Accountability and Responsibility at the Selkirk & District Planning Area Board

Below is an article that appears in this week’s Selkirk Record.  This is one of a number of articles that have been written over the past two years regarding the concerns that the City of Selkirk has had with the direction and management of the Selkirk & District Planning Area Board. The planning office provides a critical service to the member municipalities not to mention the citizens of our communities.

Over the past number of years I have noticed an increasing number of complaints from citizens over how their needs have not been met by the organization. Since joining the board as one of Selkirk’s three representatives I’ve found that the current board is often unwilling to examine how the organization can make improvements. The final straw was the decision the board made to jack up municipal fees by 67% in one year. The Selkirk representatives on the board challenged the board and management to justify the increase. The report we received was quiet simply a non-response. Rather than manage expenses or do without frills, the board wanted to simply demand more from the municipalities (who have to past this cost on to citizens).

With the amount of development in our region it is not unreasonable to expect that the board should be self-sustaining. In fact, less than 10% of the revenue the organization collects is from direct municipal fees. So it’s entirely reasonable to work towards the goal of having a self-sustaining organization. Rather than jacking up rates, the Selkirk representatives suggested we work towards this approach. However the board did not support this approach. In the end, the board reduced their demand for increased fees to a 33% – but with the warning that they would be looking to increase fees for 2014 by as much as 100% over 2012 rates. This is simply unacceptable. It was for this reason, this total disregard for Selkirk’s request for financial restraint, that Selkirk council voted against diverting the additional fees from services to our citizens to pay for the 2013 increases.

This article explains that their may be a glimmer of hope after the planning district management proposed a number of cost cutting measures. I am encouraged by the efforts our new manager is taking to make improvements – however the real challenge will be the board. Already, the board has voted against one of the major cost cutting efforts which will add back $70,000 to the organization’s expenses.  More to come.

City of Selkirk demanding financial responsibility from Planning Board

 

Selkirk’s Water Tower Development is Good for the City – Economically, Socially and Environmentally

Selkirk Water Tower  - curtis72 http://www.panoramio.com/photo/27803072

Selkirk Water Tower Lands
Photo Copyright 2009 – curtis72
http://www.panoramio.com/photo/27803072

This past Monday night, council passed what should be the final resolutions to sell a portion of the water tower lands to Seymour Pacific Developments for the construction of two new apartment blocks with a total of 110 new units.  This has been a development 15 months in the making and one that has stirred much community discussion. The majority of the residents I have spoken with support this development – however there were a small but vocal group of people who did not.  Council has worked very hard to understand the concerns that were raised and have taken great steps to address them as best we can while still allowing this much needed development to occur.

Below you will find the speaking notes I prepared and delivered at Monday’s meeting after the final vote.  Because there was concern and considerable debate about the virtues of this development, I want residents to know why I support this project. I want to take this opportunity to share the facts and to balance out the rumours and the misrepresentations that have been circulating.

So here are my notes.  Please forgive any grammar and sloppy language, these are just my notes and I’ve not taken time to polish them.

This development has required significant amounts of review and consideration.

I certainly empathize with the people who have raised concerns over the past 15 months this proposal has been under review. I too would feel some level of consternation if I was in their position.

That said, I do think that this council has taken every reasonable effort to listen to, understand, and address the concerns that have been raised. To make this project happen, the planning act required us to have a single public hearing – held in these chambers. Knowing that this minimal level of public involvement was not acceptable, council held a well advertised open house to solicit feedback and to share the proposed project in detail. As we moved forward we continued to collect feedback and we continued to work with proposal proponents to address the concerns raised. We brought in Lombard North Group a professional consulting firm with decades of experience in land use planning and neighbourhood development. All residents had an opportunity to share their concerns with Lombard North and using their expert knowledge they developed three options from which council selected the one that reduced the impact on local residents the most and, as it turns out, cost the developers the most.

This option greatly improved the landscaping to incorporate hills and trees to improve buffering between the site and the neighbouring homes. It realigned the buildings to reduce and in most cases eliminate the shadows cast by the buildings so as not to darken the neighbours homes. And most costly of all, it reduced the size of the building closest to the neighbours to reduce the line of sight on to their property and provide a less imposing view. These changes will require a substantial change in upfront cost to the developer and will reduce their annual revenue by $205,000 due to the loss of 18 rental units. These changes also reduce the tax revenue and the net economic impact to be enjoyed by the entire community. But we felt these changes went a long way to address the needs of the local residents. In cases like this, balance is needed and this loss to the entire community is a warranted cost to reduce the impact to the local neighbourhood.

As I’ve said, there has been significant consideration given to the concerns of local residents, more than I have ever seen in my time on council, and far more then what is typically expected. While I empathize with those who still have some concerns, my role as councillor demands that the needs of the entire community must been met.

As I do with all of my decision in this seat, I look at the situation with a triple-bottom line mentality. In this situation, I can truly say that there is a net positive return on this development, economically, environmentally, and socially.

Economic Return

This is the first and most obvious return for the city. This proposal will shift this property from costing us thousands each year to maintain to bringing in tens of thousands in new tax revenue with our Economic Development office estimating the new revenue to be around $80,000 per year. In addition to that having 110 new middle income family units moving into our community represents a minimum of over $4 million in new economic trade in our community as people moving into the community bring their incomes with them. This $4 million in new trade represents more people buying their bread at Upper Crust Bakery, more people buying their meet at Thor’s, more people having breakfast at Roxy’s, more people buying cars at the local GM dealership and more people stopping in for Woodfire baked Pizza’s at Benjamin’s. Growth in local trade means existing business must hire more people and new entrepreneurs will be attracted to set up new businesses. More dollars flowing into our community mean more local jobs for local people.

Now I know that some people believe that the city has sold this land at too low a price. Well, the fact of the matter is that we followed the exact same practice the city has followed since I was elected and for years before that – we sold the land at assessed value. We have been selling bare land lots with this practice for a long-time. It’s important to note that the price we received COULD have been higher, however we negotiated this price with the developer after we asked them to change their development. Rather than simply bring in a small one-time infusion of an additional $100k, council chose to defend the interests of the local neighbours and stuck with the changed development plan. Even the fanciful quotes that I’ve heard about how much we “could have got” pale in comparison with the on-going revenue the community will receive with such a large expansion to our tax base. This new tax revenue is even more powerful because we do not need to add new roads and pipes to collect it. This development makes Selkirk more efficient by adding to our tax base but not adding to our capital infrastructure costs. We on council are not in the business of selling land for quick short-term profit, we are hear to build an economically viable community for the long-term. Those who think we sold the land for cheap totally misunderstand our role.

If you’re looking for recent examples of where the city negotiated prices and capital investments to make development happen you need only look at the Walmart Development where the city sold land at assessed value and paid $400,000 to remediate the soil, or the Creekside Development where we put in around $500,000 in new utility infrastructure to make development on that site possible.

If you are looking for historic examples I can think about none better than the Manitoba Rolling Mills where Selkirk, through its development corporation at the time, gifted 30 acres of land, a 40% tax reduction for 12 years and a $250,000 in cash to attract the rolling mills to Selkirk. That was in 1912 – in today’s dollars that $250,000 would be worth (according to the Bank of Canada) over $5.2 million dollars – and I can’t even hazard a guess at what the land would be worth today.

No – it is apparent that the city must be prepared to negotiate with private enterprise if it is going to be successful in economic development. Take a look at what Winkler, Steinbach and Morden are doing to attract new private investment.

By every rational, logical measure available to use – this development makes good economic sense for the whole community.

Environmental Return

Another concern that has been raised has been the loss of “green space”. It is interesting to me that this land is referred to as green space now, when I have so often heard it referred to as an empty field in the past, however – it is an open piece of land that could be used as park space if it were practicable. I say could be used because it is not currently being used as such. This field is one of the most under used spaces that our city maintains. Within a 10 minute walk, we find Selkirk Park. A beautiful, example of what “green space” really means. Selkirk has a number of parks and maintained green spaces throughout our community. In three short years this council has invested more in park improvement than the last two councils combined. The claim that this council doesn’t care about recreation or green space is demonstrably false. We recognize the value of green space, that’s why half of the land at this site we be retained and developed into a true park, with trees, walking trails, plants other than turf grass, and other park features. We have limited resources and I believe it is better to concentrate our efforts on maintaining parks that are actually being used. We should focus on the quality of our recreational space not just the quantity.

I know the argument about negative environmental impact of developing the space has been used as well.  This argument is a bombastic non-starter. The net environmental impact of maintain non-indigenous turf grass to urban lawn standards with gas-powered lawn mowers is in fact, negative. The spraying of weed control chemicals and the lawn mower emissions of greenhouse gases out weights any potential positive effect a field of turf grass provides.  Moreover, if this project was built on the open space at the fringes of our community, as has been suggested by some, it would require the bulldozing of treed land, or the loss of productive agricultural land. Neither of these options is better than using a turf grass field. In fact, the farther way you have development from your core services like groceries, banking, etc – the more environmental damage you do because you are requiring residents to drive to do routine tasks. Environmental experts and urban planners a like will tell you that building up and not out is the responsible way to build a health and green community. Residents of these new buildings will live within walking distance off all the major services one uses in a typical week. This site is also well served by public transit with a stop conveniently at the corner of Sophia and Clandeboye Ave.

From an environmental perspective this development is exceptionally responsible. It is a shining example of greener land use and community development.

Social Return

Finally, I believe this development delivers on some desperately needed improvements to our community’s social infrastructure. We have had a near zero vacancy rate in this city for years. As our young people come of age they find it next to impossible to find a place of their own in our city forcing them to move to Winnipeg and as retirees in the Selkirk and District area downsize and look for housing that meets their new lifestyle they too are having to look south to meet their needs. One of the most consistent requests I hear from citizens in this community is to attract more housing. This development delivers. This development introduces 110 new units to the community in on one motion. It is by far the largest residential development this city has seen for a long time.

At our current average of 2.4 residents per unit, we expect that Selkirk’s population will increase by about 264 people. That represents a population growth of 2.7%. To put that in context, between 2006 and 2011 Selkirk’s population grew by 319 people or 3.4%. This development will produce 83% of the population growth we experienced during the entire last census period. As I’ve noted earlier – all of these people will live within a 2 minute walk ofManitoba Avenue Eastand our downtown core. More people living downtown means more foot traffic for local business and more crime-preventing eyeballs keeping watch in the evenings. It is the presence of people that makes a downtown vibrant – a lesson even Winnipeg is finally learning.

This development is a prime example of what urban planning experts call people-centric community development. Adding middle income units to a downtown is like adding yeast to bread dough – it is the catalyst that makes it grow.

In closing – I must say that we on council have a duty to consider what’s in the best interests of the entire community today and into the future. I know that change can be scary for some and I know that this change is particularly scary for those who live in the immediate area because they are concerned the development will impact the value of their homes. All I can say to that is that decades of peer-reviewed academic research demonstrates that houses close to multi-family buildings do not lose property value. In fact we have just such an example in Selkirk on Sinclair Avenue where single family dwellings in the three hundred block have multi-family buildings to the immediate east and south of their homes. Looking at their asset values compared to similar homes in similar neighbourhoods we find there is not a gap in value.  The fact is that studies show that land values in an urban community actually go UP throughout the community as multi-family units are built because multi-family units attract future housing market entrants and the added population drives community vibrancy and economic activity.

I am convinced, beyond a shadow of a doubt that this development is good for Selkirk, economically, environmentally and socially. As a councillor, elected by the community at large after promising to work for exactly this type of economic development, I have a moral obligation to support this development and I do so knowing this is the right thing for Selkirk.

 

Selkirk Downtown Secondary Plan – Open House

Don’t forget – Tonight’s the open house and public presentation of Selkirk’s Secondary Plan for the Downtown. This plan outlines the vision the community has for revitalizing our downtown core. Hope to see you there!

Selkirk Downtown Secondary Plan Open House Invitation

 

 

 

Selkirk Achieves 4 Blooms at 2013 Manitoba Communities in Bloom Conference

Chris Carruthers & Selkirk Communities in Bloom Committee - Selkirk, Manitoba Sept 9, 2013Congratulations to the Selkirk Communities in Bloom Committee, their volunteers, and City of Selkirk staff who have worked so hard over the past number of years to improve the aesthetics of our community.  I know that the committee, and in particular Chris Carruthers (our Parks and Rec Manager), were shooting for the coveted 5 blooms but I think they should be proud of what they have accomplished in a few short years.

Far from simply being community beautification, Communities in Bloom is about fostering community pride through sustainable best practices in community involvement, environmental awareness, beautification, heritage preservation, education, and networking.  It’s about building a people-centric community. Communities that foster a sense of pride and connectedness are vibrant, have lower levels of crime, encourage investment, foster economic growth and opportunity and improve the quality of life for all citizens.

2013 Manitoba Communities in Bloom Program - SelkirkI am so proud that our committee was able to host the annual Manitoba Communities in Bloom conference. This was an exciting opportunity showcase our community, as well as the work that our industrious committee has undertaken. In addition to expert speakers delegates were treated to a history tour of our city on Selkirk Transit, a pontoon boat ride on the mighty Red River, and  to a wonderful reception dinner prepared by Our Daily Bread Soup Kitchen volunteers.

Congratulations again to our committee, volunteers, city staff and to Chris Carruthers who, by-the-way, was appointed the provincial Communities in Bloom board. Great job everyone – you’re making Selkirk look it’s very best (both metaphorically and literally!)

 

Below is the story that appeared in this week’s Selkirk Record. Just click on the image to see a larger, more readable, version.

2013 Manitoba Communities in Bloom Conference - Selkirk Record Article

 

 

Selkirk Friendship Centre Hosts World Suicide Prevention Day Walk

World Suicide Prevention Day in SelkirkThe Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (CASP) and the Selkirk Friendship Centre are observing World Suicide Prevention Day, with a walk and a get together. Refreshments will be served and all are welcome!

September 10, 2013
Selkirk Friendship Centre – 425 Eveline Street, Selkirk, Manitoba
Registration: 5:30pm
Walk: 6:00pm (sharp!)
Refreshments and fellowship to follow the walk.


This event is about remembering and celebrating the lives of those who died by suicide and supporting those left to grieve. It is about building awareness and encouraging hope. If you can make it, come on out!

06
Sep 2013
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Selkirk’s Sustainable Economic Development Committee: Background

Selkirk Economic Development - Duane NicolWhat a difference six years makes. On February 23, 2007 I proposed the terms of reference for a City of Selkirk Sustainable Development Committee. Back then, council was struggling to manage the little bit of development interest we were receiving at the time. I say struggle, but I really should say strangle. The city was effectively strangling the development we had at the time because of inefficient administrative processes, and worse yet – a dysfunctional political situation.

 

Growth for the Sake of Growth is Stupid

The intention of this committee was two fold. First, it was intended to introduce the idea of sustainability into our growth conversations. The majority of council at that time was jumping at any growth they could create, never stopping to ask if that growth was good for the city, economically, socially and environmentally. Growth for the sake of growth is stupid. Looking at the last hundred years of urban growth in North Americayou can see that cities that consider the impacts of growth and practice smart growth are the ones that deliver a high quality of life for the current and future generations of residents. It’s the difference between Detroit and Seattle.

Sustainable cities have lower crime, low unemployment, higher average family incomes, more cultural and recreational opportunities, better active and mass transit options, higher levels of resident satisfaction and affordable municipal services. This is what council should want for Selkirk, and the proposed committee would have made these considerations a central part of our growth activities. It would have encouraged the type of growth that would make us more sustainable and would have discouraged the type of growth that is driving many North American cities into the ground.

 

Proposal Killed Due to Narrow Political Interests

The second purpose was to overcome the strangling processes and practices that were limiting Selkirk’s potential. First it would have made economic growth a focus. Too often opportunities were getting lost in the regular business of council and administration. It was being given the same level of importance as parking ticket overturn requests. A separate meeting with a laser focus on economic development would ensure that council could spend uninterrupted, dedicated time considering options and following up on activities. It would have made sustainable economic development a priority.

 

The committee would have also provided a clear point of entry for developers and others looking to do business with the city. At the time, there was no clear sign that said “Open for Business”. Unfortunately, many people interested in doing business would start with the Mayor of the day. If the Mayor liked the proposal then council might hear about it long after the Mayor had directed administration to being negotiations or exploratory discussion. If the Mayor didn’t like the proposal – it was dead. Council would never hear about it and administration wouldn’t be asked to participate.

When I proposed the committee that fateful night in February, the majority of council voted against the resolution because David Bell didn’t like the proposal because he wouldn’t be the chair. He wouldn’t have the same power to limit council’s information as all members of council would be at the committee table. As the regularly did, Councillors Rapko, Pruden and Cook voted with him. In my opinion, narrow political interests were put before the needs of the community that night.

 

The New Selkirk Council – Visionary and Action Oriented

Fast forward six years later. I again proposed the same terms of reference. With zero debate – council unanimously adopted the committee structure and focus. We appointed Councillor Ken Beerman to chair the committee. Since striking the committee, we reallocated internal resources and created an office of economic development. Since then, under the leadership of Councillor Beerman and the hard work of our new Economic Development office, we have begun cleaning up development files that are years overdue. We have multiple development proposals before us and we are working on new processes that will reduce red-tape while increasing our ability to consider the long-term impacts of development. We are finally spending time talking about what development we should attract. The development conditions we impose are aligned with smart growth principles. And best of all – economic development has become a team sport where each of us bring our experience and knowledge to the table where we can truly participate. This is in no small part due to the leadership of Ken Beerman. Quiet, fiercely determined and a true team player.  If the committee was a good idea, Ken as chair was a brilliant decision.

The past three years of council have been the most exciting and productive in my 12 years as a councillor. The current council is optimistic, hard working, and most of all visionary. Hold on to your hats Selkirk – I truly believe we are on the edge of something fantastic. This is our time.

 

Sean Nicol Legacy Fund

Some people may not know, but in 2007 my younger brother Sean passed away suddenly. It was a horrible shock for my family and his many friends. It has been a very difficult thing to come to grips with, we still miss him terribly.

Last year we established the Sean Nicol Legacy Fund with the Selkirk & District Community Foundation. As a perpetual endowment fund the donations raised will be held and invested forever. The income generated by the investments will be used to issue grants to local charities working to promote social justice. In particular, the fund will seek to support project and programs delivering affordable housing, food security, and economic and social empowerment. To learn more about the fund, visit www.seannicol.org. You can also see some great photos on our Facebook site.

On April 13, we (Sean’s family and friends) held the first annual Shaw BBQ for Hope fund raiser dinner. Below is an article that appeared in this week’s Selkirk Record describing the success of this event. I am so grateful for the hard work of the planning committee who put this on and all of the family and friends who made this possible. I am also grateful for the event sponsors:

and all of the table sponsors:

Thank you to all of the rainbow auction prize donors as well!

We were overwhelmed by the turnout and support. Through the generosity and hard work of his friends and family, Sean ‘s legacy will forever make a difference in our community.  If you’d like to keep up-to-date with the activities of the fund – please Like the fund on Facebook!

2013 Shaw BBQ for Hope Article - Selkirk Record April 25, 2013

Selkirk Transit Wins the AMM Municipal Excellence Award

I am so proud of the work of the  Selkirk Transit partnership. The City of Selkirk were recently won the 2013 AMM Municipal Excellence Award. This award is given to municipal governments who have demonstrated excellence with the creation and management of a program or service. It is an honour to be recognized by our peers!

Selkirk Transit follows a unique and innovative delivery model. Not only does it provide the much needed service of moving people round our growing community – but it also follows community economic development principles. It leverages mutually beneficial partnerships between non-profit organizations and the city to deliver a much needed service at a financially sustainable rate. Click here to read our submission to this award program.

Below is a copy of the Selkirk Record story on the presentation of the award by Selkirk Council to our community partners Interlake Employment Services and the Selkirk & District Handi-Bus.

City of Selkirk wins 2013 AMM Municipal Excellence Award for Selkirk Transit

 

Selkirk Council Creates Sustainable Economic Development Committee

So proud of this council and it’s vision. After it was defeated six years ago – I promised to bring this committee back for consideration. I took a change of council – but finally this good idea has been made into a reality.

Here is the Selkirk Journal’s story (from their website).

Selkirk Council Adopts Nicol's Sustainable Economic Development Committee

20
Feb 2013
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Selkirk, Help me become the Next Top Credit Union Exec

As you may know, being a councillor in the City of Selkirk is not a full-time job. Outside of council, I work for Assiniboine Credit Union (ACU) as the Manager of Marketing & Communication. I enjoy my work and I am proud of the company I work for. I’m proud to work for a financial co-operative that understands and strives to live the values of financial, social and environmental sustainability.

CUES Next Top Credit Union Exec

Vote Duane Nicol for the CUES Next Top Credit Union Exec

Last year, I was recognized by the Credit Union Central of Canada with National Young Leader Award. It was a tremendous honour. This year, I’ve been nominated and am a contestant in the Credit Union Executive Societies’ Next Top Credit Union Exec competition. It is an international contest for credit union leaders under the age of 35. Just to be nominated in an honour. I am the only Manitoban, and one of only 3 Canadians in the running.

There are three stages to this competition. In the first stage, contestants create a short video to introduce themselves and to talk about a project they are leading in their respective credit union. My video explains ACU’s exciting Intranet Rebuild project.  Contestants must encourage people to visit the CUES website and vote for their video. To make it to the next stage, my video must be one of the top 15 vote recipients.

 I really need your help. If you could, please visit the link below and vote for me.  Each legitimate email address may cast one ballot, so that means you can vote with a work and a personal email address. The more the better really.

Voting began July 20 and closes at 3pm ET on July 31. The voting period is very short, so if you are able to help, please visit the site as soon as you can and cast your vote. The online ballot is on the right side of the page. They are extremely careful with your email address, and don’t use it or sell it. If you choose to not receive the e-newsletter, you won’t get anything more from them other than the automatic vote confirmation email.

 Visit this page to vote. It takes less than a minute! http://nexttopcreditunionexec.com/

Thank you to everyone who takes a moment to help out! At stake is an opportunity to receive $20,000 in executive leadership training. Not only would this help me in my work at Assiniboine, but I know that it would help me in my work as a city councillor. 

Please feel free to share this on facebook or twitter if you can! This is a very competitive contest, and I could use all the help I can get!