During his inaugural speech, Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson says addressing the city’s crushing housing shortage will be a top priority during his first 100 days in office.
The speech was delivered before a packed council chamber Dec. 4, where the second term mayor told the crowd he will ask for council’s support to establish a Mayor’s Task Force on Housing.
“This task force will bring key stakeholders together to examine best practices and to explore all possible tools and incentives the city can offer, to enable developers, non-profits and community agencies to build more housing in general and more affordable housing in particular.”
The pledge to create a task force comes just days after Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation listed Kingston’s housing rental vacancy rate at 0.6 percent, the lowest in Ontario.
The agency suggested the search for rental accommodations is not only tight but the short supply is contributing to rising rents.
Mayor Paterson says he will ask the task force to work quickly to come up with ideas to address the shortage “so that by this time next year we can begin implementing their recommendations.”
Along the same theme, the mayor repeated his oft-familiar pledge to create a city of ‘smart growth’ to attract new housing growth in areas with existing access to public transit, walking and cycling. He also wants to engage the community to better define the notion of urban intensification in the city’s Official Plan to “balance the goals of intensification and heritage preservation in the downtown.”
Though he didn’t single out any specific projects by name, the heritage versus high-rise debate was front and centre following a recent planning appeal tribunal ruling that rejected the proposal 16 storey Capitol condo project at a former downtown movie theatre at 223 Princess Street. IN8 Developments, the company behind the Capitol condo, recently told Global Kingston that he intends to appeal the ruling by asking the Divisional Court to review it.
WATCH: Beyond the Headlines: What killed the Capitol Condo
The mayor’s 19-page inaugural speech highlighted some achievements of the previous council term, namely; rejuvenating Breakwater Park, opening the Rideau Heights community centre and proceeding with construction of the Third Bridge crossing. He says the new council will be asked to move forward with other projects such as building a community centre in Kingston East and developing a new recreational use for the former Belle Park golf course.
The mayor says his ‘smart growth’ vision includes tackling new initiatives to expand transit ridership, electric vehicle infrastructure and promoting active transportation options.
READ MORE: Kingston: The electric city
Another key theme to emerge from the speech is property taxes.
Facing with growing residential concerns that year-over-year property tax hikes are unsustainable for many homeowners, Paterson noted there are pressures on the city to “live within its means.”
He added: “To build on that foundation of fiscal responsibility, in the coming days I will propose a new fiscal formula, where we create an explicit link between growth and property tax increase. That way, the more we grow the lower the annual property tax increase will be.”
Paterson, who was handily re-elected in the Oct. 22 municipal election, also promoted the city’s ongoing close ties with the educational sector such as Queen’s University, Royal Military College and St. Lawrence College. He says working with institutional partners will help foster new job growth through innovation and entrepreneurship. He highlighted a number of projects currently underway, such as research at Queen’s to improve road maintenance techniques like microsurfacing or better asphalt quality, and establishing a future campus of St. Lawrence College to create a centre of excellence in tourism and hospitality.
The mayor addressed the topic of council transparency by pledging to welcome citizen input when finalizing annual budgets or council’s strategic priorities.
The wide-ranging speech followed the new council’s official swearing in ceremony. The mayor and 12 councillors each took the Oath of Allegiance and Declaration of Office.
The first council meeting was largely ceremonial, with no formal decisions made. The first working council meeting will occur the following night, Dec. 5, when councillors will be appointed to serve on over two dozen committees and boards.
In addition to Mayor Paterson, councillors returning to the horseshoe are Ryan Boehme, Mary Rita Holland, Rob Hutchison, Jeff McLaren, Jim Neill, Gary Oosterhof, Lisa Osanic and Peter Stroud. First-term councillors are Simon Chapelle, Bridge Doherty, Wayne Hill and Robert Kiley — all elected to fill district vacancies.