Last Wednesday, I attended the Regina Planning Commission meeting, where on the Agenda was the Westerra Subdivision, and an application to rezone a parcel of land from Major Arterial Commercial to Designated Shopping Centre. I won't get into details on what the differences between the two zonings are here, because honestly, it's irrelevant to this discussion.
What is important here are the following two things:
1) The need for remaining consistent with our Official Community Plan
2) Who the developers are behind Westerra (and Aurora on the opposite side of town), and why they are being allowed to develop lands that, not even five years ago, the former owners were told the lands were "undevelopable" and "frozen" for the forseeable future (25 years+).
Further on Point #1, it seems that "Discretionary Use" applications come before City Hall more often than would sound reasonable to the average person, given the whole concept behind "discretionary use". If the point of this kind of rezoning was intended to be more of the rule than the exception, then why even have an Official Community Plan (OCP) in the first place? The whole point of an OCP is to lay out a framework for the next (insert number here) number of years. This allows developers, residents, industries, and most importantly, the City Planning Department, to have an idea on where our City will be in 25 years and how it is most likely to get there. Given that you are planning a quarter century ahead, you are always going to have one-off situations. Hence the need for "discretionary use" applications. If you review the past five years, however, you're going to see more of these on the books than almost any other type of development application. I'll leave this as is, because honestly, I don't know enough of the intricate details involved in this kind of situation, and I will put the trust in my elected officials to become learned enough to translate it into layman's terms for you and I. After all, that is what they get paid to do. I just do this out of the goodness of my heart.
Onto Point #2, and quite likely one of the most contentious - and least publicly talked about - situations facing Regina over the past few decades. And, that being the appearance of favouritism towards certain developers. Many presume, rightly or wrongly, that Harvard Developments Inc. basically runs City Hall. If you follow the trail of people leaving the City, from the Planning Department in particular, chances are you'll see them going to either DREAM Developments (formerly Dundee) or Harvard Developments. I'm sure City Hall would chalk that up to coincidence, but anyone with half a brain could connect the dots.
Speaking specific to the current development projects in the works, Westerra Regina and Aurora Retail Corp., these are two very interesting situations that most certainly deserve further investigation. Since the process to get a full investigation to happen legislatively is extremely prohibitive, hopefully enough candidates can come forward this fall to make an investigation happen that is worthy of taxpayers questions.
Both of these parcels of land were actually formerly owned by separate companies, theoretically "outsiders" when it comes to developing within the City of Regina. (For those that aren't aware - outsiders are very frowned upon at City Hall, but I'll get into that another day) Both of these former companies were told that, in essence, their lands were "frozen for development" and "undevelopable" (See Exhibit A) for the forseeable future, presumed to be 25 years or more. Both of these companies then sold, probably unbenounced to each other, to Harvard Developments and Forster Projects Inc. Both of these parcels of land, suddenly, were then deemed "developable" and the City of Regina even went so far as to annex the East lands for the Aurora Retail Corp. (Keeping in mind the lands don't need to be annexed to be serviced, but it certainly does help the private developer by increasing the value of the lands they can then re-sell or lease out to commercial entities)
Also very important to this discussion is the timeframe of land sales to development applications. But I'm leaving that with my legal counsel to discuss to determine the best method to pursue these concerns.
I plan to speak further on these issues at the May 30, 2016 City Council Meeting, but suffice it to say for now, there are neighbour concerns that had been brought up in previous meetings that still have not been addressed adequately, and are still very much a concern. I present to you my video delegation and RPC's responses/follow up in Exhibits B and C.