Gateway wasn’t an easy decision. There were good arguments both for and against the project. What made it particularly hard was the conflict between the interests of our industrial area and west Sidney residents versus the interests of our downtown business area and our other Sidney residents. It didn’t help that there was misinformation on both sides – a lot of misinformation. And, some people were very passionate about their views and expressed their opinions in a manner that others found inappropriate or even offensive. That certainly didn’t make it any easier. No matter which way the decision went, many people were going to be unhappy.
I recognize that there were a large number of people opposed to the development. But, I wasn’t confident that was an informed opinion. That’s why I didn’t feel that a statistically valid survey of resident’s opinions would help me with this decision.
Some people were arguing against the development because they didn’t want big box stores in Sidney – but there weren’t going to be any big box stores in Gateway. Others argued that it would hollow out the downtown and cited examples where a big box development or a Walmart had done that – but there wasn’t going to be a Walmart or any big box stores so those examples weren’t really applicable. Many people pointed to Richard Talbot’s analysis as their reason for opposing Gateway – but Talbot’s analysis had serious flaws: for example, he assumed no population growth and no change in average incomes. The 2016 census proved that both of these assumptions were wrong. After careful consideration I did not find Talbot’s analysis to be credible. These were examples of why I was feeling there were a lot of misinformed people.
Other people simply argued that they would never shop there and that we didn’t need another grocery store as reasons to reject the development – one could argue that we don’t need any more coffee shops and that I’m never going to shop at a woman’s clothing story, so we shouldn’t allow any more of these either.
People were expressing concern that the Urbanics report was biased because it was paid for by the proponent. I have worked as a consultant for more than 30 years. You don’t last long in the industry if you get a reputation that clients can pay you to write biased reports. Urbanics has been in business a long time with a good reputation. Would they really risk their company’s future for one $10,000 contract? No, they wouldn’t. While I did have some concerns about some aspects of the Urbanics report, I didn’t think I should disregard it because of bias.
People were expressing concern about the traffic Gateway would generate and whether the intersection could handle it. This was a legitimate concern. But, the traffic study, by qualified engineers that the Town has previously used, stated that with some minor improvements it can accommodate Gateway traffic with no significant impact on performance. And, MOTI reviewed those conclusions and agreed.
Some people argued that it was valuable land in the ALR – yes, but for at least 25 years Sidney’s OCP has contemplated development of that land.
On the other side of the argument, the West Sidney industrial community was telling us that they thought Gateway would help them to attract and retain employees. Some residents of West Sidney were saying they supported the development because they would shop there and didn’t like to have to cross the highway just to pick up a quart of milk. And, Gateway was going to pay for a pedestrian overpass, traffic improvements such as a roundabout at Stirling Way & Galaran (making a left-turn out of Stirling Way during lunch hour and around 5pm is a nightmare), and increase the tax base. Some also argued that approving Gateway would block Sandown – of course, that didn’t turn out to be true.
There were people opposed to Gateway who had well informed and reasonable objections, but it seemed to me that the majority of the opinions both for and against Gateway weren’t well informed. In a situation like that the number of people holding a particular point of view has less weight on my thinking.
Some found the expected benefits from Gateway to be greater than the risks. Some found the risks far outweighed the potential benefits. And, some felt we should be able to find a vision for this site with less controversy. None of these views is wrong. People came to these conclusions honestly, but from different perspectives and values.
It wasn’t a case of not listening or ignoring the interests of others. And, yes, I did understand that there might be a couple of downtown businesses that might find the competition too much for them. However, in the end, I felt that the expected benefits outweighed the potential risks therefore I voted to approve the development. Would I do the same again? I don’t know. All I can really say is that I would carefully evaluate the information, try to ensure that the community had good information and an opportunity to participate in the decision, listen to people’s views with an open mind, ask any questions I felt necessary, give the matter careful consideration, and then make the decision that I thought was best.