Opinion Editorial

Paving move short sighted

When you own an expensive boat or a large home or a big property, it can be an onerous proposition. Some have rightly said that you don't own those things, they own you; they make constant, insidious and copious demands of your time, energy and financial resources. If you don't invest that time, effort and cash, the value of those expensive assets can dwindle and diminish quickly and become liabilities.

The city is discovering that - again. In January of 2016, city council opted, officially, to go down the path first charted by the previous council and spent $9.3 million to purchase the 70 Front St. N. property that is home to the Metro grocery store and other commercial and retail entities.

Council, then and now, was not interested in becoming a landlord. They acquired the property as part of a grand vision to re-energize the waterfront and better connect it with the downtown. In essence, the idea is to bulldoze the middle part of the aged plaza and extend Coldwater Road through the property to open up views and access to the waterfront while joining the back end of the property to the former railway land they already own to create development potential.

One of the challenges with that ambitious move is the juggling act needed for council to balance that long-term vision with the short-term reality of being a landlord -- a challenge that landed on their lap Monday night when faced with a decision about paving the lot at the Metro end of the property.

Almost since the day the city bought the property, Metro officials have been calling on their new landlord to fix the lot -- demands they also made of the previous owner. Essentially, councillors were told there were two options: spend $35,000 to make repairs as part of a quick, short-term fix or bite the bullet and invest $400,000 into a full repaving project that would have a lifespan of about 25 years.

Coun. Ralph Cipolla questioned the wisdom of making a decision before an environmental assessment of Front Street is complete while Coun. Mason Ainsworth said he is worried this expense will be the first of many. "How many patch jobs will we be looking at in the future?" Ainsworth wondered. Good question.

In the end, councillors opted for the cheap fix. It's also a short-term solution at best. City property manager Ted Hill said the paving job buys the city "a few more months, maybe a year." It's a little like thinking an umbrella will keep you dry in a tropical storm.

This expenditure and the spectre of many more similar repairs and maintenance issues is exactly why so many people were concerned about council buying the property. One can only wonder how much money will be spent in the months and years between today and when that larger vision becomes a reality.

The real concern is that those pesky, short-term expenses and patch jobs overwhelm and over-extend the city's resources and take the focus off the long-term grandiose plan that, while ambitious and forward-thinking, might prove unaffordable and unreachable.

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