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City tight-lipped about ByWard Market study Laura Mueller email@example.com
EMC news - Community members are eager to see what a visioning study has in store for the ByWard Market, but they are being locked out of the process. The study, which was conducted by New York-based consultants Project for Public Spaces, was jointly funded by the city and the ByWard Market Business Improvement Area. Instead of releasing the study the consultants completed in December, the city has decided to withhold it to work with the business group’s executive staff to make “tweaks” to the report. Jasna Jennings, executive director of the BIA, said the tweaks are mainly to ﬁx up minor errors or misunderstandings on the part of the study team. For instance, Project for Public Spaces recommended the city increase the amount of funding it gives to the business group. But the group receives funds from a tax levy collected from business owners that are members and is not directly funded by the city. “We wanted to make sure nothing in there is skewed,” Jennings said. But community members
see it another way. In most cases, studies commissioned by the city are released to the public in draft form for comments, which are then incorporated into city staff’s review of the report, which comes with ﬁnal recommendations to the committee of council that oversees the issue. In this case, the study won’t be available to the general public until it appears on the planning committee agenda with the staff report a week before the planning committee meets. “Secrecy is not good,” said Sylvie Grenier, who sits on the ByWard Market visioning exercise steering committee on behalf of the Lowertown Community Association. “Being open is always better.” In a column in the community association’s newsletter, the Lowertown Echo, Grenier wrote: “While the exact reasons for the secrecy are unknown, it would appear that city staff are selecting the recommendations they prefer before sharing the report.” After her request to view the report was refused, Grenier ﬁled a more formal access to information request. Shortly afterwards, a city staffer called her on the phone and agreed to relay some of
the information contained in the study. “This is unacceptable,” Grenier said. “This visioning was built on transparency and the whole reason we started the steering committee was to help sell the report to businesses and the community.” Jennings didn’t see anything unusual about waiting to release the study, since community members did not help pay for the study. She said the study is expected to be reviewed by the steering committee, including Grenier, once senior city staff sign off on it. The total cost of the ByWard Market visioning exercise is $40,000, which the city and BIA split equally. Grenier and the rest of the steering committee (about 10 members) aren’t the only ones who haven’t seen the study. While the business group’s executive staff has read the report, the BIA’s board of directors has not seen the study. Even the business group’s staff faced delays in getting the report, Jennings said. It wasn’t a struggle to get the report, the issue was that the report was released just before Christmas and senior city staff had to sign off on it before it could be shared with the BIA, she said.
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Lowertown residents anxious to learn the results of a study concerning the future of the ByWard Market will have to wait until the findings are released ahead of the planning committee meeting at which it will be discussed. No date has been set for that meeting. Jennings didn’t receive the study until the very end of January. “It took a little bit longer than we expected,” she said. Community members who are up in arms over the study likely won’t ﬁnd anything too earth-shattering in the report,
anyway, Jennings said. “I don’t think anything is going to be very surprising,” she said. She declined to elaborate further or summarize anything in the report. The city refused to allow city planners to speak about the study, but provided a state-
ment on behalf of policy development and urban design manager Lee Ann Snedden that said the study and report will be released together in advance of a planning committee meeting “in the coming months.” Media relations staff did not respond to a request
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February 21, 2013