The Celestial Beacon

Friends and Neighbours, 

Today City Council voted in favour of moving forward with the Celestial Beacon project in an 8-2 majority vote. For those who may have been unable to watch the Council meeting, I would like to explain my rationale for voting in favour of this project and why I think it will be a net benefit to our community, both as a west-end community and a City at large. 

Before I dive into the contents of the matter, I want to thank everyone who emailed, called and expressed concern and excitement over the development. On the spectrum, some residents did not want the development at all, some expressed concerns, and some were very excited to move forward with the Celestial Beacon development. These varying views weighed heavily on me and after much discussion, listening, learning, researching and weighing all factors, I made a decision that was difficult but I believe to be the right one. 

History and Context 

Approximately 20 years ago, the City Council of the day approved the Central Riverfront Implementation Plan (the “CRIP”) which was a master plan that focused exclusively on our riverfront. This plan was and is a living document that was later reaffirmed in 2014/15 and this fact is important for three main reasons:

1)    It illustrates that master plans that are born out of extensive consultation and review do not just collect dust but are used and built upon over the years;

2)    In the CRIP, it contemplated 5 or so beacons across our riverfront, some of which have already been built (i.e. the peace beacon downtown); and

3)    It’s reaffirmation last term of council not only solidified the relevance of this master plan, but also served as a reminder that the majority of residents wanted parts of the riverfront activated. This was made clear from the consultation that took place and Councillors who served last term will and have (at today’s meeting) testified to this. 

For more info on the CRIP, see here: https://www.citywindsor.ca/residents/planning/Plans-and-Community-Information/Major-Projects/Central-Riverfront-Implementation-Plan/Documents/CRIP%20Final%20Report.pdf 

You may recall that the last term of Council approved the restoration of Streetcar 351. After that decision, City administration began the consultative phase to review the location of the streetcar and on June 4, 2018, by way of resolution passed unanimously, las term of Council approved the location of the Streetcar to be at the Celestial Beacon. Prior to the vote of June 4, 2018, there was a consultative process whereby the community was asked, among other things, three main questions:

1)    What was the ideal use of the streetcar?

2)    Where should the streetcar be located?

3)    What amenities should there be to enhance the streetcar? 

On the first question, what was the ideal use of the streetcar, the top three responses were: a) a food concession/stand; b) a display area with interpretive signage; and c) a bike rental operation. 

On the second question on where it should be located, part one of this question focused on the riverfront, to which there was no conclusive spot determined. Although only a few people chose the Celestial Beacon, the majority answered that it should be anywhere on the riverfront and were somewhat indifferent to the location.  

Part two of this question asked if not on the riverfront, where else should it be? The results of this part were deemed inconclusive as there was not a clear winner but many different places identified. 

On the third question of what amenities would enhance the Streetcar, the top 4 answers were as follows: a) washrooms; b) a patio; c) food services; and d) interpretive signage. 

Based on these three main questions and the current infrastructure that exists (i.e. washroom locations, parking, etc.), administration had to weigh everything and determine the best site. In administration’s wisdom, they recommended the Celestial Beacon site because all of the top answers on use of the streetcar and amenities associated with the Streetcar would be accomplished, especially given that all of these same features were already embedded in the CRIP. This was, in my view and understanding of the development of the site chosen, all of the factors administration balanced and weighed in recommending the Celestial Beacon as the preferred site of Streetcar 351 at the June 4, 2018 meeting where the last term of council unanimously approved. 

June 15, 2020 Meeting of Council

Today, Council spent 3.5 hours debating the final design of the Celestial Beacon based on the direction of last term of Council at the June 4, 2018 meeting. Since that meeting, the City engaged with architects, ERCA, engineers and others in doing site plan work and design. The conceptual design was then released to the Community in late May and another consultation took place with a survey to which a substantial amount of residents replied. This survey found, among other things, that the majority of residents approved of the design of the Celestial Beacon. Although this is encouraging, I did hear many valid concerns from residents who live in Riverwest, the neighbourhood where this development takes place, and I will list a bunch of them below, including administration’s responses when asked at today’s meeting. 

·       The entire process that led us here, as articulated and summarized above, was discussed at length with administration in the Q&A session.

·       There were concerns that this space would not be accessible to the public who do not purchase anything from the concession stand. Administration confirmed that, at minimum, a certain portion of the patio and terrace will be accessible to anyone, irrespective of whether or not they purchase an item at the concession stand.

·       Administration confirmed that large banquets and events of this nature would not be condoned here. It is more designed for smaller events such as beer tasting, Windsor Symphony Orchestra performances, plays, poetry readings, small dinners, etc.

·       The space would adhere to our noise bylaws and would blend into the quiet and peaceful enjoyment of the waterfront. Concerts and things of this nature are more suited to the Riverfront plaza, not the Celestial Beacon.

·       One resident had concern over a Spruce Tree being torn down and administration stated that because of a sewer trunk, the Spruce Tree had to come down but it could be replaced with other Spruce Trees that will be native species and therefore more environmentally friendly, unlike the existing Spruce tree which was not of native species. I am very sensitive to taking down any trees and this particular issue, as trivial as it may seem to some, was very important to a resident who I greatly sympathize with.

·       Administration confirmed that the elevation of the Streetcar and glass enclosure was pursuant to ERCA requirements and public safety requirements. I asked pointedly why it couldn’t be lowered and these were the main reasons.

·       Administration confirmed that this development does not in any way impede the walking trails, bike trails, fishing, or any activity that is currently done at the riverfront.

·       I asked administration to determine how much natural parkland is currently maintained along the riverfront and how much is developed, including walking trails, bike trails, and all other amenities. Their response was that there are a total of over 74 acres of riverfront property, of which over 53 acres is greenspace and naturalized. The Celestial Beacon project will be less than 0.54 acres of space, or less than 1% of greenspace along the riverfront.

·       I asked administration if the square footage of the patio and terrace could be reduced, and if so, by how much so as not to compromise the functionality of the project. Their response was that the space could be reduced approximately 25%.

·       It was confirmed by administration that the concession stand kitchen will not be a full kitchen with a deep fryer, etc. Instead, it will serve to heat up food items and provide drinks, so there is not exhaust and fumes emanating from the concession stand.

·       The sources of financing for the project have already been allocated and do not affect any other existing capital projects, and if successful, nearly 50% of the project would be funded through Heritage Canada (federal dollars). This is an important fact to consider because the funds were prescriptive (you can’t just reapply them to operational matters or some other capital matters) and already allocated for this project due to prior budget decisions and allocations (i.e. $2million came from the Federal Gas Tax in the 2019 budget and other funds came directly from the CRIP fund)

·       Administration discussed more broadly our Active Transportation Master Plan and how said plan would alleviate car traffic along Riverside Dr. W. and along neighbourhoods in Riverwest and beyond. Parking and car congestion was a concern and the most sustainable way of addressing this is through the ATMP. The plan contemplates investments in bike infrastructure, crosswalks, transit infrastructure, e-scooter and e-bike sharing and promotion, and much more. With these investments, the goal is to encourage more active transportation and less cars. I will personally commit to pushing for this for years to come, making our neighbourhoods in Ward 2 more walkable and safe for those who choose to travel sans car. 

I included the above points because they were the concerns I was hearing the most from residents who emailed and called, and it was based on these concerns, administration’s responses and comments, and Council being generally in favour of the development, that I made the motion to read (generally) as follows: 

Council approve the Celestial Beacon project and adopt the administration recommendation and include the following:

·       That the terrace and patio be under 10,000 square feet (from the proposed 13,000 square feet);

·       That administration work with landscape architects and designers to naturalize and landscape as much walkway and pavement while not compromising accessibility;

·       That native species Spruce Trees be planted in a responsible manner so as to mitigate obstruction of view of the water; and

·       The ceiling of the glass enclosure of the Streetcar be lowered as much as practicable, taking into consideration ERCA’s requests and public safety. 

This motion was approved 8-2. Votes in favour included Councillors Bortolin, Holt, McKenzie, Morrison, Kaschak, Sleiman and Mayor Drew Dilkens. Votes opposed included Councillors Gignac and Francis. 

Without getting into all of the commentary, I will state my most salient reasons for my motion and approval of the project:

1)    Although not perfect, the amendments made to the motion reflect concerns that I’ve heard from the community.

2)    Considering the history and context, as described above, I was satisfied with the process that led to the site location of the Streetcar and the Celestial Beacon concept.

3)    The Celestial Beacon has been long contemplated and strikes a balance between respecting all of what we hold sacred of our crown riverfront jewel: quiet enjoyment, unfettered access to the water, kilometers of park space and trails, etc. while at the same time activating a space with an amenity that provides options for residents who live close by and afar.

4)    The Celestial Beacon encourages more active transportation and with the right investments in the future, consistent with the ATMP, we are creating an environment where residents from Bridgeview, Riverwest, Sandwich and beyond can (if they are able) ride their bike or walk to this amenity.  

5)    Far less than 1% of parkland will be affected giving residents an additional option and amenity that will enhance their experience at the riverfront

6)    City Council and administration is actively, and currently, working to expand it’s natural park space to connecting links at the eastern boundary of the west-end, from Riverside to Wyandotte Ave., approximately 1km of additional park space; and at the far western portion of the riverfront, as contemplated in the CRIP, to expand the riverfront west of the Ambassador Bridge.

7)    The sources of funding were all identified and already allocated, and almost 50% of it may come from the Federal Government. 

Today’s decision by Council is in no way a zero-sum game. We have priorities that I am advocating for and are top of mind such as the proliferation of student rentals, University Ave. W. road reconstruction, the boarded-up homes in Sandwich, more amenities in Sandwich like a grocery store, speed calming, illegal dumping and bylaw enforcement, and the list goes on. Let me be very clear: these are top priorities, but today’s decision does not impact those priorities. In building a City to live, work, and play, we have to look at all aspects of quality of life, not just some. I believe the right decision was made today and I am looking forward to this new investment in our community. 

To watch the Council meeting, visit https://citywindsor.ca/cityhall/City-Council-Meetings/Meetings-This-Week/Pages/Current-Council-Agenda.aspx

Comments

  1. Fabio, I really appreciate that you have made the effort to provide us with your notes on this matter. Very informative. I realize not everyone will be happy, but it is good to know that the decision was not taken likely and that the input of the public was taken into consideration. Thank you for your efforts and for keeping us informed. Graham

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