'Back to the River' project could face resistance at council
After years of planning, the Back to the River project will go to council for the first time on Monday night for debate, and it's their chance to decide whether or not they want to include the plan in their strategic plan, or put it on the backburner.
London Ward 2 City Councillor Shawn Lewis has been skeptical of the project and says there are still a lot of questions that remain heading into the meeting.
"I think it's going to be a close vote. I think there's a lot of members of council who have some serious questions about this particular project,” Lewis says.
Council will vote on whether or not to include the $12-million project in the city’s strategic plan, but he says he’s skeptical about some of the project elements and says some of the city’s $5 million could possibly be better spent.
Lewis says, “For me, this is an opportunity though to take out the vanity project that is the bridge to nowhere and the amphitheater which honestly Tourism London has not issued a letter of support….
“If we don't approve this project, if we don't make this a priority, that might be money that we can leverage to get more of the federal and provincial money for additional transit projects.”
Lewis says he doesn’t buy into the idea that the redevelopment will draw tourists to the area and says it’s good a decision will be made soon, and it’s good it will be discussed on Monday.
"The whole Back to the River project is a lot bigger. There's a big piece in the Soho neighbourhood that has a $3-million donation attached to it for affordable housing. I think that's an excellent piece to work on. There’s pieces around mitigating flood and shore erosion issues and how we manage the Thames [River] in an environmental way.”
He says it’s about setting priorities, and not everything can be one.
Aside from BRT, Lewis says the money could also be well used to fund playgrounds in parks, road work, sewer work to address infrastructure gaps and also to address the Springbank Dam.
He says removing the dam structure won't be cheap and he'd like to see that money kept in a river project to deal with the dam or move up sewage treatment updates sooner than scheduled.
Back to the River Chair Fred Galloway says he and members of the London Community Foundation are feeling positive heading into Monday’s vote.
“I think we're feeling generally positive . The project has garnered lots of interest over the four years,” Galloway says,
He says the group’s concern, if the project was shelved, would be the risk of losing donor interest if the project has to wait years,
“We think the mix of affordable housing, the Back to the River, these are all important to the city as long-term development.”