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Mayor goes after social media trolls over inaccurate posts on Gateway proposal

Councillors voted unanimously to sign memorandum of understanding for the project, which could bring up to $100 million in new development to former scrapyard
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'The city is not paying for this project or financing it' - Sault Ste, Marie Mayor Christian Provenzano

The following are remarks made by Mayor Christian Provenzano at the beginning of last night's City Council discussion about the urban indigenous hub and housing development proposed for Sault Ste. Marie's Gateway site.

The mayor was critical of comments made on social media last week after media outlets were briefed on the project by himself and the development's proponents: Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services, Waabinong Head Start Family Resource Centre, Neech-keWehn Homes Inc., Niwaakai'gananaanind Aboriginal Housing, and the Indigenous Friendship Centre of Sault Ste. Marie.

City councillors voted unanimously last night to sign a memorandum of understanding for the development, which will initially include 120 units of mixed housing at a cost of $40 million.

On Thursday, we got together with the project partners and the media, to make sure that the right information got out there about this project, because we think it's a really positive project and an important project.

I want to thank our media partners, the Sault Star, SooToday, CTV and all the people that came and attended the meeting. I thought they did a good job of accurately reporting what was given to them. 

However, I didn't think social media did as good of a job accurately portraying what was out in the mainstream media. 

As a result of that. I thought there were a number of things in the social media record that were inaccurate and I'm hoping that we could clarify that record tonight so that the social media record is consistent with the actual mainstream media record which recorded the matter correctly.

So there are a few things I want to point out that I think are important.

This development is not simply a low-income residential housing development.

This development is high-density residential with market- and non-market units, commercial space, cultural space and public park space.

It is consistent with previous proposals approved by previous councils for the same site.

The city is not paying for this project or financing it.

When parties approach the city, parties often have some kind of request for financial support.

This development consortium, this group of people here with us here tonight, they did not have an 'ask' of the city, beyond the city working with them in a respectful manner as a good-faith partner in helping them realize their mission.

The development is not tax-free.

The development will increase the city's assessment base and will be subject to realty taxes.

As has been made clear during the presentation, the development is open to indigenous and non-indigenous peoples.

For my part, I'd like to say that it has been a pleasure working with you.

I've enjoyed your professionalism throughout this project and I personally hve a tremendous amount of confidence in your ability to develop this project.

I want to thank your for bringing this opportunity to the city and I want to thank you for the way that you work with the city staff to date.

"This is just a start of the process and not the end of the process," Ward 4 Coun. Marchy Bruni told last night's meeting.

"This all has to be agreed on by staff, council and the committee group... Final council approval must come back here," Bruni said.

Coun. Bruni expressed concern that full value be paid for taxes on the property.

"They will be paying the value of the taxes as determined by MPAC [Municipal Property Assessment Corp.]," responded Don McConnell, city director of planning.

"That will come back to council, however. That's not a decision that staff can make. This is simply the information that we're going to compile in a report back to council as the project proceeds, prior to council selling the property," McConnell said.

Tom Vair, deputy chief administrative officer for community development and enterprise services, said an additional 120 housing units could be added to the 120 units in the initial proposal.

"Ideally, if everything went perfectly in a perfect world, we could start construction in two years, which would be very quick for a site this complex," said Justin Marchand, executive director of Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services.

"One of the things that city staff brought to our attention is that Algoma Steel has an easement – a right of way – right down the middle of that property, so there are those planning and technical considerations that we're going to have to take into account," Marchand said.

"We're also going to have to take into account the findings from the detailed environmental study which is going to absolutely have to be updated. The last one... is from the 80s. That information is going to have to be updated. Soil samples are going to have to be conducted and we're going to have to take into account the advice of those professional engineers."

Marchand said his Sault-based organization typically develops between 100 and 250 housing units per year across the province but this would be its largest-ever individual project.

"This is the first step of about a five-part process," said planning director McConnell. "With approval of the MOU tonight, that gives the proponent an opportunity to go ahead and start spending money."

"The next step is an expensive step, because when they move to step two, then they're looking at what is the design, what are the components?" McConnell said.

"These are not detailed drawings. But they have to go through the financial aspects of this thing, which includes the environmental aspects. That's an expensive undertaking for them. At that point, they'll be in a position to come back and be clear with council and the public, this is what they're proposing on the site."

McConnell said the project will still need site-plan approvals, building permits and other approvals from the city as well as environmental approvals from the province.

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David Helwig

About the Author: David Helwig

David Helwig's journalism career spans seven decades beginning in the 1960s. His work has been recognized with national and international awards.
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