Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Get the priorities straight

Today's SP (Oct. 6/10) published an article on the long list of sound attenuation walls currently needed in the city with an estimated cost of about $39 million dollars. It also states that the city budgets $500,000.00 a year towards the construction of these walls. At this rate these walls should be completed in 2088.

Why is it that the city can always find money for capital projects that are nice to have, but not necessarily necessary, but never find available cash for capital projects that affect the day-to-day needs of citizens?

The city's share of the new Art Gallery at River Landing will be in excess of $40 million, more than twice the amount the Mendel Board originally asked for to do a renovation and expansion on the current site.

The Shaw Centre swimming pool started as a less than $20 million dollar project and nudged up to roughly $50 million.

I won't even delve into the River Landing money pit or the possibility of the of millions for a white water project.

I believe most citizens would prefer to have use and enjoyment of their property before use and enjoyment of civic facilities.

Why is it that Councillors can't see this?


  1. What we should really do is build an outdoor Art Gallery. This would be as practical as the pedestrian/cyclist bridge, as both would still see frequent use in the cold winter months when the foot traffic around the river is so prevalent.

    By not having to build a roof or heat the new Art Gallery we could use that money to build the sound walls.

    Further, if we really want to solve the problems stop treating our city's water so that we can have the river freeze over like Councillor Clark suggested and have a wonderful winter wonderland by the River Landing. With the outdoor gallery, pedestrian bridge and frozen river it would be an ideal tourist destination in -40 degree weather.

    And best of all it frees up money to build the sound walls.

  2. Couldn't agree with you more Mistress.

  3. The warm water in the river orginiates from the QE power plant, not the water treatment plant.

  4. I have to disagree with you on this one, Mistress.

    Notwithstanding the ridiculous cost overruns in the above civic projects for which there is little excuse, most of these projects have the potential to benefit a broad spectrum of city residents and draw significant tourism dollars from elsewhere. I have to think that this is a worthwhile expenditure.

    On the flipside, sound attenuation walls will benefit a relatively small segment of the population. Further, one must assume that the buyers of lots/houses adjacent to major roadways are prudent homebuyers and did so with eyes open. Hopefully they paid a fair price for their homes with due consideration for the anticipated level of noise from the nearby roadway. To expect that the rest of the residents of Saskatoon should now pay to improve their comfort level (and presumably their property value) seems a little unfair. If I want the city to pave my lane or re-pave my street and hence improve the condition of my property and surroundings, my neighbours and I have to pony up at least part of the cost. Perhaps the complainants along major corridors who are calling for sound attenuation walls should consider doing the same.

    The only exception I can see is where a major transportation corridor has been constructed after nearby residential areas were developed. Then this type of complaint is warranted, and the wall should be built. In the case of Lakeview however, Highway 16 was there first.

  5. Well said Chris S, however, I think that the spending of the City recently has gone unnoticed by many.

    Sure it is nice to have these amenities, but we need to do so within reason. We cannot afford these large projects without significant revenue pouring in. Compounding this problem is that the vast majority of these capital projects are being built at taxpayer expense and will require continual funding from taxpayers.

    The residents of this city seem to want everything related to River Landing (our biggest money pit right now) to be public owned, ie no private corporations down there (or as little as possible). This further increases the strain on the city's finances.

    Before we continue to build these extravagant projects (ie. signature bridge, new art gallery, water park) we need to start filling the city coffers again. Be it through land sales, taxes, whatever. It says something that we are so broke as a city that we cannot build a 4.6 million sound wall.

    We have the desire to be a big city, but before we can actually take that step we need to first put our selves into a position to grow responsibly.

    South bridge, river landing, shaw centre pool, infinite road projects, traffic bridge, new art gallery, new meewasin centre, new children's museum.....who is going to pay for all this when the city is broke?

  6. "The residents of this city seem to want everything related to River Landing (our biggest money pit right now) to be public owned, ie no private corporations down there (or as little as possible). This further increases the strain on the city's finances."

    While the rest of your post is valid, the above point is false.

    The fact of the matter is that the private sector simply hasn't shown up at River Landing.

    The restaurant and retail development space (excluding Lake Placid but let's not even go there) has received no proposals from the private sector. The city's calls have been met by crickets.

    The problem really is quite easy to boil down:

    The city has dumped (or made commitments to dump) $144 million in public money to lure the private sector to River Landing, and they still haven't shown up.

    For a bill this big, the city should have had private-sector development secured, and proceeded with public development concurrently.

  7. Good points Anon 9:12. I can certainly agree that we need to "put ourselves into a position to grow responsibly" as a city which likely means curtailing some of the excess capital projects you and others cite. We can probably go on for hours about which ones should go and which should stay. Many of these discussions have been had at length in previous posts.
    My main point is that $1 million, $4.6 million or $X million is better spent on capital projects that benefit a wide swath of the city's residents, be they much-needed infrastructure upgrades or the occasional, responsible attempt to put Saskatoon on a bigger map. Sound walls hardly count as either.

  8. In the defence of the Lakeview residents, the traffic on Hgwy 16 has become exponentially worse with the growth of the city east of Boychuk. Much of the traffic to this area is being funneled through Hgwy 16 and development is taking place on the south side of the road now.

    Perhaps a better idea would be to slow the traffic down in order to divert some of it to other roads, or end the cars racing by at all hours.

    Thankfully I don't live there, but I have friends that do and know what they complain about. This is not just noise during normal hours, I've been out having a drink on their deck pushing midnight and you still hear cars racing by.

    I do agree is this the best way to be spending our tax dollars? But on the flip side, is it really worth our tax dollars to build a playground on the west side of town when I leave on the east side? Is it worth funding a paddling pool in willow grove when I never visit there?

    The reality is that certain tax dollars go to projects designated for certain areas. While I may consider 4.6 million unreasonable for a sound wall I equally consider 30k for a playground in river heights equally unreasonable

  9. "The city has dumped (or made commitments to dump) $144 million in public money to lure the private sector to River Landing, and they still haven't shown up."

    This is because of the onerous demands being made by the city relating to the property. We are assigning so much of this property to public owned groups and expecting the private sector to build to suit them and to pick up their share of the property tax bill (through higher rates). This isn't sustainable.

    There is a reason that the city cannot find investors right now, the way it is being designed (ie as this massive public market) make it unpractical for private companies to come in and build. I know many left leaning people (sorry to bring the term in) see private companies as selfish and catering to their needs only, but the reality is we need them there and we need to make it attractive for them too. Having this prime piece of property bringing in ZERO revenue for the city is a disgrace to this administration right now.

    Private business has expressed interest but not at the current terms (I think one unreasonable term was something along the lines of any development is required to build X number of underground parking spots- that is going to be an easy and cheap task considering the proximity to the riverbank).

    Bottom line is this city is confused, we have a certain segment that demands one thing and a certain segment demanding the other. The split is seen at a municipal and provincial level, and as long as both sides continue to squabble and not work together the longer our growth problems will continue. It is sad that everyone can't come together and work towards building a better Saskatoon.

  10. before bringing right/left into the debate, let's remember that we have a centre-right council who have made the majority of these decisions.

  11. Anon 10:08
    You're right, tax dollars go to projects in certain areas. This makes sense, given that all tax dollars can't all go to all areas at once.

    However, the concern I have with this case is that the sound from the roadway is a specific concern of specific residents. It does not (and CANNOT) benefit anyone but those adjacent to the roadway. The playground and paddling pool examples benefit, at the very least, a neighbourhood and the benefits are open to all. You can take your kids to a playground in River Heights if you want, even if it's a long way from where you live.

    Speaking of specific concerns, my house has a lead water connection. However, I do not expect the City to pay to replace this for me because I realize that to do so for everyone that has lead connections would be too expensive. In this regard, the city has a compromise option where the cost is shared (50/50) between homeowner and the City. Why not a similar compromise for sound walls? This would further ensure that sound walls are only built where there is a real concern from residents.

    When one decides to buy, it is part of due diligence as a homebuyer to consider the age, condition and surroundings of a property and the effect that these have on its value now and in the future. Would it not be reasonable to expect that traffic along a major highway (i.e. the Yellowhead in a growing city) would increase over time?

  12. Chris, you raise some valid points. I'll start this off with I agree with you that at the least this expense should be shared with the homeowners. However, you seem to think this problem is limited to houses directly facing or across from the highway. This is far from the truth, the noise travels more than just to the yards of those bordering to the highway but throughout the entire neighborhood in general. So this, like a paddling pool, actually does benefit the neighborhood in general.

    I share your concerns about the price tag though and if this is something the city can afford (consider that the wall equals approximately the cost of 20% of the new bridge that is required). I'm trying to balance that with the fact the city owes a duty to all it's citizens and not just a select few. There was hardly an uproar when any of the other sound blocking walls were erected. Additionally, the city took no issue with erecting these walls along the road from the highway from Regina leading into the city. The increased traffic there cause long time residents countless problems, should they have anticipated that traffic could increase? Probably, but that is besides the point.

    Take another comparison (like your lead pipes), would you be upset it the city decided to alter the zoning laws in your neighborhood to allow for different development (a very common thing in growing cities). This unforeseen circumstance could drastically alter the way you are able to enjoy your property, the traffic in and around your house, and noise. Without knowing your house location, I would assume that you would not be happy to see new bar opening across the road from you.

  13. "In the defence of the Lakeview residents, the traffic on Hgwy 16 has become exponentially worse with the growth of the city east of Boychuk. Much of the traffic to this area is being funneled through Hgwy 16 and development is taking place on the south side of the road now."

    And what did they expect as the city grows? You built your house next to a major highway. This is like the people on Overholt cres who complain about the noise from the CPR yards. Helloooo? You built (bought) a house next to a rail yard.

  14. Ghostryder, I completely disagree with that assessment. Purchasing a house shouldn't involve the anticipation of every conceivable possibility. People that purchase acreages outside the city (say on way to Grasswood Road) should not have been expected to foresee the construction of a big box centre. Should every farmer be stuck with knowing that regardless of their location a hog farm could move in next door. And further by extending your logic every one should purchase property with the understanding that zoning bylaws could be changed resulting in drastic alterations to neighborhoods.

  15. Anon 7:58, You're correct in that homebuyers should not be expected to anticipate every conceivable possibility when buying. However, that is not what we (if I may presume to speak for Ghostryder) are saying. There is a difference between buying next to a highway or railyard and drawing a reasonable conclusion that it will get busier as the city expands vs. being expected to forsee and or cope with any land use that may occur in an area (you cite "big boxes" near acreages and intensive livestock operations).

    Zoning bylaws and long-term development plans are intended to give some level of certainty about future expectations in and around certain areas. Rarely are prudent, informed property owners blindsided by "surprise" rezonings. I don't think your conclusion about zoning bylaws resulting in drastic changes is legitimate. The bylaw amendment process is actually fairly onerous and gives surrounding property owners substantial opportunity to provide feedback (i.e. opposition in the case of undesirable changes). Any amendments that do occur must still be consitent with the long term development plan for that area. There will rarely, if ever, be any "pop-up" bars or intensive livestock operations.

  16. You're telling me that the land on the south side of highway 16, and further on the east side of boychuk have always been zoned as split residential and commercial space?

    Come one now Chris, that is a farce and you know it. The explosion of business east of Boychuk could not have been anticipated by home purchasers, many as long as 20 years ago, when deciding on their location.

    Similarly, people living off of Wilson down by Clarence could not have anticipated huge Walmart, Home Depot, and GolfTown stores being constructed opposite of their homes.

    Has highway 16 always been zoned for a local highschool?

    The unforeseen (20 years ago) boom that Saskatoon is experiencing is affecting many different areas of the city. This is no different, the area has become a boom for big box shoppers, seen a dramatic spike in residents living in the area and using the highway as an artery for access to the city, and constant traffic both ways.

    What was once a lazy a highway leading east to Clavet has now become a main roadway of commute for thousands of new residents and vehicles, countless delivery trucks, and numerous workers.

  17. as an aside, when I was in highschool (about a dozen years ago) the highway-boychuk intersection was one of the deadest ones around. the barren lands past boychuk made a great place for us to have a bush party.

    compare it to now: there are traffic lights there to regulate the traffic because it has increased so much, the land east of boychuk is all developed with grocery stores, restaurants, and other businesses. furthermore, i think they have dumped about 100,000 into the condo city place there.

    i have a serveral friends living out there, and if people don't think that the majority of the residents aren't using that highway as a main road to downtown they are crazy. boychuk has seen unexpectedly heavy traffic since the housing boom began out there (evidenced now by all the lights being instaleld and the roads being widened to support another lane). this increased traffic is being diverted to 8th street (where repairs are being done to 8th-boychuk intersection to handle the problem) and to the highway (where lights and a new on ramp recently installed). bottom line: even the city did not anticipate the increased traffic in this area as a result of the numerous condo's and businesses in the area. that portion of road will for all intents and purposes is a freeway from boychuk to the downtown. there is a difference between purchasing a house on a highway on the outskirts of the city and a freeway within the city.

    the city is transforming the use of the road to accommodate the growth of the city and the main people suffering are the residents surrounding with the increased traffic flow at all hours (like any freeway).

  18. I'm not telling you that the land on the south side of 16 (Stonebridge/gate) has always been zoned as it is. I'm telling you that there was a process involved in rezoning it at which nearby property owners had the opportunity to voice their concerns. Then a decision was made which perhaps affected some property owners negatively. However, the posistives of economic development arguably outweigh the negatives side effects experienced by a number of property owners. Maybe the benefits outweigh the costs, maybe they don't. The point is that there was due process in all cases where land was rezoned.

    Zoning is a balance between the rights of a private property owner to do what he/she wants with his/her property and the rights of nearby property owners to have reasonable expectations about what land uses might occur around them and affect them. I admit that this doesn't always go right, and in some cases negatively affects property value.

    That said, I would never advocate for compensating property owners when zoning negatively affects property value, just like I'm not in favour of the City paying for a sound wall. Do property owners ever compensate the City when actions the City takes (such as rezoning, park redevelopment, infrastructure upgrades,etc.) improve their property value? Of course not!

    As for your high school example, schools are usually permitted in most Ag, Residential, and Commercial districts. Since the land south of 16 where the school is has always been zoned for for agriculture, then yes, it has "always" been zoned for a high school.

  19. I think Anon 9:02 hit the nail on the head when he pointed out that this stretch of road has gone from being a 'highway' to a 'freeway'.

    The city has essentially turned this road into a freeway, an unforeseeable event to anyone 20 years ago. The city has recognized this and constructed sound reducing walls for the nearly the entire stretch from downtown to preston where there is residential housing.

    Now, due to the numerous road projects, huge capital projects, the city is broke and can't afford to continue the wall to boychuk (for the record even boychuk has sound reducing walls due to the traffic).

    The whole situation makes no sense, these walls would have been built with nary a peep had the city not been broke.

    Where is the consistency? Why were walls built for every stretch of this freeway except from preston to boychuk?

  20. boychuck was always designated to be four lanes
    the sound walls around briarwood are developer installed not city installed

  21. what about the sound walls running all down the west side of boychuk, right up until the highway?

    and if boychuk was always designated to be four lanes why are they only now putting it under construction to widen the road to accommodate 4 lanes. people who have driven this road the last 10 years can attest it has not been a 4 lane road

  22. I find it tremendously ironic when people who choose to live in the suburbs complain about traffic noise, congestion etc. If you choose to live in the far flung reaches, you choose to live a car centred life. Stop complaining and take responsability for your decision.

    Those who choose to live in a central neighborhood so they have to drive less or in my case not at all, have the right to not have other people's traffic congestion and noise inflicted on them. The people who choose to live further out are only paying the cost of their decisions when they pay for sound attenuation etc. Do I come in to the suburbs and spew toxins make noise and endanger your kids? Nope. If you want to do that in my neighborhood, you should pay the cost of minimizing it. Things like sound attenuation should be paid for by levy on new development as opposed to general tax revenue.


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