Another action packed night at Planning Commission. Here’s a rundown of the evening’s happenings….

1. FUNERAL HOME APPROVED: I spent a flight once between Edmonton and Montreal sitting next to a deaf, pet embalmer who spent a couple hours enthusiastically showing me through his hockey bag full of embalming equipment and explaining in great detail his business. Another time, when I was working as a communications monkey at the UofA, I had a receptionist at a print shop pull me aside to tell me about all the crazy stuff she’d experienced while working as a receptionist at a funeral home — the financial improprieties, the family in-fighting, the learning how to embalm on the job. Then, years later in Ottawa, the neighbourhood I lived in boasted an inordinate number of funeral parlours and I once walked past one which had a Great Dane sitting on the front stoop gnawing on a bone that looked suspiciously about the size and shape of a human femur.

All this is to say whenever things funereal enter into my life, weirdness follows.

Except tonight. Two morticians (I guess you could call them?) showed up at RPC asking to have their funeral parlour for 1265 Scarth greenlit and it was. Not much more to say on that. The only community concerns were over parking (‘natch) and as this parlour won’t have a chapel, that won’t be a problem. And as for the flushing of embalming fluids into the water supply, they’ll be following all the relevant bylaws which I guess means, don’t worry, by the time the water gets to your tap it’ll be mostly formaldehyde free.

Personally, just so long as they don’t cremate the remains of any animate dead, I’m happy. (There must be a bylaw covering the disposition of the animate dead…. Right?)

Moving right along….

2. CAPITAL POINTE PLAN APPROVED: A representative for Chamberlain Architects brought forward the revised plans for the Capital Pointe Project. That’d be the condo-hotel complex slated to occupy the Plains Hotel site. RPC recommended approval, no surprise. But we did learn a few interesting things. For one, the building is much bigger in its latest incarnation. It’s gone from 63 metres in September’s draft plan to 85 metres today, making it the largest building downtown. It will have 130 hotel rooms and between 136 and 144 condo units.

Demolition of the Plains Hotel building is expected to start in late August with construction on the underground parking beginning shortly thereafter. The hotel portion should be completed around March of 2012 and the condos that December.

As for the new look (in the pic above), have to say, I’m conflicted. The version that came forward in September looked awfully boxy and generic. This new building looks very Starfleet Academy. Circa 1979 when Shatner had the wavy hairpiece. So: an improvement. But not sure if it’ll age well.

3. PEOPLE IMPRESS ME, PEOPLE DEPRESS ME: RPC also considered an application to build a four-plex on 2nd Avenue in the Transcona subdivision and a huge group of residents came out to oppose it. Why? Because the building will be owned by Youth for Christ who’re planning to use the building for a U-Turn program that helps kids-at-risk who’re between the ages of 14 and 18.

The program works like this: the kids in the program will live in this new four-plex with a volunteer family who’ll help them learn skills they need to live on their own and become contributing members of society. Oh, and they’ll also provide these kids with all the emotional support and love that, from the sounds of things, they were lacking. The goal of the program, it seems, is to help these kids not wind up living on the street where they’ll likely become criminals.

The land this four-plex will be built on, by the way, which is worth around $100,000, was donated — frickin’ donated — to Youth for Christ by Westridge Developments who’ll also be building the four-plex.

So far, a good news story all around. You’d think.

Well, not as far as 2nd Avenue residents who showed up to RPC tonight are concerned. They were there to explain how they don’t want the U-Turn house in their neighbourhood because they’re worried about thieves and prostitutes and gang members moving onto their street and increasing the graffiti and the traffic and reducing their property values.

They even went so far as to suggest (because they’re not completely heartless and understand that these kids need somewhere to live so they’re offering this as their solution) that the U-Turn house should be built in some new neighbourhood where anyone who moves there can be warned about it before hand or maybe it could be relocated to somewhere outside the city limits altogether.

Now before I type all the angry and insulting things I’d like to type right about now, I’ll just mention that the U-Turn application was approved. Councillor O’Donnell, who represents the ward it’ll be built in, even ended debate with a pretty stirring defense of the project saying, “I cannot stand in council and say I will not have a care home in my ward, you have it in yours,” — or words to that effect. (I wasn’t typing fast enough to get it all verbatim.)

Good. Hopefully council will also understand that helping at-risk youth is a shared responsibility for our entire, city-wide community.

I suspect they will.

But while we’re on the subject, here’s a thought…. What if the people who turned up tonight to oppose this project had instead embraced the U-Turn house? What if they’d welcomed these kids into their neighbourhood? How might that have affected the success rate of the U-Turn program?

Instead, they went out of their way to go on record to say they’d rather these kids were shuffled out of the city entirely.

Way to make a kid feel loved.

4. TWO CONDOS ENTER, ONE CONDO LEAVES: Finally, two CONDO CONVERSION APPLICATIONS!! were considered at tonight’s meeting. Staff recommended approval for the one at 1235 Grace Street because all the current tenants are happy with the tenancy agreements they were offered and so got behind the conversion project.

As a result, RPC also got behind the conversion and have passed on a recommendation of approval to council.

As for the conversion application at 4303 Rae Street, staff recommended denial because over the course of two tenant surveys, all the tenants who responded said they opposed the conversion and felt it would cause them hardship.

Based on that, RPC decided to back staff’s recommendation of denial.

They did this despite the fact that the Nicor representative, Ross Keith, who was speaking for the developer hoping to convert the Rae apartment to condos, tried to do some last minute horse trading on the council floor. He brought forward a new offer for the tenants that staff had only heard about and had never been officially brought to the tenants and was therefore not in the staff’s report.

It was a better deal for the tenants, we’re told. (Because it wasn’t in the public report, those of us in the gallery — like the 4303 Rae tenants, doubtless — weren’t entirely clear on what it contained.) But RPC found the whole “last minute offer” kind of suspicious and were unswayed by it.

For the record, as I recall, this is a pretty standard tactic for Nicor. If it looks like planning commission or council are inclined to find against a  condo conversion, they’ll magically pull out another even better deal for tenants right at the last minute and they’ll get their conversion in the end.

It just makes the whole condo conversion process smell hinky, don’t you think?

Anyway, my prediction is Ross Keith and Nicor will come up with some killer tactic between now and the next council meeting and RPC’s decision will get reversed and the Rae Street conversion will go forward.

We’ll see. But either way, it’s probably worth pointing out once again — just as Peter Gilmer of Regina’s Anti-Poverty Ministry did at tonight’s RPC meeting — that Regina’s vacancy rate is 0.6 per cent. It’s the lowest in the country. And our condo policy says that condo conversion applications are to be denied when the vacancy rate is below three per cent. Which it currently is.

2.4 per cent below three per cent to be precise.

There are exceptions to this rule, yes. But they are exceptions. Which implies conversions should only happen in exceptional circumstances and not as a rule. But over the last two years every conversion application but one has been approved.

I’m just saying.