Tuesday, 3 February 2015

City Council's Discretionary Decision Making

Good afternoon Regina!

There have been some comments made by our Mayor and Council Members in the past few days that are pretty concerning, regarding the proposed strip club that the Regina Planning Commission approved (Councillor O'Donnell was one of those voting members), and City Council subsequently denied. These comments, coupled with a review of the January 26 City Council Meeting, bring up some serious questions that few have asked, and certainly deserve further attention.

The first comment I refer to is Mayor Fougere speaking to how a "future application" may be granted. For those that aren't aware, the applicant for this strip club is from out of town, and thus would be considered to be an "outsider" by many. This is important because of the fact that City Hall is well known in the development industry to be "less than cordial" to outsiders. Outsiders are given a much harder time when wanting to develop in Regina, than say, Harvard Developments or Dundee Developments. One prominent example is that of Wascana Village, which is looking to develop just outside of Regina. I recall speaking to the developer at one meeting, where it was made very evident that they wanted to do some work within the City of Regina, but it was made virtually impossible and they were given many roadblocks that they had not experienced in any other jurisdiction where they had developed previously.

What is concerning to me is what could possibly be that "future application". If you review the City Council Meeting video (available on the regina.ca website), you will note that City Council members focused far more on the actual business plan, than whether or not it fit with the required bylaws and guidelines. Was this to gain more of an understanding of a business venture they (or friends/associates) might be looking to get into? Was this to force an impression that this kind of industry was not welcomed in our City, but may be "in the future" when they (or their associates) have their business plan ready to go? What, exactly, did this application lack, that a "future application" may include that will meet the very-discretionary judgement of City Council?

Given Council's reputation for not giving into the "vocal minority", it is very difficult to believe that they would simply give in to a few delegations and a petition that is certainly lacking in any validity, in comparison to those of say the WWTP or the Stadium petitions and pushback. This leads me to believe that there is certainly an ulterior motive in their decision on Monday. If this is the case, there are even more questions than there will ever be answers.

In the end, the big questions that have yet to be answered:
What, exactly, was lacking from this application?
What could be done in future applications in order for Council to approve it? 

After everything is said and done, the point of these applications and subsequent approval or denial is to learn for the future. If Council is unwilling to provide recommendations for future applications, and leave so many questions in the air, then they should not deny any such application. Simply denying because it is "unsavoury" behaviour (their words) is not in their jurisdiction. Simply denying because they don't like the idea of acknowledging an industry that is already very prevalent in Regina is not in their jurisdiction. The fact of the matter is, as a business - a legal one at that - let the residents demonstrate if they want this in our community or not. And, not by a select few attending a meeting, but by providing support in the form of patronage. If enough residents support the business idea, then the business will be successful. If they do not, then the market has spoken, and it will have to close.

Finally, Mayor Fougere, and other Councillors, made it perfectly clear on January 26. They claimed they didn't see much public support of such a facility. I'm not sure which sand dune they had their head buried in this time, but could the same not be said for the WWTP and Stadium projects? Where was the public support there? Mayor Fougere claimed that those in support of projects "don't go to rallies". This is selective listening at best, and if they truly wanted to hear from the public, well, now they are getting their chance through the Petition that has quickly garnered over 2,000 signatures in only a matter of days. Far more signatures than those that were submitted to Council on January 26 in opposition to this application.*

*Note: Councillors claimed that there were "thousands" of signatures on submitted petitions. If you review the Council documents, it appears there were more like 200-250 that signed the three petitions (in total) that were circulated, some of which were even duplicate signatures.