Friday, June 30, 2017

Mapping the Way Forward for a Kingsway Entertainment District

The recent decision by Greater Sudbury Council to locate a new events centre on vacant lands on the north side of Kingsway, just west of the intersection with the Highway 17 by-pass, represents a sharp departure from the vision contained within the City’s strategic planning documents.  That vision, as some of the Council members who chose to support a downtown location for the events centre explained on Tuesday night, has been informed by years of public consultation.  The vision of a strong downtown acting as the cultural, arts, economic and entertainment heart of the City is contained in our Official Plan, the Downtown Master Plan, and the City’s strategic economic development plan.

And yet in its wisdom, Council betrayed this vision, and opted instead to embrace a new vision for the future success of the City – one promoted by the majority landowner of the Kingsway location.  It is a vision of the creation of an Entertainment District on private lands, anchored by a community events facility. This private developer is also the owner of what are expected to be the primary tenants of the community events centre – the Sudbury Wolves Ontario Hockey League team.   This new vision was one that resonated with many in the community – and particularly those who may have never bought in to the notion that there was ever much value in investing in our downtown.

Selecting the Kingsway

I think it’s fair to say that there were a few factors that really drove the decision-making process that led Council to selecting the Kingsway site for an events centre.  First of all, the marketing of the Entertainment District concept has been underway to varying degrees for the past couple of years. It started publicly with the developer’s pitch to Council at the Large Projects pitch in November, 2015  (see: “Big ideas and big projects get public airing,”, November 26, 2015).  From there, the developer made a number of pricey acquisitions (including purchasing the Sudbury Wolves) to re-inforce his position as a ‘community builder’.  Slick websites, a social media strategy, community PR presentations – all helped create a certain buzz around the concept of an Entertainment District, even if not all of the information that ultimately entered the public realm proved to be accurate.  As recently as a few weeks ago, a slim majority of City residents polled by Oracle Research were under the mistaken impression that the developer was going to build an arena for free – even though that’s never been a part of anyone’s plans (see: "Majority of Sudburians want referendum on arena," the Sudbury Star, June 26, 2017).  Further, the developer and his group has long insisted that the lands being considered for the events centre are ‘zoned for development’ – which is factually correct, but completely misses the point that they are not zoned for the type of development being proposed by the developer (specifically, a community events centre - see: "True North pleased arena project a priority," the Sudbury Star, May 2, 2016).

It is fair to say that some on Council who supported the Kingsway location did so specifically because they heard from their constituents that the Kingsway location was desirable – and that the downtown was not.   For some, that was enough.  Other Council members wholly embraced the concept of the creation of a new Entertainment District in this location – believing that selecting the Kingsway as the site for an events centre would lead directly to a laundry list of uses locating on the developer’s property.  Some of the uses, including a casino, a four-star hotel and a motorsports park, are backed by businesses / community groups that made public their desire to locate on the Kingsway, should Council select the Kingsway location for a community events centre.  The status of other uses, such as the waterpark, additional ice pads, restaurants, etc., are not clear at this time.  It is fair to say, though, that the vision for these lands includes more than just an arena – and should the arena be built, there is a very real probability that these other uses will move forward.  The Council members who cited these other uses, and the opportunity for the creation of an Entertainment District, as part of their justification for favoring the Kingsway did so with the knowledge of this probability, even if some chose to frame their arguments in terms of the uses being a certainty.

And finally, along with a real public outpouring in support of the vision of an Entertainment District, let it be said that there was clearly one other factor at play that led to the decision of Council: along with supporting the Kingsway, many of my fellow citizens were quite vocal in their opposition to the downtown as a location for the events centre.  A distinct anti-downtown sentiment often formed the basis of underlying support for the Kingsway.  Most often, the anti-downtown sentiment manifested itself in a lament over a lack of parking – despite the downtown having an abundance of public parking spaces.  The consultant’s report referred to this phenomenon as a ‘perception’, while providing facts and figures to demonstrate that the perception was not informed by the evidence.  Despite this, the consultant actually ranked the downtown location as the lowest-scoring venue when it came to parking.

Kicking Around the Downtown

But it would be remiss for any of us paying attention to the debate in our community to conclude that the anti-downtown sentiment was in any way limited to the perception of a lack of parking. Through the course of the discussion that ensued in the mainstream media, consumed social media, and ultimately worked its way to the Council table, what was really at play was an “us” vs. “them” classist attitude – one where the downtown was deemed unsafe -  filled with drug-users, bums and hookers – whereas the Kingsway offered a new and safe alternative for the good people who just want to go to a Wolves game without being harassed on the streets by people looking for money to help buy food or crack.  Around the Council table, this attitude manifested itself in remarks in favour of the Kingsway for its “family friendly” parking facilities (as opposed to the ones where the drunken bums are using your car as their personal sofas – or worse) to those opposed to the downtown location (we can’t build a $100 million events centre next to a rooming house!)

In part, this anti-downtown sentiment is yet another expression of the tension that exists between the inner city (former City of Sudbury) and the outlying areas.  Through this lens, the hostility towards to the downtown is one informed by the notion that the inner city and the downtown have been the primary beneficiaries of the forced amalgamation that the Region of Sudbury went through at the turn of the century – and that the outlying areas have disproportionately had to sacrifice in the form of higher taxes and reduced services to support the inner city.  Evidence to this effect is, of course, anecdotal – but the anecdotes form a very real emotional response to the inner city-outer city tension within our community.

Of course, I don’t buy into the notion that the inner city has benefitted disproportionally by amalgamation – and I point to some of the decisions made by this Council as my justification, including the $100 million Maley Drive extension, and the siting of the community events centre in an industrial area by a landfill on our urban fringe.  While it is true that both of these projects I’ve identified are cited within the boundaries of the former City of Sudbury, the point I am trying to make is that so many of our municipal council’s decisions have been informed by what I consider to be ‘car-centric’ suburban thinking, rather than based on the notion of building smart, sustainable communities that will be ready to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.  And I believe that the tension within our City has played a role in holding the inner city back from being what it can – and needs to be – going forward.  And that’s why the recent decision to take our community arena out of the downtown in favour of a new location on the urban fringe feels like such a slap in the face.  That decision betrays the commitment the City made to itself and to its residents to bolster the downtown – the economic, social, cultural and entertainment hub of our City – in favour of what appears to be isolated entertainment and commercial venues in a sea of parking spaces.

Anyway, Council has spoken, and we are going with the Kingsway.  Although I obviously favoured a downtown location for the events centre (I actually favour just renovating the one that we have now, but that option just wasn’t on the table), I guess I’m going to have to make the most of this new ‘vision’ for our community – even though it’s clearly not one that I support.  That being said, there are ways to make this vision more palatable.  With that in mind, I believe that the City should adopt moving forward with the new Kingsway Entertainment District in the manner that I’m mapping here.

Kingsway Entertainment District Secondary Plan

The creation of an Entertainment District anchored by a community events centre needs to be developed through a comprehensive approach led by the City.  Rather than each proposed use proceeding through the approvals system discretely, at their own pace and on their own schedule, the City has an opportunity to chaperone all of the uses, including those on private lands, through the approvals process through the development of a comprehensive Secondary Plan.  A Secondary Plan for the Kingsway Entertainment District can set out the policy environment in which all of the uses will operate under; address technical issues with the landfill, surface and ground water, traffic, servicing and species at risk; and, create opportunities for public consultation and engagement, so that the entertainment district that we eventually end up with can be one that all Sudburians will have had the opportunity to contribute to.

A secondary plan should be informed by the official plan, and embrace and refine much of that plan’s policy environment.  Strong environmental and livability principles should be applied, and consideration for the primary users of the Entertainment District – people – should be prioritized.  By prioritizing the needs of people over cars, an Entertainment District that focuses on user experience can be created.  Fears of isolated, discrete facilities surrounded by a sea of parking (the “big box” approach) can be minimized with this approach.  Walkability, cycling and public transportation options both to – and within – the District will be prioritized.

Since the City seems determined to create a brand new district for entertainment in a greenfield location, we have the unique opportunity to create it as we please, largely unencumbered by existing constraints (save for a few items, identified below).  Yes, moving forward in a comprehensive rather than a piece-meal way may add time to the development process, and it might end up holding back some of the proposed uses that may be ready to sooner than others.  However, let’s be clear about where things are at today: none of the Entertainment District uses that have so far been talked about publicly, including a community events centre, have gone through any process that has already determined their suitability for the Kingsway site (except for a hotel and some small-scale commercial/office uses).  The Kingsway lands are industrial lands – they have not yet been determined to be appropriate for the creation of an Entertainment District – a decision of Council to select a site for a community events centre, or the eventual issuance of an RFP for construction, changes that.

In short, there is simply no good reason not to proceed in a comprehensive manner at this point.

Please let me repeat that, because it’s very important.  There is no good reason not to proceed in a comprehensive manner at this point.

The “Advantages” of Piece-Mealing

But there are some bad reasons for not going the comprehensive route.  A comprehensive approach to development will certainly lead to enhanced public engagement with regards to how the entirety of the site is ultimately developed.  A piece-meal approach which looks at each proposed use/facility on its own, in isolation, and on its own timeline/schedule, will be less likely to lead to the implementation of an overall development concept that has received the buy-in of the public.  And that’s why a piece-meal approach may be desirable for some – because it will lack in an overall vision, it will likely end up costing less to actually build.  When the public gets involved and starts suggesting that certain amenities be included and that built-form and public spaces adhere to high standards of design (the sorts of things that our existing official plan already calls for, by the way), it can lead to delay and ultimately increase cost.

If the goal is to slap together some buildings as quickly as possible, in the midst of a sea of surface parking, then proceeding in a piece-meal fashion certainly has its advantage.  But that “big box” vision is the one that’s led to so many terrible suburban spaces that work well only for cars – and even not very well for them.  We can do better than that.  And if we are committed about constructing an Entertainment District that draws users from across the province and the nation, than we had better bloody well figure out a way to build something that doesn’t look like a suburban “power centre”. 

A Comprehensive Public Process
Isolated facilities in a sea of surface parking. From True North Strong.

To establish an Entertainment District on the Kingsway lands, the City first has to determine whether the lands are suitable for the proposed uses.  A comprehensive approach to District development through a secondary plan will mean that the City is not reproducing technical studies for each, discrete use proposed, and can have some assurance that the findings of technical studies can be implemented without ownership questions raising barriers.

Species at Risk

The Kingsway lands may be home to species at risk – blanding’s turtle and whippoorwill.  A comprehensive Secondary Plan approach will assess the Entertainment District lands in their entirety.   Lands that are found to contain species at risk habitat can be clearly delineated and sectioned off for non-development.  If these lands prove to be too substantial and ultimately limiting the ability of proposed uses to locate in this area, the City should abandon this project.  I understand that the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry may be able to issue overall benefit permits for the destruction of habitat, but with numerous, if unexplored, options available to the City, there really is no reason to go ahead with an Entertainment District in a location that is determined to be unsuitable.

Land Fill Site

Similarly, a Secondary Plan process means that the constraints on the entirety of the site imposed by the existence of a landfill can be assessed, and non-developable areas identified at the outset.  Policies to minimize impacts on Entertainment District uses and users can also be created at this time, informed by the technical studies produced by the City.


Vehicular access and egress has been identified as an issue for a community events centre at the Kingsway location. Traffic issues are sure to be exacerbated by additional Entertainment District uses.  With limited options for access/egress, District impacts on our existing road system will need to be explored – and can best be explored in a comprehensive way.  Policy recommendations which seek to minimize these impacts should be explored, but it remains very likely that upgrades to existing roads will be needed to accommodate anticipated traffic.

The development of a comprehensive traffic plan for the Entertainment District could also identify how transportation network upgrades could be cost-shared between the City and the various private interests. The City’s contribution should include an on-going commitment to providing transit/shuttle service along prioritized internal and external rights-of-way (preferably transit-only rights-of-way along the lines of bus rapid transit systems in places like Ottawa and Mississauga, where feasible – and feasibility for such a network could easily be built into the Entertainment District). 

Low Impact Development Standards and Green Infrastructure

Policy should be developed that ensures the use of low impact development standards throughout the Secondary Plan area. These standards should include the use of naturalized vegetation for controlling stormwater runoff, and permeable pavement to minimize flow impacts.  Buildings should be carbon neutral or carbon negative - they should be constructed in such a way so as to generate their own energy via the use of solar panels and wind energy elements.  Renewable energy facilities should be found throughout the secondary planning area.


One of the selling features of the Kingsway site was the opportunity to create abundant surface parking for the travelling public.  However, the creation of parking on such an expansive scale is at odds with the direction that governments are moving in to curb personal vehicle use for the sake of climate change mitigation.  Abundant, free parking also raises the question of costs – for parking is never free.  Given that the community events centre is intended to be a community facility, it will be the taxpayers of Greater Sudbury that will be subsidizing free parking.

A comprehensive review of the Kingsway Entertainment District proposal will need to look at a number of issues with regards to parking.  While acknowledging the reality that the District will be accessed primarily by personal vehicles, policies should nonetheless  be developed that will allow the travelling public the benefit of alternatives to personal vehicle access, while at the same time discouraging this form of access.  Ultimately, fewer vehicles on access roads and in parking facilities benefits taxpayers and Entertainment District users both.

The City should:
  • Develop policies which minimize parking requirements.  Shared parking facilities between various Entertainment District attractions should be required, which will reduce the number of parking spaces needed.  Only a comprehensive analysis – rather than a piecemeal approach – can work to limit parking for each discrete Entertainment District use.
  • Explore opportunities for non-surface parking facilities, such as parking garages, in order to minimize the application of road salt in the Ramsey Lake watershed and to better use Entertainment District lands more efficiently.  Parking garages can help better achieve walkability and make the Entertainment District more attractive to users.Require paid parking at all Entertainment District lots, to balance the taxpayer parking subsidy, and to discourage the travelling public from bringing personal vehicles to the District. Paid parking can ultimately lead to a reduction in the number of necessary parking spaces, and assist with using land more efficiently.
  • To encourage multi-occupant vehicles, ensure that High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes are established along the Kingsway between at least Barrydowne and Coniston, and consider establishing HOV lanes along other major thoroughfares, including Second Avenue and Falconbridge Road.  Establishing HOV lanes lanes may require the removal of under-utilized centre-turning lanes along the Kingsway.  HOV lanes will encourage car-pooling, and may provide better access for transit/shuttle services.

High Quality Design

A new Entertainment District needs to be a place of joy for users.  High-quality design elements and features must be required by the City.  These include:
  • Excellent built-form that creates a sense of space that makes people want to return. Think here of a comparison between Science North’s snowflakes and the big box buildings at any power centre you’ve visited recently. New buildings must be pleasantly designed – they need to be a joy to look at, rather than cheaply constructed boxes that lack charm. 
  • Design features which favour pedestrians and cyclists.  Unattractive elements should be hidden from view – this includes not only waste disposal for the buildings, but parking as well.  Any surface parking feature should be located to the rear of buildings. 
  • Open space and other public amenities should abound.  All-season outdoor attractions must be required.  By doing so, the City could actually create opportunities to enhance user experiences, through the requirement for public space set aside for skating, tobogganing, roller-blading, cycling, etc. 

Public amenities should be integrated into the overall design.  Street furniture and places for people to congregate away from their cars should be planned and designed in a way that creates opportunities for interacting with other people.  The private sector can certainly benefit as well, through restaurant patios and other private attractions that rely, in part, on public spaces for success (food trucks; buskers, etc.).

Focus on the Future

If the matters referenced above ultimately become a part of the City’s vision for a new Entertainment District, it may very well be that the Kingsway location becomes a focal point for our community – as well as “putting it on the map” as a sports and entertainment destination.  If developed in keeping with the people-first principles identified here, the Kingsway Entertainment District could ultimately find itself home to some of the City’s entertainment-based festivals, including the long-running Northern Lights – Festival Broeal, and the upstart UpFest.  I think it’s fair to say that festival-goers would have no desire to find themselves trying to have a good time at the Costco parking lot – but if we were able to create, from scratch, a people-centred entertainment venue that was accessible and beautiful – and one which ultimately sprang from the hearts and minds of all Greater Sudburians – who knows what the future might hold.

Just try to forget that we could have created the vision that I’ve laid out here for a lot less money and for significantly greater public benefit if we focused on the downtown – as our strategic planning documents all suggest.  Just try to forget that because Council, in its wisdom, decided that wasn’t in the cards.  So we’ve got to now try to do the best we can with the creation of the Kingsway Entertainment District.  Tell your local Councillor that you’ll accept nothing less than a comprehensive, planned development proposal – and that you want to play a part in making it happen. If you do this, they may just listen to you.  If you don’t let them know, it’s almost certain that we’ll end up with an arena, a casino, a hotel and some restaurants all floating in a big-box style parking lot.

That’s not the definition of ‘vision’.  It is the exact opposite.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada) 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Crystal Ball Gazing: How Sudbury Gets a New Kingsway Event Centre - Not on Merit, but on a Technicality

Here’s why we’ll have a new Event Centre on the Kingsway after tonight’s Council meeting.  For the most part, I believe that the decision will be decided not on the merits of either the Kingsway or the downtown proposals, or even Council’s perception of support.  Instead, the decision will be made based on a technicality – due to the way in which the motions will be brought forward.

Tonight’s agenda indicates that Council will be voting on a number of motions.  It’s the first, the determination of the site, which is problematic – rather than splitting the downtown and the Kingsway proposals into two separate motions (likely because that would create the possibility for Council to endorse both sites – something that I suspect no one actually wants), the resolution prepared has two options – #1 for the Downtown, and #2  for the Kingsway.

But it’s not an either/or proposition – and I’m sure that Councillor Vagnini, who has expressed a desire recently to not support either location, will request that the vote be split – unless it’s already staff’s intention to proceed voting for the options one at a time, almost as if they were separate motions.   Either way, it is doubtful that Council will be voting on the downtown OR the Kingsway in a single vote.

Given that Option #1 is the first (the downtown) on the agenda, likely it will go to a vote first of all.  If it is approved by a majority of Council members, the downtown is a done deal, and Council will not vote on the Kingsway.  If the downtown approval fails, Council will then vote on the Kingsway.
And if the downtown option fails, you can bet that the majority of Councillors – even those who voted in favour of the downtown – will vote in favour of the Kingsway.  The last thing this Council wants is to end up not approving any location.

So ultimately I believe that we may end up with a new events centre on the Kingsway not because a majority of Council members think it is a better location than the downtown, but because of the order in which the vote takes place.  I strongly suspect that if Option #2 (the Kingsway) were to be presented first and go down in defeat, a majority of Council members will rally behind a downtown location (although I suspect that Kirwan and Reynolds would vote with Vagnini in that circumstance to defeat a downtown option).

Of course, if the downtown really does have enough Council member support to carry the day, it will carry the day.  I'm just not sure it does.

Here’s how I think tonight's voting will play out on the site selection Agenda item.

In favour: 6

Opposed: 7

The next motion will be to approve an events centre on the Kingsway.  It will succeed by a wide margin.  Here is how I anticipate Council members will vote:

In favour:

Opposed :


(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Friday, June 23, 2017

An Open Letter to My Ward Councillor, Fern Cormier, Regarding the Events Centre

I am writing to you today to express my thoughts on the matter of a new events centre for our community, which I understand Council will be discussing at its upcoming meeting on June 27, 2017.  I am writing to you today as a resident of Ward 10 (and in no other capacity).  I am copying your Council colleagues this email for their information.

I have been following this matter since the November 27, 2015 Large Projects Public Input and Information Session (see: “Big ideas and big projects get public airing,”, November 26, 2015), and I have been engaged in discussions taking place throughout the community – and especially on social media sites.  I highlighted some of the issues which I felt our local decision-makers should consider when looking at locations for a new events centre in a column that I wrote for the Sudbury Star, (“Sudbury centre would attract creative class,” the Sudbury Star, March 11, 2017), including the need for a community facility to act as a catalyst for supporting the individuals who will be taking up the jobs that our City needs to attract to prosper and thrive in the future.

While my preference for an events centre would be to repurpose the existing Sudbury Community Arena, I understand that option is not presently on the table, and I acknowledge that Council has expressed its intention to pursue the construction of a new events centre.  With that in mind, I’ll focus these comments on one of the decision’s that Council may be making on June 27th – on the location of a new events centre.  However, I feel the need to express my dismay that the decision facing Council next week will not be one informed by a public consultation a process – a very obvious and troubling omission for those who have wanted to engage in a discussion about the location of an events centre – or whether a new events centre should be pursued at all.

I have read both the report to Council of February 22, 2017, which included the February 21, 2017 “Proposed Sports and EntertainmentCentre Feasibility and Business Case Assessment” from PWC (PricewaterhouseCoopers), and the more recent report to Council dated June 15, 2017, which includes the “GreaterSudbury Event Centre Site Evaluation” report from PWC. I am also familiar with many of the City’s strategic documents, including the Official Plan (2006), the Downtown Master Plan (2012) and the City of Greater Sudbury Community Development Corporation’s community economic development strategic plan, “Fromthe Ground Up, 2015-2025” (2015) and the Downtown Community Improvement Plan.

All of these documents benefited from significant levels of public consultation, citizen engagement and city-led stakeholder discussions prior to their adoption by Council. All of these documents articulate a clear vision for the City’s downtown – a unique location in the community described as being “the vibrant hub of a dynamic city” (Official Plan, page 34) and which “plays a key role in defining the City’s image and quality of place, perceptions that are essential to the success of a number of City initiatives” fulfilling “its important function as a local and regional centre of government services, business, retail, sport and entertainment uses, arts and culture, and community and institutional uses” that “services a large catchment area that extends beyond Greater Sudbury.” (Downtown Community Improvement Plan, page 1).

The provision of cultural amenities, including institutional uses, in the City’s downtown has been an on-going feature of planning efforts in our City for at least the past decade.   An events centre has been in the downtown is championed by many of these strategic documents.  The Downtown Master Plan contemplates the retention of the Sudbury Community Arena (in an up-graded form) due to its function as a catalyst for new business and economic development, along with other community amenities, including a four-star hotel and conference centre.   Our economic development strategy builds on the Downtown Master Plan, calling for a new multipurpose facility for arts, culture and sport in the form of a new community arena in the “Heart District” (downtown), and specifically in recommendation 7.1.1 , it calls for the development of a new “arena/sports complex” in the downtown core.

Clearly, the retention of a community facility (a community arena / events centre / multi-purpose facility) in our downtown forms a keystone of the strategies which have been endorsed by Council and citizens to promote economic development, well-being and livability in our City.
On Tuesday evening, our elected officials will be facing a choice – one it arguably should have never been put in a position to have to make.  You will be asked to choose between the vision that the City has been working on developing for over 10 years, or to reject that vision and adopt in its place an alternative vision that has never received the benefit of public input and consultation – one that is fraught with risk and uncertainty, centred on lands that have never been evaluated for the types of uses included in this vision.

In contrast to the option of putting a new community events centre in the downtown, the proposal coming forward from a local developer is very problematic. The vision is grandiose – quite different from what Council directed staff to prepare a report on.  Yes, the developer’s vision includes a new community events centre – but it is far more than that.  The developer’s intention is to use the events centre as a lynchpin for future development, including (that we know of ) a casino, hotels, a motorsports park and (possibly) a water park.   

Not one of these uses has ever gone through an evaluation of any sort for appropriateness on the developer’s lands, save for the recent site selection report from PWC which looked only at whether the lands might be able to support an events centre.  And the findings of that report raise doubts, as it indicates the lands are not currently zoned for the use proposed (unlike the downtown).

While it is often thought that rezoning lands is a fairly straight-forward regulatory matter, that won’t be the case with these lands.  The PWC report highlights a number of constraints, including the proximity of a municipal landfill site and its potential impacts on proposed sensitive uses; the costs of site preparation for the uses proposed; and the acquisition of Crown Lands – an issue which is out of control of either the City or the development proponent.

And there are other constraints.  The Greater Sudbury Source Protection Plan highlights issues with salt contamination in one of our City’s primary drinking water sources, Ramsey Lake.  Salt contamination occurs from the spreading of winter road salt on streets and in parking lots, where it merges with groundwater and eventually ends up in streams and lakes.  Lands owned by the Kingsway developer and proposed for an events centre are located in the Ramsey Lake watershed.  His development proposal requires the construction of a massive new surface parking facility of approximately 1,200 spots (and that’s just for the events centre – other proposed uses will have additional surface parking requirements).  In contrast, the downtown option is not anticipated to generate the need for any new parking spaces – and even if new surface parking were to be contemplated, our downtown is not located in the Ramsey Lake watershed.

We also know that the developer’s lands on the Kingsway may contain habitat of species at risk.  In a report to Planning Committee for the rezoning of these lands in 2014, the City identified species at risk as an outstanding red flag that required further evaluation.   It is not clear that any action has been taken to address this matter, even though it was flagged by the City in 2014.

The clustering of sports and entertainment uses at the Kingsway location may ultimately require Council to re-evaluate its priorities for road maintenance and upgrades, given the considerable vehicular traffic that is likely to be generated by these uses.  Unlike the downtown, where options exist for alternative transportation and transit, the Kingsway will be largely accessed by personal vehicles, along a single road.  Existing road priorities, such as widening MR 35, may need to be delayed or canceled in favour of needed work to make this area of the Kingsway accessible to traffic.  The good news, however, might be that dubious road projects like MR 35 widening may be reassessed by the City, given that there will be a shift in jobs and entertainment facilities from Azilda/Chelmsford to the Kingsway corridor, particularly if the casino were to co-locate on the Kingsway property.  At a time of population and economic stagnation, road projects like MR 35 are difficult to justify anyway.

There is also the matter of the appropriateness of lands set aside for industrial uses in the City’s Official Plan for the uses proposed – most of which, including a casino and a community events centre - do not appear to be in keeping with industrial area policies.  With specific regard to the community events centre, institutional uses and other community facilities do not appear to be contemplated in industrial areas.  To rezone these lands for a community events centre facility will be to ignore the policy direction of the Official Plan as it pertains to industrial uses – along with the other policy sections of the Plan that relate to the Downtown (Section 4.2.1 ) and Healthy Community (Section 16) policies, which promote the clustering of community facilities in walkable areas of the City.  In his desire to see a community events centre built on his Kingsway lands, the developer is asking Council to turn its back on our Official Plan – our guide for developing a strong future for all Greater Sudburians.  While PWC’s site assessment report indicates that the rezoning of this property may take as much as a year, given the significant and relevant policy issues and technical challenges that the uses proposed for this industrial property face, I suggest that zoning may take longer than a year to complete – and ultimately, changing the zoning on these lands to permit those uses may never come about.

Further, the ultimate costs of the developer’s vision have not been assessed.  While I understand that there are some numbers floating around with regards to how much the City might accrue through new taxation should all components of the developer’s vision come to fruition, I caution that those numbers appear to be dubious at best, and certainly nothing that I’ve seen takes into consideration the anticipated costs  of development in this location.  Basing a decision on anticipated benefits alone just isn’t sustainable – and anyone promoting even a back-of-the-envelope fiscal analysis that fails to consider both anticipated benefits and anticipated costs is doing our community an injustice.

I understand that the City is currently working on a report that will assess the costs of development in various parts of the municipality. Moving ahead with a massive new development proposal on the Kingsway at this time is incredibly premature, given this outstanding report which at least may provide some additional guidance regarding municipal cost expectations for development in this location.

And these are just the issues that are known. There are likely to be others which will only become apparent once necessary technical studies and evaluations of the site for the appropriateness of the proposed uses are made.  What is astounding is that no action to address any of the known issues by the developer appears to have occurred since his location was pitched to Council back in 2015.  There does not appear to have been any zoning by-law amendment application made.  Nor do the issues pertaining to traffic, species at risk and costs/benefits appear to have been addressed, at least based on information available to the public.  That these known issues have remained dormant and unaddressed by a developer who has insisted that he is sincere about his desire to develop is, frankly, difficult to understand.

For all of these reasons, Councillor Cormier, I ask that you consider that the best location for a community events centre is in our City’s downtown.   A downtown location is consistent with the city-building vision articulated for more than a decade in our strategic planning documents.  It’s a vision that has received significant public buy-in.  And it’s based on what subject matter experts have long insisted – that a strong, vibrant downtown core acts as the economic engine of our City.  Let’s keep that engine well-stoked, going forward.  At a time when our population is not expected to increase by very many people, the choices that are made now will resonate down through the decades.  Choices must be sustainable – fiscally, socially and environmentally. 

That’s why the downtown is the only viable option for an events centre.  The risks associated with selecting the other sites are just too great.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Motorsports in a Time of Climate Crisis: Sustainability Must Be Our Focus

It's 2017. Are we finally going to start taking the climate crisis seriously? Are we prepared to do more than just treat terms like “sustainability” and “low carbon economy” as meaningless buzz-words?  Are we finally going to acknowledge that we ought to be planning for the future that the market economy is already making a reality – a future based on clean, renewable energy - not fossil fuels?

I'm extremely troubled by a recent announcement here in my community.  At a time that we should be doing what we can to bury the internal combustion engine, a group of people here in my home town have decided to embrace recklessly emitting greenhouse gases for no other purpose than entertainment.  Yes, I'm talking about the recently announced Sudbury Motosports Park, which is intended to be built on my City's urban fringe as part of a massive, car-centred development initiative spear-headed by private developer, Dario Zulich (see: "Plan for True North motorsports park revealed," the Sudbury Star, June 5, 2017).

Look, I understand that vehicles powered by internal combustion engines remain a significant part of every day life for many in my community - and indeed, throughout the world.  After trying - and failing - to go car- free with my family this past winter, we were forced to acknowledge just how much we rely on our vehicle for getting around our City.  I get it. And I know that despite the switch that is on towards electric vehicles, it's going to take some time before the majority of vehicles on our roads are powered by anything other than greenhouse gas emitting petroleum and diesel fuels.

But I also know that the transportation sector is Ontario's largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, representing 35% of total provincial emissions (see: "Ontario's 5 Year Climate Change Action Plan," Government of Ontario - page 6).  And emissions in this sector are growing, thanks to population growth mainly in the southern part of the province, coupled with a severe lack of alternatives for people to get around.

The good news is that things are starting to change – the province appears to be committed to building the infrastructure we need in place to make the switch to electric vehicles.  Of course, I've been critical of our provincial Liberal government and Minister of Environment and Climate Change Glen Murray in particular, over the general lack of ambition contained in their Climate Change Action Plan (see: "Sudbury column: Climate change plan lacks ambition," the Sudbury Star, July 2, 2016).  Yet, credit where it's due – the government recognizes the issues with greenhouse gas growth from the transport sector and is taking action.

A recently released study from Stanford University economist Tony Seba predicts the imminent demise of the internal combustion engine within the next 8 years (see: "Stanford study says fossil-fueled cars will vanish in 8 years as ‘big oil’ collapses," Inhabitat, May 17, 2017).  I think that's an incredibly ambitious timeframe, but without a doubt, market forces that are making renewable energy cheaper, coupled with carbon pricing that is finally addressing the externalities of climate changing pollution, make the demise of fossil fueled vehicles inevitable. The writing is on the wall for internal combustion engines, and some nations are already looking ahead and doing what they can to hasten its demise (see: "Germany votes to ban internal combustion engine cars by 2030," Extremetech, October 10, 2016).

With all of this in mind, it is baffling to me why anyone would be proposing to establish a new  entertainment use that celebrates and glorifies the internal combustion engine – a sunset technology, and one responsible for so much of the harm caused to our atmosphere.  Yes, let's continue to use our personal vehicles wisely, as tools to get us from Point A to Point B until better alternatives become available. But the days of using fossil fuels for entertainment must come to an end, as U.K. environmental journalist George Monbiot suggested over 10 years ago (see: "How sport is killing the planet," the Guardian, October 29, 2006).  Real change has to come - and it starts with like-minded community members standing up for the planet and proclaiming that sustainability must be at the heart of our decisions.

And a motorsports park just isn't sustainable.  In 2017, it can't be justified.

Keep that in mind, because the group behind this carbon behemoth wants you to believe that their proposal will create jobs and lead to economic development.  And they may be right.  Of course, the tobacco industry also creates jobs.  As do those companies that build weapons of mass destruction.  Yes, I understand that comparing a motorsports park to the nuclear weapons industry and Big Tobacco is more than a little over-the-top.  But I'm being deliberately provocative to make a point: There are lots of ways of making money and creating jobs, but not all are moral. At this time of climate crisis, promoting jobs and economic development initiatives that will exacerbate the crisis is not a moral response.  Let me repeat that.  No moral economic development strategy can continue to rely on the use of fossil fuels for the exclusive purpose of entertainment.

Yes, I understand that the focus of this post here has been a new motosports park in my community, rather than railing against the Toronto Indy or Montreal Grand Prix – events which probably have far larger carbon footprints than will ever be achieved by motosports in Greater Sudbury.  Of course those other events have been around for a while – and yes, they ought to be phased out, unless racing organizations embrace the shift to electrical power vehicles ahead of the curve (and in fairness, there is some evidence that the industry is getting the message - see: "Wanted: Climate Scientists Who Can Save the Future of Racing," Jack Baruth, Road And Track, February 9, 2016).  The Indy and Grand Prix are problematic, that's for sure.  But their existence should not be an argument against standing up for establishing a new and needless greenhouse gas emitting entertainment venue in Greater Sudbury.

It's not even clear that a new motosports facility here would be a net fiscal boon for the City and us taxpayers.  When the City tried to justify the Maley Drive Extension, it did an admittedly poor cost benefit analysis that looked at the proposed benefit of saving greenhouse gas emissions, using an $88.5 per tonne price on carbon (see: "Some Initial Observations on the New Cost / Benefit Analysis for the Maley Drive Extension,", November 3, 2015).  If a similar cost/benefit analysis were prepared based on projected greenhouse gas emissions from the motosports facility, how much will the public be on the hook for when it comes to the social costs of carbon pollution?  Keep in mind that carbon pollution represents a real cost to taxpayers through higher health-related costs, higher insurance premiums and climate change adaptation costs.  These costs aren't make-believe. Business and industry are already building these costs into their corporate investment strategies (see: "The true cost of carbon pollution," Environmental Defense Fund).

These motorsports folks have been trying to move their initiative forward for some time now.  I would have expected to be reading about the work that they've done to justify their new entertainment facility, and to reassure the public that greenhouse gas emissions will be minimized and paid for by the organization or facility users, and how those costs underpin their financial plan. That's the kind of analysis that the public expects nowadays – especially from a high-carbon enterprise.  And especially especially from one which is relying on the use of fossil fuels strictly for the purpose of entertainment. But there's nothing like this posted on their website.

Of course, the City of Greater Sudbury needs to undertake it's due diligence as well. How will this carbon-centred motorsports park fit in with the greenhouse gas reduction initiatives identified in City's own climate change plan (see: "The EarthCare Sudbury Local Action Plan" City of Greater Sudbury, 2003)? Will this help or hinder us in meeting our emissions reduction targets?  And here the City will need to look at more than just the greenhouse gases that are emitted from racing and the transport of vehicles and the public to and from the venue located on the fringe of our urban area (and the extension and expansion of infrastructure needed to support that initiative).  The City should be assessing the comprehensive carbon costs of creating a new entertainment complex on the urban periphery – and what that means in terms of contributing to the carbon costs of urban sprawl.

Yes, I understand that these sorts of studies may take some time, and generally speaking, even when they have been undertaken, they usually fall short (as in the case of the Maley Drive cost/benefit analysis).  Making announcements is easy - but undertaking the necessary hard work to inform decision makers and the public about a range of issues is necessary if we are going to take the concept of evidence-based decision making seriously - something which we must do, if we are to take the notion of sustainability seriously. Not studying an issue because it's too costly is simply unacceptable, and no PR campaign can change that.

Of course, on this matter, the City may be out in front of the curve, with a study expected to be completed this summer that looks at the costs of urban sprawl throughout the City and impacts on the City's bottom line (see: "Decision on splitting, developing rural lands delayed," sudburydotcom, May 29, 2017). At a time when the experts are proclaiming that our population will remain stagnant or be reduced in the coming decades (see: "Population in Sudbury District to drop - updated, the Sudbury Star, May 13, 2017), it's even more important that we look at fiscal sustainability as the primary guiding principle for any new development initiative.

Can we develop a motorsports entertainment facility here in Greater Sudbury that is sustainable?  Yes, I believe we can, but the challenges will be significant, as the only moral way forward will be to rely on the use of renewable energy – and not fossil fuels.  That's just not in the cards for any motosports facility currently being contemplated anywhere.  And that's all the more reason that we have to start changing our thinking about entertainment, economic development and job creation.

College Boreal was identified as a potential partner for this motorsports complex.  I strongly suggest that publicly-funded institutions like our post-secondary education institutions should be doing their own due diligence with regards to the initiatives that they are backing and with whom they are partnering.  For those, like me, who are extremely concerned about motorsports and climate change, it should be obvious that College Boreal should be encouraged to give their backing a rethink at this time.

The same, of course, applies to our provincial government, for the land being eyed by the Sudbury motorsports group is currently in Crown ownership.  Release of Crown lands for the purpose of creating a high-carbon entertainment facility is, I suggest, not in the long-term interests of the province.  The Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, Kathryn McGarry, should be reminded of this at every opportunity.  The Minister should also be reminded that there is a naturally occurring wetland on this site that may include the habitat of threatened and endangered species – an issue raised by the MNR with regards to lands located just to the south of this Crown parcel (and yes, I am referring here to the lands that Mr. Zulich wants to build his events centre on - see: "Request for Decision, Application for rezoning in order to permit the development of a complex with office, hotel, bulk retail, warehouse, and commercial recreation centre uses. Kingsway, Sudbury - 1777222 Ontario Ltd. & 1777223 Ontario Ltd.," City of Greater Sudbury, Agendas Online, September 12, 2014).

By the way, you can remind the Minister of her government's obligation to protect threatened whip-poor-will and blanding's turtles under the Endangered Species Act by writing to her at:

The potential presence of species at risk habitat on this parcel should have been something that the motorsports group already explored – if for no other reason than to shut people like me up for raising it as an issue. Likewise, I would have expected the motorsports group to have entered into consultation with area First Nations about this parcel. Perhaps they've been looking after species at risk and First Nations issues both, despite the absence of information they've made available to the public on their website or at the media scrum they held earlier this week.  Maybe I just don't know about it - which is more than possible, given that I've not been plugged into what this group has been doing.  Given the involvement of a publicly-funded institution, College Boreal, it may very well be that these issues have all been looked after.  Why else would College Boreal want to be a associated with a proposal that would see greenhouse gas spewing vehicles occupy a wetland that once was the habitat of threatened species? Why else would College Boreal want to associate themselves with a proposal from a group that hadn't reached out to area First Nations to determine their thoughts on exacerbating the climate crisis?  Maybe if I were the kind of person that really wanted to know about what went into College Boreal's decision-making process to involve themselves in this initiative, I'd email College Boreal President Daniel Giroux at and ask him.

It's 2017.  We can do better.  We must do better.  The future requires it of us – it requires us to finally start getting our act together and planning for the things that we need to be doing to aggressively wean ourselves off of fossil fuels.  It requires us to remind and prod our governments and public institutions that the status quo on fossil energy is no longer acceptable.  The future requires us to change our ways - and change our ways we must.

A motorsports park in my community?  No. It's time to draw the line.  We can't keep doing this. It is not moral, just, or sustainable. It fails our children and grandchildren out to the seventh generation.  It is not helping build the low-carbon future that we know we must build.  In fact, it will hinder its progress.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Trump, Trudeau and Notley: North America’s Carbon Triumvirate

Green economy is booming.    The price of renewable energy is falling.  While climate changing fossil fuels remain an essential component in our current energy mix, all signs point to a collapse in demand within the next few decades.  Investing in clean, green energy to power our future is proving to be good for the economy – and that’s good news for the planet.

Green job growth is outpacing job creation in the fossil fuel sector.  The International Renewable Energy Agency’s (IRENA) 2017 Annual Jobs Review report tells the story:  in 2016, the renewable energy sector employed 8.3 million people, with a growth rate of 2.8%.  By 2030, IRENA estimates there will be 24 million people employed in the renewable energy sector (see: “Global Green Energy Job Count Approaches the 10 Million Mark,” Green Tech Media, May 31, 2017).

The on-going good news about green job growth makes President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement that much more puzzling.  If Trump wants to throttle the clean energy sector in the U.S. out of some misguided belief that protecting vanishing fossil fueled jobs at the expense of green tech innovation is in America’s long-term economic interest, so be it. The rest of the world is sure to profit.

But what about Canada?  Trump isn’t the only one betting against the low carbon economy.  Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley made headlines this week when they called for a business as usual on approach to the Trans Mountain pipeline (see:“B.C. has no exclusive claim on its coast, Alberta premier warns pipeline foes,” CBC News, May 31, 2017).  That project came under fire after British Columbia NDP leader John Horgan announced he had reached a deal with B.C. Green leader Andrew Weaver to form a government-in-waiting, contingent upon the new B.C. government doing all that it can to stop the pipeline (see:“A historic moment for B.C. politics – and our environment,” Kathryn Harrison, the Globe and Mail, May 31, 2017).

Of course, ‘business as usual’ for Notley and Trudeau means a commitment to almost doubling tar sands emissions by 2030.  That’s the dirty little secret buried in Alberta’s much hyped Climate Plan: almost all of the emissions reduced by eliminating coal plants and pricing carbon will be offset by growing the tar sands.  A real reduction in emissions isn’t expected until sometime after 2030 (see: “Opinion: Alberta's climate plan stands in the way of Canada's,” Gordon Laxer, the Edmonton Journal, December 3, 2015). 

With national emissions continuing to rise, Canada finds itself on course to blow through our 2020 and 2030 targets.  And despite what the federal Liberals insist, there is no credible plan to get us on track (see:“The Case for Phasing Out Alberta’s Tar Sands,” Gordon Laxer,, May 23, 2017). Trudeau’s climate ignorance was on display earlier this year, when at a gathering of Big Oil big shots in Houston, he stated that “no country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and leave them there.” (see: "Trudeau: 'No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and leave them there'," CBC, March 10, 2017).  If Canada is serious about holding global warming to just 2 degrees Celsius, quite clearly we’re going to have to leave a lot of that oil in the ground – perhaps as much as 80% of it.
If the future outlook for the green economy seems so secure, why the pushback from the carbon triumvirate of Trump, Trudeau and Notley?  Trump at least is being honest with his intentions – meaning that he’s made it clear that he has no intention of helping the world limit warming – maybe because he believes climate change is a hoax. Here in Canada, the Trudeau and Notley’s spin machines are doing what they can to convince Canadians that ‘legitimate’ climate plans include building new pipelines and growing the tar sands (see:“Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Kinder Morgan pipeline part of Canada's climate plan,” the Vancouver Sun, December 20, 2016)  – propositions soundly rejected by voters in the recent B.C. election. 

Trump, Trudeau and Notley can’t turn the tide of history and prevent the emergence of the green economy . But together, the three of them might just influence whether North America will be leader or a laggard in a low-carbon future.

One last thing about those renewable energy jobs reported by IRENA: almost half of them are in China.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

This post originally appeared in the Sudbury Star, as "Sudbury Column: North America's carbon 'triumvirate'" online and in print, June 3, 2017 - without hyperlinks.