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All In Hand

Curfew questions

Miss Vicky Thu Oct 6, 2005

A reader writes:

Is there a curfew in our fair City?

A work friend's son was recently escorted home by the police. The police told him there is a "law" that kids under 16, unaccompanied by an adult, can not be out in public after 11pm.

What gives?

It seems the officers were being a little over-vigilant - if they brought the young man home between 11 and midnight, that is. There is a provincial curfew, but until the recent flurry of worry post-Jennifer Teague, it was rarely enforced.

Here's what I found on the Ottawa Police website:

Curfew Provisions for Youths Under 16 Years Being Enforced

Patrol and District officers in West Division have recently been encouraged to place more emphasis on enforcing the curfew provisions of the Child and Family Services Act. Under this act, no parent of a child less than 16 years of age shall permit the child to loiter in a public place between midnight and 6 a.m. Therefore officers will use this as one of their enforcement tools in order to encourage more parental responsibility. Officers have been directed to issue warnings and charges to parents who breach this section of the act. It is punishable by up to a $1,000 fine

They include an excerpt from the relevant legislation, the Child and Family Services Act:

Police may take child home or to place of safety

79(6) Where a child who is actually or apparently less than sixteen years of age is in a place to which the public has access between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. and is not accompanied by a person described in clause (5) (b), a peace officer may apprehend the child without a warrant and proceed as if the child had been apprehended under subsection 42 (1).

Personally, I'd rather see police resources devoted to dealing with criminal behaviour at that time of night, rather than scanning the streets for youths hanging around the 7-11 after curfew. If kids are being disruptive, then perhaps a curfew gives the police a good reason to get them home.... but I am sure there are other things our officers would rather be doing.

Enriched Bread Artists Open studio

Miss Vicky Wed Oct 5, 2005

Enriched Bread Artists
You've gotta be curious about a group calling themselves Enriched Bread Artists.

EBA is an artist-run, non-profit that offers affordable studio space to local artists. Their space is located in an old bread factory on Gladstone, near the O-Train tracks. And every October they open it up so snoopy art-loving folks like Miss Vicky can check out their work!

Here's the schedule:



Kitchissippi shoulders unfair tax burden

Miss Vicky Wed Oct 5, 2005

I got my property assessment in the mail yesterday. According to the Municipal Property Assessment Corp, my house is worth 25% more than it was in 2003. 25%!!!!! It's more than doubled in value since I bought the house in 2000.

If I were the kind of person who likes to buy homes and flip them for a tidy profit, I'd be rejoicing. Indeed, I have some family members who are into this, and I can hear them now.... Sell, Vicky, sell! But I bought the house because I love it, and I love the neighbourhood. I've been fixing it up bit by bit (watch for kitchen renovation blog entries starting next week!), with the idea that I'll get plenty of use out of it before I decide to move. It's not just a piece of property to me, it's my home, and it's difficult to put a price tag on that.

Unfortunately, our municipal tax system is structured on the presumption that the market value of a property should determine the level of taxation (instead of, say, the level of municipal services provided to an area - not that that doesn't have its problems as well). Here's how it works, accorded to my limited understanding of what is an incredibly muddled process: regulations governing assessments are set by the provincial government. The Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (a non-profit, arms-length corporation) determines the value of your home by tracking sales of similar properties in your area. Tax rates are set by the city every year as it formulates its budget, and the amount you pay in taxes is based on the MPAC's assessment. There's a you can use to estimate the impact of your new assessment on your taxes.

Of course, we already know taxes will go up this year, as the city struggles with increased demand for services, the impacts of provincial downloading and the absence of additional sources of revenue. But it seems that folks in our 'hood will be paying more than others.....

Every homeowner has the right to appeal their assessment (you'll find info and forms on the MPAC website). Which is all well and good and I'll have to consider my options. They'd actually take into consideration the condition of my home, the lot, and so on. The thing is, the average increase in Kitchissippi ward is higher than other urban wards, and substantially higher than suburban wards. The average increase in Ottawa was 11.84%. Kitchissippi's average was 18%. Even if there was no local tax increase, we Kitchissippi folks will be paying that difference between the average and our assessments in additional takes. So in order to address this, would the entire ward have to appeal? There's a problem with the system here.

Tenants are going to feel it as well, as increases will be passed on from landlords - multi-residential unit assessments went up an aveage of 30%. Yikes! Seniors and anyone living with a fixed income could really suffer - and it's not like incomes are rising at the same level that the market value of homes are rising (I think the average collective agreement settlement is something like 3%).

Don't get me wrong. I think taxes are important and I have no problem paying them - even paying a little more in order to retain or improve services. But I do have a problem when some areas of the city pay a larger share of an increase because the real estate market happens to be hot.

The crazy thing is, property reassessments create no net revenue for the city. The city will reduce the overall tax rate based on the average increase in assessment. If your property assessement exceeds the average, then you're paying more, but this will not necessarily benefit the city. Our increase will be cancelled out by tax decreases in areas where assessments rose below the average. Kanata, for example.

And then there's the issue of commercial taxes...

As nutty as this system is, the Ontario Premier recently shot down the idea of a review - something folks have been calling for since the last round of assessments, when Ottawa saw a huge spike in assessed property values. Says he hasn't heard enough of a demand from the public and he doesn't want to break his "no new taxes" election promise. You know, the one that went down the drain when they cooked up the Health Premium scheme? Sigh.

Time to get on the horn to the
MPP, I guess, and start making some noise.


Public Private Pressure

Miss Vicky Mon Oct 3, 2005

I checked out the special meeting of the public library board last night. The only agenda item was a presentation by developers DCR Phoenix about their offer to build a new central library at Bayview and Scott.

DCR Phoenix has had this land for a while. It's a triangular slice of land on the other side of the OTrain tracks from Tom Brown arena. They had been going through the process of applying for a rezoning so they could build condos and townhouses there - a fairly dense development for the 3.7 acre site.

So the proposed P3 library project took a few folks by surprise. Of course, they're not just proposing a library. It will have 140 condo units above it, and the developers propose a speculative second phase on the site of the Tom Brown arena - a space they refer to as "underutilized" (Tell that to the community groups, skaters, hockey and soccer teams and dog-walkers that enjoy the arena and surrounding fields and greenspace... but I digress).

I learned a lot at the meeting. But I'm left with a lot of questions, too. And the spidey sense continues to tingle, I'm afraid to say.

I was happy to hear that the less-than-inspiring design is merely a conceptual drawing to demonstrate that the site can accommodate the kind of structure they propose - so people can get a sense of the mass, etc. So I suppose I can leave aside my concerns about the ugliness of the proposed structure... for now.

Let's talk about the offer. They are proposing to build a $150 million library, which would be connected to a 140 unit condo development. The library would be 271,000 square feet, a huge improvement on the current space on Laurier. The structure would include an LRT station, pedestrian walkways and bike paths connecting the library to the network of existing paths. The proposed library is 6 stories; the condo unit would be 20 stories. There would be 200 parking spaces for the library and parking for the condos as well.

The developers are offering to design, build, furnish and finance the library in exchange for a long-term lease-to-buy agreement with the City and a substantial fee for managing the property for that 25-35 year period. They are also, presumably, hoping to cash in on Phase II (developing the Tom Brown site into an office/recreational mix) should the city decide to pursue that option.

A proposed restaurant in the building plus the parking would offer some ongoing revenue for the city, but even the preliminary budgeting supplied by the developers recognized that the project would require a substantial amount of taxpayers' money for the next few decades. They also suggest, quite shamelessly I might add, that Naming/Signage rights might help bring in some revenue to offset the costs (I'll leave it to my Faithful Legion to suggest appropriate corporate sponsors).

What bothers me most about this project is the timeline the developers have set. They were pretty clear last night that they want the city to provide approval in principal by December, so the design phase can begin in January. They anticipate zoning approval and the approval of the final P3 agreement by August 2006.

That's light speed in municipal planning time, as I understand it.

Brian Bourns, the presenter for last night's meetings, was a tad flippant when asked whether the timeline was flexible. He basically said they were ready to proceed with their original condo development if the city couldn't make up its mind by January. Take it or leave it, I guess, was the suggestion. Of course, he was a little disingenuous about the status of the original condo project - he made it sound like they were ready to break ground at any time - fortunately, Linda Hoad was able to add some clarity to the situation when the floor was finally opened for comments from the public. Her comments were quite the revelation for some of the trustees, who followed up with questions of their own.

Another interesting moment came when a representative from the Moffat Farm Citizens' Coalition offered advice to the Board members: make sure your agreement is clearly laid out, i's dotted and t's crossed, before you sign an agreement, as this developer does not always meet their commitments (at this point he got cut off by the chair, who presumably had some signal from the developers' lawyer sitting across from him. This didn't stop one of the trustees from expressing their thanks for the advice, however).

From the sounds of the questions coming from various trustees and the public, I'm getting the sense that the library board is in the very early stages of determining what kind of central libary the city needs. It seems way too early to be saying yes or no to a specific proposal, especially one that is such a huge investment of funds. And it's not just the library that needs to be considered - we also need a new space for archives, and perhaps a joint project would be appropriate. We need to look at what other cities have done - Montreal just got a new library, and strangely the developer didn't cite it at all when they offered some comparisons in their presentation last night. Also, there is a nascent community design planning project for the Bayview/Somerset area that really needs to be given some time to do its work before we figure out how that area should be developed.

Arts along wellington

Miss Vicky Mon Oct 3, 2005

On Saturday I sat in on a roundtable meeting with about a dozen artists from the area. The meeting was organized by Creative Neighbourhoods, a non-profit group that is working with community organizations, businesses and residents on a project to enhance the Wellington mainstreet. They've been bringing various groups together to brainstorm ideas and gauge interest in working collaboratively - in addition to this latest gathering with artists, there have been meetings with local business owners, with the community associations in the areas surrounding West Wellington, and with a group of architects and planners.

People from the arts community within Hintonburg have already been working together, attempting to brand the area as an arts district. The QUAD initiative (Quartier des artistes/Arts District) has been running for a couple of years now. They've organized two successful ArtsPark events, among other things. So it's not surprising there was some enthusiasm in the room, and some interesting ideas.

Discussion flowed around four themes:

1) Street infrastructure. Wellington Street is slated for infrastructure renewal over the next few years - that's when they tear up the sidewalks and roads, replace the pipes and all that fun stuff. But it's also an opportunity for communities to improve their streetscape - widen sidewalks, add trees or plant boxes, improve bike lanes and so on. And there are all kinds of interesting things that could be done - mailboxes, garbage bins, streetlights, manhole covers, sidewalk and road surfaces, bike racks can all be transformed into art while retaining their utility. Projects like this can identify landmarks, increase pedestrian traffic, promote community safety and help define a neighbourhood. They talked about how to use vistas help encourage walking - roof crowns/sculptures, streetlight sculpture, banners, etc.

2) Unused Spaces - This summer, the Hintonburg Community Association and Creative Neighbourhoods hired summer students, who worked together to identify a number of unused or underused spaces around the area, and contacted the owners to see if they might be interested in offering their space for a public art project. It seems this was time well spent - on Saturday it was glaringly obvious that the artists living in our community see potential blank canvasses wherever they go - walls that can become murals, facades that need improving/restoration (like the old Elmdale theatre), or laneways and vacant lots that could provide a site for sculpture or installation projects or community gardens. Of course, this requires cooperation and support from the folks who own the unused spaces.... but that's the next step....

3) Parkdale Market/Reclaiming/redefining the Commons - there was a lot of discussion about creating a "commons" - a place for people to gather and interact - and the market seems a logical place. Lots of ideas were floated - covering the market so it's available all year 'round, providing space for artists to sell and display their stuff (along with the produce that's already available), having an atrium or skating rink at the centre - creating an updated market square that fits in with the quirkiness of the neighbourhood. (One of the artists is opening a new gallery at 7 Hamilton, by the way, so having an arts focus at the Market would really help cement the area as a destination). The park behind the community centre was also cited as an potential site for an artists' flea market, as the stone walls surrounding it would serve as a natural display space.

4) Wellington Sculptures /ArtsWalk - this would involve having a route around the community, marked by heritage buildings and works of art. There are a lot of open spaces that would be great for sculpture, and an arts walk could incorporate a range of activities - things that would involve people, not just provide them with visual stimulation. There are all kinds of walking routes in other cities- defined by maps along the way. We followed a number of them through St. John's and it was a great way to get out and see the city. For those of us who head up and down the mainstreet on a regular basis, it sure would be great to encounter interesting sculpture or other spaces along the way.

I really enjoyed listening to these folks talk about what they like about our community, and how they'd like to see it evolve. Some have worked on similar projects before Of course, there are some tensions to negotiate - how do you improve the community while retaining its quirky character, the range of "mom and pop" business rather than multinational retail outlets, the "village" feel? Most of all, how do you do all of this while maintaining the neighbourhood as an affordable place for artists to live and work?

I am a huge fan of public art - especially art that interacts with people, that draws them in. Chicago's Millennium Park offers a couple of great examples, like Anish Kapoor'sCloud Gate and the Crown Fountain, which is not only incredibly cool but provides some much-needed relief on those muggy summer days. I spent a lot of one August day watching kids interact with the faces and enjoy the water.

Anyone else have public art favourites, here or elsewhere? What kind of stuff would you like to see on Wellington?


CBC deal!

Miss Vicky Mon Oct 3, 2005

Looks like we're well on our way to having the morning ritual back to normal. The Canadian Media Guild and the CBC have reached a tentative agreement. Details of the deal and other commentary can be found on cbc unplugged.

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