Summerside facing challenges of growth, says mayor in state-of-city address


Mayor Dan Kutcher concerned about 'PNP businesses' in the city's downtown

Mayor Dan Kutcher delivered Summerside's first-ever state-of-the-city address Wednesday morning.

In a document containing the text of the speech provided in advance to CBC News, Kutcher spoke of the challenges facing Summerside, many of them connected to rapid population growth, and how the city is addressing them.

Kutcher delivered the speech to a small crowd at Credit Union Place.

"Our population has grown by over 10 per cent in just a few years," the mayor said.

"Recently we have been adding as many people each year as we added in total for the 20 years before."

While this growth, much of it through immigration, is required to deal with labour shortages associated with an aging population, the speed of it has caused problems, Kutcher acknowledged.

"There are a growing number of unhoused persons in our community," he said.

The city is doing what it can to coordinate support services, Kutcher said, but the situation is not likely to improve soon.

"Until there is success on the prevention side — addressing the cost of living, building more affordable housing, greater support for those struggling with mental illness and addictions, and a provincially coordinated Joint Enforcement Team to combat the importation, prevalence and access of highly addictive drugs — this trend will likely continue," said Kutcher.

Building homes and infrastructure

The city is making progress on building housing to accommodate all of its new residents, Kutcher said.

"Last year, Summerside led the province in housing starts," he said. "Over 500 units were under construction last summer and one third of those units were affordable housing supported by our provincial and federal partners."

The city set a record for value of building permits issued last year at more than $109 million. These were mostly residential, but Summerside is seeing growth this spring in commercial construction projects.

The city is also investing in infrastructure to support all those new homes, including the east-west housing corridor project.

"This project had been in the planning stages for over 20 years. Last week, construction began," Kutcher said.

The city is spending more than $3 million on water and sewer upgrades this year. A $530,000 investment in sidewalks is a 48 per cent increase over last year.

Improved communication promised

Kutcher noted the city has proposed projects that ultimately did not meet the community's approval.

In July, council voted down a plan for high-density development in the north of the city that would have included 600 units following strong opposition from neighbours.

"Some of the difficulties we encountered this past year with frustrated residents, was not NIMBYism," said Kutcher, referring to the popular acronym for "not-in-my-back-yard" reactions to developments.

"It was our failure to ensure that local residents were informed, listened to in advance and involved in the decision-making process from the beginning.

"We need to change that process, and we will, and are."

Part of those changes will be more advance notice of proposed developments, giving residents more time to ask questions of the city and the developers.

'Downtown needs to be more fun'

The city has begun a revitalization of the downtown with its new Regent development, a five-storey building on the corner of Water and Summer streets that will be a mix of residential and commerical space.

But more needs to be done, Kutcher said.

"Our downtown needs to be more fun," he said.

"Our downtown must attract people to it, and to each other. When you arrive downtown, you need to know it without having to be told."

Kutcher lamented the number of what he called "PNP businesses" — businesses launched by immigrants under the Provincial Nominee Program. Under the conditions of that program, prospective immigrants are required to start a business.

"We … need to find out how we can reduce those PNP businesses that are in our downtown that are only open 11 to 3, that have little incentive to succeed commercially," Kutcher said. "This charade is casting a long shadow on our downtown and over many newcomers and newcomer business owners who are actually hustling and grinding to make it, who we really want to support and succeed."

The city is also taking steps to make the downtown clean and safe, he said, including an enhanced police presence.

"Starting this week the Summerside police department is beginning foot patrol day shifts along Water Street," he said.

"They are also working on additional options that we can consider to ensure we take a no-broken-window approach to our downtown waterfront."

Building on green legacy

Kutcher expressed pride in Summerside's progress in building in a sustainable way.

A central part of this is the city-owned electrical utility, and the wind and solar energy that feeds into it.

"Two days ago, our city was powered completely by the wind and sun," Kutcher said. 

"I didn't get an official update yet, but I am going out on a limb to say I think we did it again yesterday."

The next step will be hydrogen power. Hydrogen will be produced from excess solar and wind power, and the city intends to purchase a 33-megawatt hydrogen-powered generator to burn that hydrogen when it's needed — all without carbon emissions.

The city is a standout for its green economy initiatives, Kutcher said, and right now that is a good place to be standing out.

Summerside facing challenges of growth, says mayor in state-of-city address | CBC News