City Council Highlights
Below are some of the highlights from Council and Committee in November. Full agendas can be found at saskatoon.ca/meeting.
Downtown Stimulus Strategy
City Council received a report outlining key next steps in implementing the report that Vancouver’s former Chief Planner Larry Beazley provided to the City of Saskatoon after a multi-stakeholder workshop on downtown revitalization. The report was forwarded to the 2020/21 Budget and a decision was made to invest a further $150,000 into this work.
This will help identify key areas of the Downtown to focus on for strategic redevelopment, pulling together Saskatoon Land, existing landowners, Downtown Saskatoon, the heritage community, downtown residents and more. What we learned from Mr. Beazley is that there is an art to downtown redevelopment and that a City can’t do it alone—it requires partnership and a willingness to do things differently. If we work to get it right, we have a once in a generation opportunity to put the pieces together to transform the Downtown.
Solar Power Programs in Saskatoon
With SaskPower making province-wide changes to their solar programs, the City of Saskatoon needs to figure out the future of our own solar programs with Saskatoon Light & Power.
SL&P provides power to a large part of our city, and a map of their service area can be found online. There is a general approach to make sure that the services and rates provided by SL&P are the same for the residents and businesses in the city that are served by SaskPower.
However, at this point I do not believe that it is in our best interests to immediately make our program in line with the recent SaskPower changes. I want our power utility to be forward thinking and to take a look at the full accounting of costs and benefits of solar (less energy lost through transmission, environmental benefits, benefits of a distributed grid, less maintenance, etc). To make a more informed decision in the future, we requested more information on:
- approaches in other jurisdictions,
- how we can mitigate risks and capitalize on opportunities of changing technology,
- consultation with industry and stakeholders, and
- fairness for this program moving forward.
We need to create greater certainty for industry, but it is also important that we do not rush this and that we create strong policy. Because we have our own power utility and so many hours of sunlight a year, we have lots of potential in this area.
Transit Detour Process
The City administration proposed a new process for notifying riders about detours to Transit routes to alert riders through an app or on the website. City Council, however, rejected this proposal.
There is no question that digital tools can be a powerful way of helping Transit riders get the information needed to plan trips and avoid inconveniences. I use the app when I take the bus and my son uses Transit to get to school, and I have seen how Transit apps with real-time information about buses have made a difference for him.
With that said, I don’t think that this can be the only way detours get communicated. Lots of riders don’t check an app before they head out to catch the bus and they rely on physical notifications about any changes. We heard stories during our meeting about bus riders feeling stranded, and to me this is not how you build a strong transit system. We need to provide reliable transit service, and communicating about route changes is a big part of this.
As part of the next steps we will be exploring less expensive ways to post detours due to construction so we don’t have unnecessary staff time spent on posting and taking down these notices.
Bicycle Bylaw Update
City Council approved—in principle—a revamp of the Bicycle Bylaw. The specific changes still have to be formally drafted and approved by Council at a future meeting, the same process for all bylaw changes.
Some highlights of these upcoming changes are:
- To allow children under the age of 14 to ride on sidewalks
- Requiring the use of hand signals
- Removing requirement of cyclists to dismount when passing a pedestrian on a bridge
- Require cyclists to ride in the direction of traffic on multi-use lanes and pathways
- Motorists must pass a cyclists with at least a 1 meter buffer where practical
One additional change that has been talked about in the media is to implement a 1 meter buffer for cyclists passing pedestrians, similar to the rule for vehicles. I supported this for same reason that I supported the 1 meter buffer between vehicles and bikes: to protect the more vulnerable road user. The City’s administration has said that the language in the bylaw can be made so this rule would only apply when it would be practical, meaning that it would not apply on narrower paths. I have no interest in passing part of a bylaw that prohibits cyclists from being on parts of the Meewasin trail, and this is in no way what is intended or what would result from this sort of provision.
Commercial Permits and Development Review
Committee heard an overview of changes to the City’s commercial building permitting process and to zoning changes. These improvements were later adopted at the budget deliberations, so we will be seeing improvements in the coming months.
With commercial permits, we have a goal of being a national leader in this area, just like we are with residential permits. This comes with huge savings for those applying so there isn’t wasted time in the approval process.
This is a cost recovery program and our rates are currently below national standards, and with this increased level of service we will move closer towards the middle (but still below). The City will be providing this new service in the coming months, with fees increasing afterwards to help to demonstrate the value of these changes.
For zoning and development review, the City is making changes to achieve financial sustainability and to decrease turnaround times. These changes are in line with industry feedback that we need to be more responsive to meet the needs of the community and become a better place to invest. Along with our ongoing review of the Zoning Bylaw, this will have huge and positive implications for these sorts of changes and developers and businesses looking to invest.