Random Grouping

Quadrennial Springtime, and some citizens are sounding like they’ll run for Mayor or Councillor. At least some are thinking, hopefully many will offer their skills and intelligence. I think we’ve got more people involved in opposition than I can remember. but the burning question is how many will run and on what platforms?

In Hudson’s last municipal election, at their request, I met with and spoke impartially to both mayoral candidates. I was very pleased that we had two actual thinking candidates with real world experience running for mayor and contested races in all sectors for the first time since I can remember. I don’t charge for advice and always warn that anything they learn will be worth exactly what they paid for it.

It’s not rocket science, the major concerns of Hudson are really obvious and both candidates had similar questions. But each candidate had a different approach. Mayor Prevost chose, for reasons he felt comfortable with,  to run without a cohort of potential Councillors while the other candidate ran a complete slate covering all electoral districts.

When you have only six Councillors to be elected, a potential mayor without a slate will have to make do with what’s chosen for them, while a potential mayor with a slate will usually not run the table and will have to do what’s chosen for them.  The difference might be that the potential mayor with a slate will have more minds engaged to formulate a platform and might therefore be able to cohesively gel into group action more quickly. I don’t think that’s been a problem for Mayor Prevost, with one obvious exception, he’s had the visible support of all elected throughout his term.

Both candidates last election developed comprehensive platforms for a wide range of Hudson issues, and both were equally in the dark about the reality they might find on the other side of the polls. My sincere feeling is that neither could have expected or planned for the depth of the challenges they’d face. Thankfully, both were just oblivious enough to what they were undertaking that by running they gifted us with an actual election and public discussion of issues.

We’ve been blessed to have some gumption and resolve in spite of poor health, loud negative noise and many other issues that might have caused lesser souls to bail out with justification. I feel that we, as a town’s people’ have contributed to and watched the negative toll on Ed Prevost’s health. When one is ill, one hopes for peace that he didn’t have, and I’m proud that Mayor Prevost has never allowed himself the use of his health as an excuse but has stayed calm and soldiered on. He and his wife and family are owed our sincere thanks for diligence and selflessness under trying conditions.

As we look towards the November 2017 we, as a public, should have a much better idea of what was wrong and has been fixed, what remains wrong, and what has been done wrong in this term. That’s not criticism, it’s the reality that no government is perfect. In the essence of any democracy, massive success is a very low passing grade of 50% of those who choose to speak, of those even willing to express an opinion. So, if only 49% of a populace want to tar and feather you, you’re exceptional.

There’s no time like the present to ask questions of potential candidates, but at the least we should be seriously planning the questions we wish to ask of candidates who may run. If we prepare by understandings how we intend to judge a good candidate from a less good candidate maybe we’ll make fewer mistakes and get better people.

Feel free to list them as comments on this blog, any candidate who doesn’t read this and other blogs won’t help much. What are your major concerns, what can you live with, what can’t you live without, what do you see as Hudson’s future? Are your platform and concerns balanced against the possible withing municipal law and the good of all citizens?

If you don’t think Hudson needs change and like it just the way it is, frankly go stick your head back in the sand, because without significant changes we’re all going to be getting our asses kicked badly for a long time to come.

One person can’t change Hudson. Six Councillors and a Mayor can’t change Hudson. The primary responsibility of democracy shares the burden of change with all electors equally. To be successful that demands interest and involvement that generates knowledge among the majority so that they may understand the sacrifices and benefits of any proposal on a community wide basis.

Let’s prepare and welcome the discussion with measured caution and serious questions that stop us staring at the past assigning blame and start us looking towards a brighter and happy future for all in Hudson.

 

 

 

 

Developing Backwards

Most important point you need to accept: There will be significant new development in Hudson. If you can’t accept that, I can’t help you and won’t argue with you, because you’re one of the Ostriches I referred to in another blog post, and you just haven’t been paying attention as our expenses have tripled, our population hasn’t changed and our infrastructure crumbles while we defer debt repayment.

We’re so far past the point of being able to just cut expenses to not develop that the only thing we really need to discuss is how we develop to build a better Hudson if we can save Hudson. And we’re horribly out of sync with the MRC and MMC densification mandates, we never liked those alphabet soup overseers much did we?

Pine Beach is water under the dam, it’s going to happen.We have non-negotiated ourselves against a cliff edge against far superior forces holding more cards. The developer will get it approved by a this Council or the next, because there’s too much at stake and we’re holding no aces and have no chips left.  Wasting breath arguing or trying to change it will lead nowhere, Council should seek reasonable accommodations and make it happen quickly.

We have a planning department. Sue me, but the facts say we big spend piles of money annually to plan, yet we don’t yet have a plan. That’s not a planning department problem, our planners are good enough to get raises, so let’s call it  a leadership and community visions problem through successive Councils and DGs. We’re years behind on drafting, submitting and getting a PMAD plan approved by the MRC, we ask for and miss extension after extension. PMAD is important to what Hudson looks like in the future, but we’re not having visible public consultations and discussion so one day we’ll have to rush one through.

We’ve got a desire to build on the Green and Sustainable cachets, but we don’t have a viable plan to get there. We’ve got a casual interest in hobby sized community sustainable farming but without a plan and some funding to make it enhance the revenue or value of Hudson it’ll be a distracting vanity illusion of progress leading nowhere.

I think we’re reacting rather than acting, being blown by the winds of many mouths, and I know we need to change the way we’re doing things to ever get results.

We need to stop waiting for the right solution to find us and get out and find the right partners to build what we want our future to look like. Start at the end we want to get to and work backwards:

As a community, let’s quickly spend some significant effort shopping for, finding and understanding some great development projects in other places that are best case examples of sustainability, accessibility, community building and quality of life. We have some great passionate citizens who understand planning and sustainability, if not the financial constraints or marketability. Merge some of those ideas with a bit of reality and we could find some winning ideas.

The potential solutions should span the range of downtown Hudson redevelopment to ruralish proximity to sustainable farming. The Scandinavians could be a great inspiration, as would the Dutch and other small communities in Canada. They need to be price competitive within their market, or have valid cost justification when transplanted to our market. We have worldly citizens who might provide insight into places they’ve seen in their travels.

Face it, if we don’t have a plan and can’t agree on what we want, developers and builders won’t waste their time here. So nail that down and once we know what we want, let’s seek some builders and developers interested in building a model small community of the future project as a toe-hold into the Canadian or Quebec market. This excludes 90% of the builders in Canada, but doesn’t preclude some interesting semi-custom modular home builders like Bonneville who might like to push their envelope of sustainability.

Let’s welcome and help any such builder find good land in Hudson, bust our asses to rezone it, and help them to seek Federal and Provincial funding for energy and water efficiency and sustainability.Wind, solar, community geothermal and every other showcase technology could have a place.

It’s really hard to move forwards when you’re doing things backwards. Let’s change how we’re approaching development, understand that we need development and try to do our best to shape that development into something we’d want to live in, a town of the future with a deep rooted past.

Warning, I have the keys to this blog and I’m not afraid to use them. I will aggressively delete any arguments or discussion that simply deny the need for Hudson to develop, no flat earthers needed here today.

Why not Omnibus Referendum?

This was not my idea, it’s mostly  Jim Duff’s and evolved in a conversation we had this week. He’s down with a horrid made in Japan Man Cold and maybe he’s slower than usual. Over the years he’s freely stolen and scooped many of my good ideas, sometimes with credit, so I’m thrilled that finally Jim’s had one really good idea worth beating him to the punch on.

There was a much derided omnibus bill early in the Prevost administration, so I hesitate to use that word here, but what I’m thinking is an Omnibus Referendum.

We have so many contentious issues and plans in Hudson that it might be time to hold a constructive multi-questioned omnibus referendum.I’d hate to ask our town lawyers and I’m not sure what the legal issues are about polling outside of a proposed bylaw for some of these, but those would just be directional opinion polling of all interested citizens.

Sandy/Pine Beach as re-proposed by the developer would top the agenda for me. Propose the bylaw required, skip the signing process and simply promise a referendum. The developer needs and deserves a clear statement of the general public, not Council, sentiment.

Mayfair semi-detached re-zoning would be important.

Let the Ellerbecks table their latest plans and have the town judge thumbs up or thumbs down.

Pine Lake repair. Table an estimated cost and see what the townspeople say about finally fixing it.

What about rezoning R-55 for a more marketable use like mixed townhouses, residences and condos linked to the sewers? Have town planning propose some densities and lot sizes and see how the people really feel about it.

I’d go long on several points like the Arts Center in the strategic plan, acceptable future development levels, water supply, spending priorities like recreation versus paving, zoning guidance like height limits and lot sizes in the downtown core.

There’s room for a few more, probably any more than ten issues would overwhelm the jungle drums and rumour mills in Hudson.

Hold a series of public meetings or question periods on the issues, several per meeting should be fine. For and against Facebook pages could evolve on the issues.

This would really ask the people at large what the Town of Hudson’s priorities should be. No one can hide from the results, everyone needs to be guided by the results and in the case of proposed bylaws we could be bound by the results.

We’d get a lot of bang for our buck all at once, unblock or kill some critical issues quickly, and generally force discussions into the light of day.  At the worst case, it would give those considering seeking office in the next election, as well as sitting Councillors who might run again a solid feel of the average people’s thinking.

 

Ostriches, Grackles and Eagles

There will be a lot of discussion between now and November and I look forward to some hopefully positive changes and discussions between now and then. We need to look at ourselves before we decide what kind of leaders we need.

In spite of what you hear on places like this, and at great personal risk of repetitive attacks  for my position, I rate the satisfaction level of Hudson with the Prevost government to be at least in the high 80’s to low 90’s. Before the viper pens launch hordes of verbal drone attacks, that’s not my opinion but what I can only call the “Perceived Satisfaction Rate”.

The totality of the consistently vocal opposition is less than 200 people in a town of 5100, those who are really angry number less than 100. These scattered opposition groups are not cohesively organized to a common voice, and because most are narrow focused they do not have a complete vision of the problems, current situation and possible solutions.

If the dreamers and idealists really want change in Hudson after November, they will have to find balance and a cohesive platform from the subset of the possible reduced to a further subset of what might work in Hudson and that appeals to a large majority of Hudson’s taxpayer voters.

The proper running of a town, day to day, is not the Mayor or Council’s task. Their task is to consult, guide and oversee rather than do.

The Prevost government inherited the net results of not just a criminal insider, but of decades of inadequate oversight by a succession of councils. That crook took us for  $1.1 million over a decade, but lack of oversight and guidance by successive Councils cost us many millions more in dollars and the ensuing gridlock to find the depth of the swamp and drain it.

Inexperienced Mayor and Council, a bad choice of hangover DG from the last Council, and thin skins within our town employees and  on Council quickly devolved into some form of legal hell piled on top of the legal hell we were in already. The tar usually boiled for Council caught fire and there wasn’t enough water in town to do anything but mostly contain the flames to monthly Council meetings.

I’m proud of the Prevost Council for enduring and soldiering on, accomplishing much along the way and surviving intact save one that I’ll never opine on the whys of. Bringing our accounting to audited standards from the criminal double booked accounting we had was no easy feat. They’ve aimed too high on a strategic plan and not focused enough on JUST FIX IT, but hell that they aimed high is endearing to me. Failure is the price of progress.

The biggest problem that any government faces in Hudson is that we have about 90% Ostriches scattered everywhere and only a few noisy Grackles. I wrote in a column years ago that if you’re an ostrich with your head in the sand, it’s only a matter of time before someone kicks you in the ass. Ostriches in the sand don’t say anything, the Grackles make almost all the noise.

“Don’t change my Hudson, it’s perfect” is the repetitive call of Hudson’s Ostriches.

“We hate everything about your Council and want you gone” is the call of Hudson’s Grackles who have no options but to wait noisily.

When queried about satisfaction, Ostriches pull their head up momentarily and say “everything’s fine” and go back to the warm comfort of darkness. Watch out for Ostriches, when awakened suddenly to really awful news they can get nasty, lash out and kill. This year’s tax bills didn’t wake enough of them, our worsening crumbling infrastructure didn’t wake enough of them, our massive expansion in legal fees didn’t wake enough of them, our growth in bureaucracy didn’t wake enough of them so it’s easy to presume they’re content.

So, as we look forward to November we must seek the toughest and best damned loud mouthed Ostrich herder we can find to awaken the Hudson Ostriches, bring them up to date on how bad the situation is and what needs to be done and get started rebuilding our community vision and involvement.

What I do know is that Grackles can’t herd Ostriches and Ostriches can’t herd Ostriches.

I think we need a a very rare bird call a “Thick Skinned No Bull Eagle”, either the bald or the hairy kind and gender is not important. Eagles fly above the noise and have developed a vision and confidence based in intelligence. Eagles are respected by the Ostriches and feared by the Grackles at the same time. We’ve tried hummingbirds and chickens and failed, so please no more hummingbirds or chickens.

All I want for Christmas is seven Thick Skinned No Bull Eagles to JUST FIX IT.

Mayfair choices

The proposed rezoning on Mayfair received enough (91 versus 83 required) signatures to force a referendum to pass the bylaw, or the bylaw is basically dead. Unless the town doesn’t listen and decides to fund a referendum to test the will of those who signed the register against the desire to build. I see both sides and agree in part with both views.

It’s not my style or taste, frankly I like eclectic diverse villages and am generally an anti-enclave.  I own 18,000 square feet of grass, hedges and trees in the village and frankly it’s a lot of work and cost, so I was never fond of the 30,000 square foot minimum set at that time it was zoned for Alstonvale and Hudson’s Valleys.

Nor am I fond of perpetual binding community development agreements with strict limits to what can be built including surfaces and exterior. That said, both developments are great assets to Hudson and I’m glad they have filled up and added to our population and taxation rolls. Hudson never really welcomed and included that area in our collective thinking to match the value that has been added to our town.

All that said, those current owners who built and bought those beautiful brick and stone homes with uni-stone driveways  have a clear right to protect their investment by resisting change as they see fit. Essentially the current community are able to hoist the developer on his own petard and prevent the changes that could make selling and building that short vacant section of Mayfair easier in today’s marketplace. I do wonder how much the proposed changes could have actually shifted the marketplace or value of the existing homes.

I think on this round one that we’ve missed a good  opportunity for some smaller high end homes with lower operating costs. I’ve lived in a fine old Montreal downtown row house and semi-detached street two blocks from the old Montreal forum. Well built multi-story brick homes with slate roofs, lane for garage and services access. A great place to live, populated by average people through captains of industry  as I might have expected the semi-detached homes on Mayfair would be great places to live.

I’ll anxiously await the decision of the town as well as any revisions they developer might try to make to resurrect this project. Frankly I’d rather see homes than vacant lots, a completed community rather than an unfinished one.

I’ll state clearly that I’m against the cost and divisive process of a referendum. I believe that it’s really all in the hands of the developer now, perhaps he can revise and persuade through something  that will be different enough to be acceptable to the affected community.

I really do hope they try again and eventually succeed, the marketplace and market pricing  for large brick mansions is shrinking as quickly as our town spending is rising and we don’t really need more huge homes.

The details, our soul is all in the details

Like Johnny Carson as Karnak, I’m holding the sealed envelope to my turban and looking into the future. I see:

I can’t shake the feeling that Hudson Council will simply table a rezoning of Sandy Beach exactly as per the developers Pine Beach proposal. This may even happen Monday night at March council.

Hudson should, in my opinion, but likely won’t charge the developer either a per connection or blanket contribution for the infrastructure of Hudson’s Brick Shithouse Sewage Treatment Plant. The explanation will be that we have the capacity and need the development, so the developer will benefit at the expense of Annex A ratepayers who won’t be consulted about the  future use of excess capacity that we have funded. If and when future developments, or Birch Hill for example require sewage treatment, the cost will be much higher. Nicanco, if they don’t pay a reasonable cost for sewage treatment infrastructure, will have a gift that drops right to their bottom line and limits the opportunity to better allocate those resources. Simply put, I believe that we should end the Pine Beach development with exactly the same excess capacity we had before it was developed and that until the whole town has sewage developers must replace what they will consume.

Same thing on water. Hudson doesn’t yet have a costed future plan for water capacity, so we’re not yet in a position to actually name a price for the water required by the 316 doors to be approved. Well or Lake? If we don’t know yet, how can we name a price that matches what we need to spend. If we agree to a deal for shared costs on water, we’ll simply have no idea if it’s a good one or not. Elsewhere on this blog the unlistened to have debated and logically concluded that we should should consider a lake supply around Thompson Park treated in a new plant just across Main Road and connected to our existing network. Solve both future capacity and West End water issues as well as offer water for sale to parts of Vaudreuil Dorion and St. Lazare.

The Pine Beach plan could be significantly improved for the protection of Sandy Beach while still allowing an exceptional development. For example wider buffers have been well proposed by competent citizens, but we’ll probably find that the community will have no leadership or will to stall the development by requesting such changes. We could hold to the original zoning numbers, but won’t.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a very pro-development person. We can’t buy Sandy Beach at market value, it will be developed. I have suggested many times over the years, to successive councils, that Hudson needs to develop Sandy Beach, Ellerbeck’s and R-55 as high priorities.

In spite of what the idealists and dreamers say or think, we have long passed the fiscal turning point  where we could survive without significant numbers of new taxable properties to help pay for the irrational excesses of decades of growth in bureaucracy and spending that has resulted in a tripling of our expenses over the past 15 years with stagnant population.

We have filled this swamp with debt and spending, we must have development soon. But if we rush we’ll do it badly and divide a community.

Development usually pits the wants of our citizens against the needs of a developer for profit. Both sides are wrong at first. A delicate balance must be struck between the idealists and the capitalists, and into the chasm separating the two is only Town Council or possibly a referendum.

We will see a new Council elected in November, and that Council will have to live with and resolve all of the good and the bad results from this Council. Hell, in some world it may even be the same Council, but I’m just not getting those vibes.

The responsible thing on Sandy Beach would to hold public consultations and have a committee including a balanced group of citizens to negotiate with the developer quickly towards a better compromise.  Instead, I think we’ll see weakness, a quick acquiescence and acceptance without demands for better and a simple decree that we need to do this without adequate reasons that we really need to do it.

I really want to be wrong about this. This is not simply a political or fiscal issue. It sits at the root of our community soul. I believe that this issue contains everything Hudson needs to either heal itself, or to finish destroying itself. In these beautiful wetlands we can find ourselves again as a cohesive community or finally finish losing ourselves.

You want proud, so do I.

I am the eternal optimist: I hope to one day soon walk from Jack Layton Park to Sandy Beach, proudly in close proximity to an exceptional new showcase development embraced by the majority of our community and welcoming those who have chosen Hudson’s best new development as a new place to live or a way to stay.

In life we find exceptional not by simple acceptance of average, by being demanding of excellence.

So, watch closely for what our leaders are demanding from the developer. If we demand nothing but simply accept what they’ve offered, we’ll get exactly the mediocrity proposed.

I believe we must, as a community, at least try to do better.

Up the creek

Vivry Creek that is. Without sufficient water supply or sewer capacity, this project is literally up the creek. We need to address those issues and negotiate a fair and balanced cost to add the capacity needed to sewer and water so that a new development doesn’t cost existing taxpayers more money.

Nicanco’s Pine Beach proposal is, in my opinion, a great opportunity for Hudson and an necessary part of our future. It’s been in the works since 2001, much has changed and so needs to be adapted to today’s reality.

When it was first conceived and zoned, there was no sewer system in Hudson and we thought we had lots of water capacity. The original project approved was based on a shared septic plan. Without a connection to our treatment facility, I’d argue against this current planned expansion of the original zoning. I think it would be a bad choice to accept 200+ units on shared septic in such land at water’s edge.

The capital structures of sewer and water are very different in Hudson, so by necessity we need to treat them separately. Today I’ll opine on the sewers and what they should cost the project and not the taxpayers.

The debt for the sewer network and our Brick Shithouse Treatment plant are currently funded by only those who can be connected to the sewer network, approximately 900 ratepayers listed in something called Annex A. It is my opinion that those Annex A taxpayers need to have a say in approving the connection of a proposed 316 new units to the network and treatment.

We were told we had 20-25% overcapacity in the design of the treatment plant, and this Pine Beach development would be approximately a 35% increase in connections when fully built.So clearly, approving Pine Beach will, at some point in the planned seven year completion, require a significant and expensive expansion of our sewage treatment facility.

I don’t have the exact numbers, but I believe the Brick Shithouse Treatment plant cost approximately $8,000,000 to build and commission, divide by 900 connections and you get approximately $8,900.00 capital cost per home served. I believe expansion will be less costly than a new build, so I’ll call that 60% to add capacity and round it to $5,250 per connection.

In my opinion, we need to ensure that Hudson’s Sewage Treatment Network gets funded for an average of $5,250 per unit so we can expand it and maintain some overcapacity. These are hypothetical numbers and smarter people than me need to review and adjust them. I would propose to divide that average per connection cost into a habitable per square foot permitted to build cost, so if the average unit on Pine beach would be 1,600 square feet of habitable living space, the cost to fund sewage treatment would be $ 3.28/ Square foot. 

I chose to propose a per square foot cost on the builder when the building is approved for several reasons:

  1. To ensure that we’re funded early and progressively, without asking for a pile of money from the developer  up front.
  2. We get paid up front from the builder when a permit is issued to build, based on actual plans. If they didn’t have sewage treatment they’d have to pay to install septic and couldn’t build as many units.
  3. To impact larger homes with larger costs and allow smaller condos with fewer bathrooms and occupants to have a smaller impact.
  4. The funds so generated can be clearly segregated and allocated to a fund for Sewage Treatment expansion.

I’m betting that these units will sell for in the range of $300/square foot and a town willing to extend their existing sewage treatment plant for approximately 1% of a unit’s cost is not going to kill a sale.

Please note that it will remain the responsibility of the developer to provide collection, piping and pumping to get the sewage from Pine Beach to the pumping station by the community center. I’d like to see a twinned system, so that if a pump or pipe on the way to our system fails we have enough capacity to avoid overflows into the Ottawa River.

This is just one idea, but it’s simple and clear. We need to stop the post development financial bleeding we’ve had in the past where we’ve had to pave roads that developers should have paved and absorbed other costs.

Keep it simple, recognize that development might be necessary, but development should not cost existing users to spend more so we can add a development.  I believe that we need to name the price for sewage treatment capacity up front as a condition of approving the project requiring connection. Not just on this project, but any future projects that wish to connect to our existing sewage treatment capacity.