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GUEST OPINION: Charlottetown development: Fact and fiction

Charlottetown will never come to grips with affordable housing needs until city hall makes an authentic effort to directly address the affordability problem instead of being an enabler of developers' inclusion of a few token units of affordable housing to justify much larger high-end projects, says Doug MacArthur. Contributed
Charlottetown will never come to grips with affordable housing needs until city hall makes an authentic effort to directly address the affordability problem instead of being an enabler of developers' inclusion of a few token units of affordable housing to justify much larger high-end projects, says Doug MacArthur. - SaltWire file

Residents of our city, and many others who care about our city, are encountering ongoing development misinformation and restricted public input by city hall. The city's development objective seems to be to have every conceivable project approved with a minimum of public input and in the shortest timeframes possible. Let's look at the misinformation and fiction.

We are being told that all new construction projects are great for economic development and create needed employment. The proponents of that fiction have obviously no knowledge of economics. If life were so simple, P.E.I. could increase its dairy quota and its lobster trap limits one hundredfold, could entice in 100 Costcos, could build 50,000 new apartment units, and we would all live richly and happily ever after. Unfortunately, in the real world there is a required economic balance called demand and supply. There is also a requirement for government to wisely manage our agricultural land base, our fisheries stocks, and our urban development priorities.

The next fiction we are being told is that there is a Charlottetown area general housing shortage. However, there continues to be a major affordable housing need for those who cannot afford to pay market prices for their housing. Very little is being done in the city to respond effectively to that need. Instead, city hall engages in tokenism by praising and approving questionable high-end residential projects based on a project having 4-5 per cent affordable housing units. Our city will never come to grips with affordable housing needs until city hall makes an authentic effort to directly address the affordability problem instead of being an enabler of developers' inclusion of a few token units of affordable housing to justify much larger high-end projects.

Our business community is a valued partner in the development of our city. However, when 25-30 businesses, some of them from off-Island, upon request provide letters of support to city hall for a developer's Sherwood Crossing project, and when most, if not all, are suppliers to that developer, they may be allowing their business interests to conflict with their community responsibilities. Sherwood Crossing may be beneficial for those particular businesses, but it may be devastating for Mount Edward Road and other area residents. As residents, we try to support local businesses and we place ourselves at risk in these COVID-19 times by supporting the need for foreign workers employed locally. We expect some consideration in return.

One of the baseless red herrings raised by proponents of questionable projects is that concerned residents are only complaining because they have a Not In My Back Yard negativity to any project. Any citizen who is not concerned about what happens in his or her "backyard" is probably not one of the many thousands of residents who have built our city into one of the finest anywhere. The day residents stop being concerned about development in their neighbourhood is the day we will have turned over our city to developers to do with it as they please.

Finally, this city administration is engaging in public misinformation and restricting public input. For example, Mayor Brown continues to cite "as of right" as the (fictional) reason there has been no city council input or public meetings allowed in the questionable 15 Haviland St. 99-unit approval process. However, as of right only applies if a development has met all zoning and bylaw regulations. That particular project has not even come close. Similarly, city hall has refused to share and allow public input in the major city-financed traffic study which relates to Sherwood Crossing. It is not acceptable that a study paid for by our residents and which can cast light on a proposed Sherwood Crossing development which may house up to 1,000 new residents, is kept from the local community who will be most affected.

City hall needs to begin providing the responsible stewardship and public input our citizens deserve and expect. The two years to date of this administration has been a feeding frenzy for developers who are able to get what they want, regardless of how unreasonable the ask. And the asks and the enabling have become even more unreasonable, as evidenced by 15 Haviland Str. and Sherwood Crossing. Neither project will currently stand up to public scrutiny, so the city hall solution has been to cut off public scrutiny. Unless we stand up as a community, these projects will continue to be approved without proper public input. Developers will get richer while our community pays the price.

Doug MacArthur was actively involved in Charlottetown waterfront development in the 1970s-80s and subsequently played an onsite project management role in development projects in more than 60 countries.

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