Tuesday afternoon saw a special session of Regina Planning Commission (RPC)take all of three hours to receive delegations, ask questions of administration and make statements to the proposal. In the end, despite some reservations, Planning Commission voted in favour of (see RPC 12-4) amendments to the Cathedral Neighbourhood Plan and Zoning Bylaw, closure and sale of the public lane to the South and the Discretionary Use (DU) application for a larger Safeway grocery store on 13th Avenue.
Most of the meeting was spent presenting a variety of views from Cathedral residents both those in agreement and those with reservations. There was not a lot of new information brought forward since the last public meeting in November(See RUE here and here for background) but there was a great deal of consideration.
There were a few presenters who advocated for the development, in order to maintain the grocery store and indeed increase the selection. Dave Arnold of the Cathedral Area Community Association eventually came down on the pro side saying he would rather see a suburban model grocery than a gull-wing carpet store, referencing fears that the store would close without expansion. Furthermore, the walkable commercial core of the neighbourhood, Arnold concluded, must be retained above all else.
Other delegations were somewhat in favour but had concerns over parking and the safety/disturbances (truck traffic and so on) in the alley way and behind the bank. Many of these people were also concerned, most of whom were nearby residents, with an increase in traffic and/or difficulty in parking.
One delegation was concerned that the loss of the current building’s Marina architecture and the neon in the Safeway sign would be a loss to Cathedral’s unique iconography. The question was raised why Safeway would destroy its own historic branding and threaten long-time customer loyalty by abandoning such a successful aesthetic?
There was certainly sympathy for the architecture among some delegations and commissioners but without Safeway’s interest in preserving the modernist style (for its own branding purposes) and the city having no architectural say, no alternatives were raised.
Bob Boyer’s mural was another topic of discussion. Commission members asked about alternatives to destruction, including preservation, reproduction and recognition. It would seem a combination of cost and the wishes of Bob Boyer’s widow will prevent saving the mural. More than that, it was said that Safeway’s corporate policy was against murals in general, as the politics of choosing artists/pieces was “a minefield fraught with danger” according to Safeway’s representative architect (an unfortunate, yet hilarious, turn-of-phrase trying to express the unwillingness of Safeway to expose itself legally). This means future murals by other local artists, a feature of many Cathedral buildings, will not be likely. The promised artwork/street furniture will instead be located in the Northern corners of the parking lot or outside the storefront.
Lastly, RPC was concerned that screening for the new neighbours, South, across the alley from the loading dock, was insufficient and that Safeway and the residents should be encouraged to come to an agreement. Fencing or security measures (cameras/lights) were two possible solutions.
For me tonight was made rather inevitable after the meeting in November. The whole issue changed in the November meeting once the spectre of closure was raised and it was made clear Safeway would not entertain alternatives to their branding preference, excluding preservation of the facade. At that point I felt the deck was now stacked in the applicant’s hands. No one wanted to lose the grocery store. Heritage architecture, works of art, housing, planning concepts, loss of businesses and traffic were all trumped by that one uncertainty.
That was the interesting part of this process, even though sides were drawn up, positions taken and fought for, there was a lot of agreement. I don’t think any of the presenters were out-of-place or had invalid arguments. Even Safeway, intransigent on some topics, was very open to consultation, change and adoption of some ideas and suggestions. I like to think RUE had something to do with getting lots of (proposed) bike racks for one.
Next it is on to City Council where, normally, approval is a formality.