The defunct Public Hearing for 3365 Commercial Dr & 1695-1775 E 18th of May 24, 2016 was one for the books, but the re-do on Thursday did not lack for drama either. The meeting began with the usual formalities, actually more formal than usual, Council seemed a little nervous after the way the last hearing crashed and burned. Staff and the applicant started with the usual heaping of praise on the application. If I had heard the word “affordable” misused one more time my head would have exploded.
One notable question to staff during the preamble to speakers came from Councilor Stevenson, remember it was his motion to refer the question to the City arborist “for more information” that initiated the eventual collapse of the previous hearing. Well, this time the City arborist was there to answer his searing questions, which amounted to, “After what happened at the last meeting I am assuming that you as staff went out to the site and did some more assessment, is that true?” The arborist responded, in so many words, that yes, I went out to the site today, and it appears that none of the trees have fallen over. That apparently was enough to satisfy the deep concern for the trees that caused Councilor Stevenson to want to abort the May 24th hearing because he did not ask any further questions. If that does not give you pause to be skeptical of the motives for his motion at the previous hearing, then I have some swampland you might like. Alligators included.
Then came the speakers, ah yes, the speakers.
Aside from one distraught fellow who lobbed insults at the mayor for five minutes, the twenty or so speakers who spoke against the proposal were all Cedar Cottage residents, were all well informed about the proposed project and its implications, knew the site and its history, and many were well informed about the City policies that enabled the application. The arguments were nuanced and well thought out. Some presented detailed solutions and alternatives in the form of plans and renderings to address some of the shortcomings of the proposal. Not one said don’t build rental housing here. Not one insulted “young people”.
The seven speakers who supported the project were strikingly similar to one another in a number of ways. Not only in age, which was around 30, but not one of them lived in the neighbourhood, not one showed any knowledge of the actual proposal, the City policies, the historic significance of the site, or anything else specific to this issue. They all read from one script, “More rental housing is needed” and that was the Golden Ticket each of them used to disqualify every other argument, no matter how well thought-out. Each included a touching personal story to dress up his message. So facile, so devoid of information were these speeches one could have taken any one of them and transposed it to any city in the world and without changing a single word, it would have fit. It was all a meme, a hashtag, a social-media driven attempt to steamroll over the legitimate concerns of neighbours.
One speaker started by calling people hypocrites for calling a $1300 studio not affordable while living in million dollar homes. This statement sounds catchy but contains no logic. Affordability, in the real world, refers to the cost of housing relative to a person’s income, not the current market value of one’s home.
That’s all well and good, everyone has a right to his opinion, but the tactics used by one of the supporters were quite deplorable. Kyle Macdonald, a walking, talking publicity stunt, a social media celebrity in his own mind and speaker-for-hire, baby-in-tow, fired a barrage of insulting remarks towards “elderly” home-owners. His speech contained a lot of bluster and not much sound reasoning. It appeared to be an attempt to start open war between young and old, owners and renters, while the real issues around projects like this become lost in the noise. Some in attendance were personally offended by this young man’s hateful and divisive rhetoric.
Another disappointing aspect of the night was that a young CBC reporter interviewed community members as well as Kyle Macdonald and as it turned out her report was strongly biased towards his inflammatory slant on the issue. Lesson, don’t talk to reporters under 40.
I hope City Council is able to see through the smokescreen and bases their decision on facts, not hype.