Our council priorities for the coming year will continue to focus on improving community safety and our local economy.
The city’s economic development and safety interventions are intended for the benefit of the community in general, but in 2020, are coupled with specific efforts for downtown, given its present socio-economic state.
I have discussed the economy and safety of the general community in recent columns, so this month, I thought I would address the downtown specifically, given the escalation of public concerns for the heart of our community.
In 2020, the city will be piloting and implementing the following suite of initiatives council gave approval to this past fall.
Downtown specific initiatives
1.) Downtown land use clustering
l One of the most significant challenges facing downtown is the concentration of specific zonings within specific geographical areas. This historic, systemic zoning issue has led to the emergence of some zoning imbalance in downtown and, at times, community division.
Although it will be difficult, the city will be addressing this in 2020.
2.) Residential and mixed use taxation incentives
l In order to stimulate new growth, this short-term tax offset aims to incent new development, which will help address vacant and derelict sites, modernize underutilized sites, and stabilize the tax base, which will also indirectly benefit every property taxpayer in the future.
3.) Storefront and facade improvements program
l I’m going to give a shout out to my Red Deer College criminology professor, Bill Stuebing, for this one. Because of his influence, I am a committed subscriber to the Broken Windows Theory, which essentially stipulates the aesthetic of an urban environment sends a message regarding how much a community cares.
This program is one of the many interventions to fix the “broken windows,” as it were, as attending to social disorder factors, such as broken windows, graffiti and urban decay, are proven to help shift communities away from criminal acts that stem from social disorder.
There are also other programs we will be exploring in 2020 to resolve other challenges related to downtown parking and uncertainty regarding utility charges, for example, as part of these initiatives as well, but the scope and details have yet to be determined.
General economic initiatives
4.) Demolition of vacant and derelict properties
l This program is designed to encourage the private and not-for-profit sectors to clean up vacant and derelict properties throughout the city. There are some, but limited, enforcement powers the city has in regards to vacant and derelict sites, and they often involve lengthy and costly legal processes, so we will be trying a new method to incent clean up.
5.) Red tape reduction and customer service initiatives
l Laws and regulations need to serve the public interest for purposes such as safety, etc., and not be the end in and of themselves.
In order to ensure Red Deer is business friendly, city staff are reviewing all bylaws and other administrative processes to streamline and improve building, development and other customer/citizen experiences with City Hall.
6.) Redevelopment of contaminated and underdeveloped properties
l This program is intended to help overcome the initial financial barriers to remediation of contaminated or underutilized properties in the city. The objective is to catalyze sites towards their full potential so they can contribute more substantially to the general tax base, which will indirectly financially benefit every property taxpayer in the long term.
As you’re reading this column, you will no doubt be thinking we also need new market access for Alberta energy, strong enforcement of criminal activity, the judiciary to uphold criminal charges, and mental health supports and addictions treatment to address some of the systematic challenges our community is facing.
I agree, council agrees, and the city agrees. This column is about direct economic interventions we have within municipal powers and authorities we will be undertaking, and therefore does not outline every strategy the city is pursuing.
Some social, economic and justice matters require strong city and community advocacy, which we continue to do, and others require our direct exercise of the levers we have leadership purview over. This column endeavours to highlight some of the direct economic development interventions we are working on.
I hope this helps to answer some of the questions you may have. As always, it is council’s privilege to serve you, and we look forward to seeing you throughout the community.
I hope you and your loved ones experience an incredible 2020.
Mayor Tara Veer