, I can no longer throw my full support behind this initiative and I would like to look at alternatives to closing Napier Street, and possibly alternative uses for the remainder of the former school site, even if it is simply retained as a park. That being said, I will not support a high rise apartment building being constructed on the site. If anything is to be constructed on the vacant portion of the property it must fit in with the surrounding neighbourhood.

While revisiting the future of the former school site, I will, however fight to ensure that the property is maintained to the same high standard as the neighbouring Churchill Park. The property is currently in a poor state of repair and I would like to see it maintained so that it can be used by the community and doesn’t become a neighbourhood eyesore.

OpenKingston Q&A

Q: Will you put Affordable Housing and Homelessness FIRST on Council’s agenda?

The 0.7% vacancy rate for rental units needs to be addressed immediately, and part of the solution is to increase density. Higher density buildings can potentially offer lower rents since the fixed costs – one of the big ones being land acquisition – can be spread across more units. In Williamsville specifically, higher density residential along the Princess Street corridor will alleviate pressure on the existing housing stock in the established neighbourhoods and can help prevent more single-family homes and smaller apartment buildings from being turned into student rentals. Social housing is another concern, with a years-long waiting list for units. We have a vast amount of vacant Government owned land in Kingston – land that untaxed, yet taxpayer money is spent on upkeep. The potential to acquire some of that land for the construction of additional social housing units should be explored, since acquiring land inexpensively allows us to construct more units.
Q: Should Innovation and Job Creation be City Council’s top priorities?

These aren’t really stand-alone issues, they tie into almost everything. The decisions we make every day have an impact on job creation and innovation, these two factors must be considered in every decision we make as Councillors. Creating a business-friendly environment, by keeping taxes as low as possible, reducing red tape and duplication, improving bureaucratic efficiency, and supporting policy that makes it easy for businesses to set up and operate will lead to innovation, growth, and job creation. The Kingston Economic Development Corporation can seek out new investment, but it’s up to Council to foster an environment where business can thrive. We need to pay particular attention to supporting our small businesses, who contribute greatly to our economy and provide the bulk of the private sector jobs. When our small businesses do well, we all do well.
Q: Are you in favour of using Ranked Ballot Voting to elect the mayor and councilors?

I am, and I would encourage everyone to vote YES on our referendum question. I believe in the principles of democracy and fair elections, and 25% of the population being able to award 100% of power to Government just isn’t fair. Ranked ballots also encourage electors to vote for the person they feel best represents them, since it eliminates the possibility of a “vote split” or the perceived need to vote strategically. Something else to consider, ranked balloting is already used by every major political party to elect their leader and in some cases to select candidates.
Q: Are you in favour of high-rises above the “human scale” of 6-9 stories in the downtown core?

This is a tough one, since the answer really depends on the individual proposal. I’m supportive of high density development, but the design of the building needs to support a pedestrian-friendly streetscape and should incorporate a mix of residential and commercial uses. Taller buildings that are stepped back every few stories are less imposing visually than a tall building going straight up from the edge of the sidewalk, and the stepped back design helps reduce shadowing and the “wind tunnel” effect. I would also like to see a greater setback from the sidewalk, leaving additional room for green space, street furniture, bicycle parking, etc. The choice of exterior finishes should also complement the surrounding neighbourhood so that the new development does not look out of place.
Q: Should the City locally fund the Green ON home retrofit program recently cut by Ford?

Picking up the pieces of cancelled Provincial programs shouldn’t be a Municipal responsibility. Municipalities, including Kingston have already been burdened enough with the downloading of other services, we just can’t afford to take on anything else formerly provided by the Province.
Q: Should Kingston ask the province to adopt a Basic Income for all Ontarians?

I would ask the Provincial Government to reinstate the Basic Income pilot project that was recently cancelled so that we can then use the results to make a decision on how to move forward based on evidence. If properly implemented it could reduce cost, increase efficiency, reduce red tape, and improve the quality of life for Ontario families. From a fiscal perspective, not only can savings be realized within social services, but also in healthcare and the criminal justice system. We spend an extraordinary amount of money each year treating preventable health issues caused by food insecurity and poor living conditions, both of which are strongly linked to income. We’ve been having serious conversations about poverty in Canada for decades, and it’s time to try something new since what we’ve been doing isn’t working. The patchwork of different programs we have now is inefficient, expensive, and hard for those in need of assistance to navigate and get the help they need.
Q: Will you vote to implement the 2018 Active Transport Plan on foot, bike and bus transport in your district?

Yes. Not only will this benefit the residents of my district, many of whom do not own cars and commute to work or school by means of active transportation, it benefits the City as a whole by enabling more people to make sustainable choices. The benefits of a robust active transportation infrastructure even extend to those who only use it recreationally, so in addition to the environmental impact of making sustainable transportation choices there is also a great public health benefit as well. Obesity is set to surpass smoking as the number one cause of preventable health issues in Ontario, so encouraging people to get out walking and rolling is something that we really need to focus on.


Candidate Profile

Greater Kingston Chamber of Commerce candidate questions

What is the next step for moving forward on the intensification of the Williamsville Main Street plan and what will you do to demonstrate growing Kingston as a livable, sustainable city during your 4 years on Council?

Intensification of the Princess Street corridor should be an integral part of our housing strategy. I believe in and support the Williamsville Main Street plan, and will support proposals to redevelop underutilized properties along Princess Street. While I support intensification, I believe that a careful approach must be taken so that we create a pedestrian-friendly streetscape. That could include greater setbacks from the sidewalk, stepping the building back every few stories to minimize the scale of taller structures, including ground-level retail spaces, and including green space. Combined with intensification, a pedestrian friendly streetscape will also be beneficial to area businesses, with increased foot traffic and a larger customer base.

Pedestrian friendly, walkable, transit supportive communities are sustainable and livable communities. I believe in the development of neighbourhoods with a mixture of low, medium, and high density residential and neighbourhood commercial land uses, plus adequate green space and recreational opportunities. Mixed use zoning and combining medium and high density residential with single family homes allows residents to walk to amenities, provides the density required to support transit service, and is a more efficient way to use available land.

2018 rental housing vacancy rate is 0.7%, the lowest in Canada. What steps will you take to increase the supply of housing?

This really ties in with the first question, and part of the solution to increasing our rental housing stock is to increase density. Higher density buildings can potentially offer lower rents since the fixed costs – one of the big ones being land acquisition – can be spread across more units. In Williamsville specifically, higher density residential along the Princess Street corridor will alleviate pressure on the existing housing stock in the established neighbourhoods. There is an increasing demand for student housing due to increased enrollment at Queen’s University and the proposed student-oriented developments will help prevent more single-family homes and smaller apartment buildings in the neighbourhood from being turned into student rentals.

I’m also a supporter of bylaw amendments to permit secondary suites of all types throughout the City. That could include basement apartments, detached apartment units (Garden homes), or apartments over detached garages/carriage houses. Consideration must be taken to ensure that proposed secondary suites comply with the Building Code and Property Standards, that adequate off-street parking is available, and that proposed detached structures don’t adversely affect the character of established neighbourhoods. Secondary suites in private homes are typically less expensive than other types of rental accommodation, potentially filling an important gap in the market. The possibility of earning income from a secondary suite can also make homeownership a reality for more Kingstonians, especially with changes to CMHC rules allowing secondary suite income to be considered on a mortgage application.

Social housing is another concern of many, with a years-long waiting list for units. This is unacceptable. We have a vast amount of vacant land in Kingston owned by the Provincial and Federal Governments – land that is unused and untaxed, yet taxpayer money is spent on maintenance and upkeep. The potential to acquire some of that land for the construction of additional social housing units should be explored, as acquiring the land inexpensively from another level of Government reduces cost and allows us to construct more units for the same amount of money.

What is the next step for moving forward on the Kingston airport expansion and what will you do to expand air service during your 4 years on Council? For example, which is a higher priority, another Canadian airline to compete with Air Canada or an American airline to access new US markets?

Another Canadian airline (Porter?) would be a more realistic first option to pursue. The challenge with trying to attract an American airline will likely be competition from the airports in Watertown, Syracuse, and Ogdensburg, NY. Watertown is only an hour away – Can we be competitive enough on price and service to bring enough passengers through the Kingston airport?

What is the next step for moving forward on the intensification of JCB corridor expansion and new bridge and its linkage to the Third Crossing….and what will you do to encourage that growth during your 4 years on Council?

The Third Crossing and the increased number of commuters passing through the area is going to be a great opportunity for new and existing businesses to grow. In addition to providing the traffic necessary to support intensification and new business growth along JCB, a revitalization of Montreal Street could also take place, being an important North/South route that many commuters crossing the new bridge will use to get downtown.

Existing developments on JCB are very automobile-centric being an industrial and formerly rural area. If the opportunity for a new residential development arises, I would like to see a mixed use, pedestrian and transit friendly development. Development of new retail and services to support new residential in the area must also be encouraged.

I’m also supportive of constructing the Leroy Grant Drive extension if traffic volume and patterns warrant it once the Third Crossing is built. This will help avoid downtown-bound traffic from cutting through the established Kingscourt and Williamsville neighbourhoods.

What is your solution to the lack of parking inventory in downtown Kingston?   What is your financial plan for creating new parking spaces to add to the City’s inventory to promote local retail?

In situations where surface parking is removed to support new development, negotiations should always take place with developers to provide an adequate number of public parking spaces. Ideally this should happen with no or minimal cost to the City.

Surface parking alone won’t be able to solve our inventory problem, especially since not every surface parking space removed due to development will be replaced. A new parking structure is something that will have to be seriously considered, possibly on the Byron or McKee lots on Queen Street. The cost to build a new multi-level parking structure is substantial and will need to be considered when assessing development charges and when adjusting parking rates.

Reducing demand for parking downtown is the other piece of the puzzle. Further improvements to Kingston Transit including the development of Park and Ride lots in other areas of the City and the development of safe cycling infrastructure (including secure bicycle parking!) can reduce the demand for parking downtown, while enabling residents to make more sustainable commuting choices. These are lower cost options compared to building a new multi-level parking structure, and could delay that expenditure or reduce the size needed.

Memorial Centre Revitalization – Let’s Finish the Job!

The Memorial Centre grounds look great; with the updated landscaping, new splash pad and playground, and the Tomlinson Aquapark, but walking around to the back of the building is like stepping into another world. The outdoor bleachers along the back of the building and the barns have been allowed to deteriorate and are now in need of major repairs. The Memorial Centre serves as a community hub, but more importantly the property is a memorial to our Veterans. The revitalization of the Memorial Centre grounds can’t be considered complete until the bleachers and barns are refurbished, it’s time to finish the job. It’s truly shameful how far the Memorial Centre has been allowed to deteriorate over the years.


Build Up – Not Out!

More permanent residents moving into Williamsville and the Downtown core will provide the boost in traffic that the mostly small businesses in the area desperately need. Parking becomes less of an issue with people living close to work (the three proposed projects are within walking distance of three of Kingston’s largest employers; Queen’s, KGH/HDH, and CFB Kingston), shopping, and entertainment. Proposed parking structures on an existing surface lot and as part of a private development on Queen Street would result in a net increase in the amount of parking in the Downtown core anyways. Moving people closer to where they work and shop also aligns with the City’s sustainability plan. Increasing density also saves taxpayers money, and results in an increased tax base that could save the rest of the city from rate increases. Utilities only need to be run to one building as opposed to servicing a whole subdivision, new roads don’t have to be built and maintained, and services like garbage/recycling, snow removal, and emergency services don’t need to be increased. Year over year the savings add up considerably. In the Capitol alone, 223 units with an average value of $300,000 represents a significant amount of new revenue for the City, without the expense of servicing a greenfield site. How much tax revenue does a vacant site generate?

Currently a number of new developments have been proposed for the Princess Street corridor through Williamsville catering primarily to students. Building high density student housing along the main street will soften demand for housing within the neighbourhood, reducing the number of single family homes being converted to student rental units. 

The heritage look of the downtown core can be preserved while still building to meet the needs of residents today and well into the future. The proposal for the Queen Street development is to do just that- building the street level with a design that matches the existing construction on the block, and setting the tower itself back from the street. This is also the plan for the Capitol, with the front of the old Theater being a designated property they have no choice.  The mixing of old and new design elements has been done many many times in other cities and works very well when executed properly. I think people are just scared when they hear Downtown Highrise, because they immediately think of the disaster that is Elrond/Princess Towers. These projects will be anything but, these are going to be world-class buildings that are thoughtfully designed to blend in with the existing heritage streetscape and will undoubtedly be very well maintained for decades to come. The time has come to give highrises downtown another try.

Secondary Suites and Tiny Homes

Provided that there’s adequate space on the lot and the design of the structure fits in with the established neighborhood I see no problem with allowing detached secondary dwelling units (garden suites, coach houses, apartments above garages, etc…). Secondary suites fill an important gap in our housing market and loosening the restrictions on the location and types of secondary suites that can be built will go a long way towards increasing the supply of rental accommodations in the City. Allowing secondary suites throughout the City could also increase the rental housing stock in areas of the City that are currently lacking, allowing people to live closer to where they work.

Some municipalities have already lowered the minimum dwelling size in their bylaws to align with the Ontario Building Code, which is 300 square feet. I would like to see Kingston do the same, and unlike some municipalities that require tiny homes to be mobile, we should allow permanent tiny homes. I’d like to see them meet the same standards as any other dwelling, though, and be equipped with running water, sewer, heat, and electricity.

Relaxing the regulations surrounding secondary suites not only benefit renters, but homeowners and prospective homeowners as well. The cost of purchasing and maintaining a home seems to be going nowhere but up, but the additional income provided by a secondary suite helps to offset the cost and could enable more people to purchase a home. (CMHC allows 100% of secondary suite income to be considered when qualifying for a mortgage).

Residential Rental Licensing – Just Say NO!

This is completely wrong and should be rejected by Council. Licensing of residential rental properties is unnecessary and adds another layer of redundant bureaucracy and cost, to the City, landlords, and ultimately tenants.

There are already a number of different regulations at the Provincial and Municipal levels that cover all of the areas of concern.

The number one goal is “to protect the health and safety of the persons residing in rental units”. The good news is we already have laws and bylaws on the books to do just that. Health and safety issues are largely addressed by Provincial law, including the building code, fire code, and the residential tenancies act. Municipally, we also have a property standards bylaw and yards bylaw that outline specific requirements pertaining to the condition and maintenance of buildings and land.

In Oshawa, one of the Cities used as an example, they use their residential rental licensing program to do, among other things:
-address property standards
-compliance with the zoning by-law, Fire and Building Codes

These are all issues that our bylaw officers and building inspectors address every day, and not just with rental properties. While there are a number of property standards issues that seem to be ongoing, adding bureaucracy won’t help solve the problem. We need to instead work with our bylaw department to figure out where things are falling through the cracks. Do we need more officers to handle the volume of complaints received? Do our officers have the resources they need to do their job? Do we have enough staff to follow up on complaints and ensure that corrective action is taken?

Protection of tenants is another perceived benefit of licensing, but the Residential Tenancies Act already provides protection for most tenants in Ontario. The RTA governs the relationship between landlord and tenant, and outlines specific processes that must be followed for evictions, compensation for damages, landlords accessing tenant space. The Act also stipulates that units must be maintained in a good state of repair. Penalties for violations by a landlord can be severe.

We’re facing a housing crisis in Kingston, with a vacancy rate of less than 1% and the average rent nearing $1000 per month for a one bedroom unit. We should be working to encourage investment and encourage the construction of purpose built rental housing, not throwing up more roadblocks.

Being a landlord is a tough business, and one of the most highly regulated in the Province. Particularly with residential properties, margins can be very low and any additional cost places an unfair burden on landlords and especially small landlords. Property tax seems to be going nowhere but up, the cost of utilities has dramatically increased over the past number of years, insurance premiums have increased, maintenance costs increase the older a building gets… Ultimately, these costs end up getting passed on to tenants, and the skyrocketing expenses faced by landlords is one reason we’re seeing rents increase the way they have. Landlords, like all small businesses, need a break.