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GUEST OPINION: Council gives in to developer's wish list

This is an artist concept drawing of the proposed eight-storey, 99-unit apartment building for Haviland Street in Charlottetown.
This is an artist concept drawing of the proposed eight-storey, 99-unit apartment building for Haviland Street in Charlottetown. - Contributed

Doug MacArthur
Guest opinion

Having played an active role in Charlottetown development since the 1970s, I am concerned by the City of Charlottetown's current development approval process, particularly as applied to the proposed 99-unit apartment building on the Haviland Street waterfront. Unless our mayor and council act, the largest apartment building in our city's history, on one of the most important sites in our city, will be formally approved shortly. This should not happen.

The city's review/approval process regarding 15 Havilland is not sufficiently factual and is totally insufficient for a project of this size and scope. I understand that a developer's primary objective is to maximize profit by obtaining the most favourable terms possible for his project. The city should have entirely different objectives which, in the case of this project, have not been pursued or achieved, and which will be with us for the next 100 years. Instead, the city seems to have acted as Santa Claus, giving the developer everything on his wish list.

The city process for reviewing and approving this project is that a design review committee, with input from a design reviewer (a Fredericton, N.B. architect in this case), assesses the project, and if the committee and the reviewer agree on the merits of the project, it is approved with no public, nor city council input. In this Haviland Street case, the committee met for 17 minutes, including the developer's presentation, and immediately approved the project. For his part, the design reviewer provided a letter in support of the project and was paid a $1,500 fee by the city. So, this multi-million-dollar project received a total of 17 minutes and $1,500 of scrutiny in order to be approved.

Here are a few of the errors and omissions which occurred in this 15 Haviland St. case. The design committee approved a project with six floors of apartments when the drawings clearly show a full seven floors of apartments. Although the developer's plans cite a 10-storey building, the design committee considers it an eight-storey building for questionable reasons. The design committee gives an additional  "two-storey height bonus" (from the normally allowable six stories) because of purported public benefits of the project, including green roof, public art gallery and licensing the waterside boardwalk for public use. There appears to be no particulars provided regarding the green roof, nor that the public art gallery is no more than a subsidized rent offer, nor that the developer simply allows to continue the public boardwalk already in place. The design committee seems to have simply accepted that these dubious benefits are a fair exchange for a two-storey increase above the allowable height of the building.

The design reviewer's letter, in its quick review of the visual impact of the building on this unique site, does not even consider the proposed building's visual impact on cruise ship passengers entering the harbour, or on waterfront views from Victoria Park or Fort Amherst. For a building so out of scale (10 stories high compared to even the five-storey adjacent former Sacred Heart Home) and clad in materials which are inconsistent with its neighbours, there should be concern about the visual impact well beyond the immediate neighbourhood. The design reviewer also does not adequately address how the proposed building meets the requirements of the Waterfront Plan, nor does he make clear how/if other issues are to be addressed. In fairness, the city probably received $1,500 value for the design reviewer's input, but a project of this size and complexity requires far more analysis than $1,500 will buy.

Unfortunately, the design committee, with input from the design reviewer, have been given authority to approve projects like 15 Haviland St. without any public or city council input. However, that authority needs to be questioned when it is obvious that there have been significant deficiencies in the approval process. This is such a case. I urge city council to transparently review the process so that if this project is ultimately approved, modified or turned down, it is done in a fashion which considers all the facts, rather than being rubber stamped in 17 minutes and for $1,500. We, as city residents, have a right to expect that much of our mayor and council. 

Doug MacArthur is an economist who played a project management role in Charlottetown redevelopment for many years and who has planned and managed major development projects around the world.


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