It takes stamina, fortitude and patience to be informed. Fall asleep at the wheel only at your own peril.

Information hurtles at us from newspapers, TV, Twitter, gossip and notices slapped on telephone poles, fences and sticks hammered in the ground.

It is that crinkly bit of paper flapping in the wind that causes universal unease.

It usually reads: NOTICE OF A PUBLIC MEETING TO AMEND THE ZONIING BYLAW….. DATE AND TIME TBA.

Whoa. Are we getting a lead smelter in the neighbourhood or a cannabis factory or what?

So that is why I found myself at a public meeting regarding a new condo tower proposed for MacNab Street North, right next to the rarely open West Harbour Go station. Full disclosure, I live about four blocks from the site.

The proposal came wrapped in caution tape. The proponents, Durand Development Corporation, were asking for 13 storeys, when various planning documents permit five storeys, or four to eight, depending on which one you read.  The building would have 110 units, but parking for 51 vehicles. Neighbourhood residents who mostly live in detached homes listened to the presentation and waited for their chance to ask questions.

And here’s where the public meeting protocol gets so frustrating.

GSP Group Planning who were running the meeting suggested they would take one or two questions and then people were invited to mill around and talk with staff one on one.

Immediately a resident stood up and said “Let us ask questions so we can all hear the answers.”

She was so right. This tactic of making the public stroll around like medieval minstrels waiting in line to ask a question is infuriating. It seems like a blatant act of divide and conquer.

To GSP’s credit they took a bunch of questions and got an earful.

“This is the worst thing you can do for the neighbourhood, adding 50 cars where already you can’t park.”

Other residents worried about sun shadows, wind and even were fearful the Romanian Church which abuts the development would get complaints when they rang their bells.

Well it is a small but choice piece of property, right next to transit and situated where the province wants to increase density.

Of concern though is the soulless design of the building.  It’s ordinary façade will add nothing to the street.

And in looking closely at the Planning Justification document filed with the city, the proponents are asking that landscape area requirements be reduced from 25 percent to 0. The building will butt right up to the sidewalk.

After I attended this meeting, I heard Zita Cobb, Innkeeper of the stunning Fogo Island Inn speak in Hamilton. She was brought in by Women4Change to talk about community building. She had things to praise about Hamilton but also said about architecture- “The world is suffering from a plague of sameness it deprives us of beauty and civic pride.” And she added, “I see a lot of mediocrity in Hamilton.”

Next up, a meeting held by the city about the suitability of locating a film studio on the vacant Barton-Tiffany lands. Once again it was a presentation followed by limited questions and instructions to break up into small groups and chat about our feelings.

No thanks.  The crowd seemed neutral on the idea. If it brings jobs good, but not if it means a slab sided warehouse in an area that should have more life and residential.

Lastly a pit stop to hear an LRT Ready presentation put on by the Chamber of Commerce. The topic was re-thinking travel during construction. I thought it would deal directly with Hamilton, but the three presenters mostly talked about experiences with traffic during the London Olympics, Pan Am Games and Eglinton LRT construction.

Again the format was presentations, a few questions, than group therapy.

I was hoping to hear what businesses along the route were feeling. Without that opportunity I decided to call out to a long time area business. Denninger’s has had a King Street store since 1953.

“I’m concerned about the future of the King Street Store and its 50 employees,” said Denninger’s CEO Mary Aduckiewicz.

“No one likes to drive into a construction site.”

At the Denninger’s on Upper James she said construction to put in a turn lane near the store several years ago resulted in a 30 per cent drop in business.

“I’m concerned about that on King Street.”

In addition 50 percent of Denninger’s customers come from the east.

“This is the pinch point on King Street, I don’t know how our customers will get here from the east both before and after LRT construction. And we get a lot of walk-in traffic too, how will they get in?”

So it’s one thing to keep on top of developments in your neighbourhood and another where you have a business and employees. But it’s worth it no matter how tortuous otherwise we miss the opportunity to shape our surroundings and then as she describes it, “We carry around an inventory of miseries.”

Providing a Fresh Perspective for Burlington and Hamilton.

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