Our Reply to Mr. McIvor

This is our reply to Mr. McIvor’s letter. It was submitted to The Guardian for publication on March 27, 2007.

To the Editor:

I noted with interest the opinion piece by Gordon McIvor of Canada Lands Company concerning the development of the Upton Farmlands (“Upton Farm: it’ll offer enjoyable public green space,” The Guardian, March 26, 2007).

Mr. MacIvor puts great emphasis on CLC’s supposed consultation with the residents of Charlottetown on the fate of this 246-acre area of publicly-owned greenspace, which borders the North River and straddles the highway at the western gateway to the city.He mentions a design “charette,” which is an urban planning buzzword, basically meaning a visioning exercise. What he does not mention is that of the two visioning exercises done, one was conducted by Dalhousie University’s School of Architecture in Halifax; the other, while done in Charlottetown, had a majority of participants from Moncton, Toronto and Vancouver. Neither group actually walked the property, since the visioning exercises were held in February 2003 and there was a deep layer of snow on the ground at the time. As a matter of fact, the Dalhousie group never even visited the property and the Charlottetown group merely “viewed it from the perimeter.” So much for familiarity with the land and community input.

Mr. McIvor says the results of these visioning studies were presented to the public in 2003 at public meetings. Those meetings were held on July 10 and 16, 2003, the middle of summer holiday season. On July 19, 2003, Charlottetown resident Lloyd B. MacLeod wrote in a letter to The Guardian: “How many people attended this particular public input session? Not too many. When I left at about 8:15 p.m. there were several Canada Lands staff, two city councillors and the city planner and no more than five or six private citizens . . . ”  Given the dates of the meetings, a low turnout of residents is not surprising. So much for community input.

Mr. McIvor refers to the Upton Farm Advisory Group. This was a committee whose members were hand-picked by CLC. While it was composed of six respected citizens, there was no representation from the health, recreation or environment sectors. Its mandate, set by CLC, was to create a set of guiding principles for the development of the property. The option to keep the property as greenspace was never part of the mandate given this committee.

Mr. McIvor refers to two more public meetings after the master plan for the property was presented. A quick perusal of the minutes of these meetings (available on the City of Charlottetown website) will reveal that the public input was overwhelmingly negative to the development plans. Indeed, Mayor Clifford Lee himself was quoted in the Guardian in April 2005 as saying he wanted the traffic concerns engendered by a 350-unit subdivision solved before Council would approve the development. That led to the second public meeting held in June 2005. At that meeting, the results of a traffic study, done by a company contracted by CLC and paid for by CLC, indicated that a development composed of 350 new housing units would have no appreciable effect on traffic in the area. This result, understandably, was met by disbelief and protest by the residents and ultimately led to the creation of the Upton Farmlands Preservation Network.

Mr. McIvor refers to the significant greenspace that will be left for the residents of Charlottetown to enjoy after the development of the Upton Farmlands.First of all, plans are not even in place for the property north of the highway, so I’m not sure if he is aware how much greenspace will be left. Secondly, what has been presented as a “concept plan” for the Maypoint subdivision on the south side of the highway featuring a public square and a 23-metre walking trail along the river, is exactly that, a “concept.” Local real estate agents will tell you that what will be put on that property will be what the market demands. The resulting product can be devastating to the existing neighbourhood, as was discovered in Ottawa, where CLC redeveloped a significant piece of property known as the Rideau Veterans’ Lands.

This is from a story printed Nov. 30, 2005 in the Ottawa Citizen:

“The community is stunned and disappointed . . . CLC was really good to talk and discuss points with,” [Peter Hume, Ottawa City Councillor] says. “The real problem is that when they sold the land, they had no design control over the developer . . . ”

Another quote:

“[The] past president of the Faircrest Heights residents’ association, says area residents are ‘appalled’ at the result. “Things tend to get compromised along the way,” he says. “The builder and CLC are always looking for ways to increase their return. What you agree to in the beginning is a lot better than what you can expect to get at the other end.”

The Citizen article also points out that the people running CLC come primarily from real estate backgrounds. There is certainly nothing wrong with that, but it can colour how one views a piece of property. The CLC is in the business of “optimizing” the value of the properties it is selling for the federal government. In its opinion that means selling the land for development, not keeping it as greenspace.

However, despite being in the same business, Mr. McIvor does not appear too concerned about the interests of local real estate developers. There are right now 273 building lots with infrastructure in place ready to be built on in the Winsloe-West Royalty area, the same area in which the Upton Farmlands are located. What impact adding a 350-unit housing development into this already overcrowded real estate market will have on the owners of these properties does not merit comment in Mr. McIvor’s opinion piece.

Thus, while Mr. McIvor may be correct in saying there was consultation, upon closer examination the so-called consultation clearly resembles a process that was designed to arrive at a pre-determined conclusion. Otherwise, why would CLC have chosen to consult in the middle of the summer when Islanders are busy and preoccupied? Why did CLC choose mostly off-Island individuals who likely have never even set foot on the land to craft the vision for the property?

Mr. McIvor is not fooling anyone. CLC is in the business of making money and it is by no coincidence that it has orchestrated a process that serves its mandate. Selling off publicly-owned greenspace piece by piece to developers will certainly make CLC and its business partners money, likely a lot of money, but it does nothing to serve the interests of Islanders.

This quote, I believe, sums up CLC’s corporate ethos. It is taken from a 2002 Market Analysis done for the company by Baker Consulting, and refers to the Upton Farmlands property: “While the city [of Charlottetown] or province [of P.E.I.] would unquestionably be interested in the property at low cost/no cost . . . this would not be financially attractive to CLC.”

Anyone desiring more information about this issue is invited to check out www.saveuptonfarm.com.