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How to make Brandon better, in one by-law

I just finished reading, with interest, the draft version of Brandon's proposed new Urban and Landscape Design Standards Manual.

Although it's not yet final, it's pretty close to being done. There have been two open houses for public feedback, and just a few revisions are anticipated before it is made official.

My colleague Jill Austin did a great overview of it in the paper on Wednesday, and if you're a policy wonk like me, you can read the draft PDF on the city's website yourself.

To my eyes, it's clear that a huge amount of needed work has gone into refreshing this document. It's been slimmed from a behemoth of 130 pages down to a VERY readable 14 pages, which should encourage a lot of people — developers, planners and just plain interested citizens — to actually read the thing.

That's great.

Another great move is that the standards included in the manual have largely been moved from "suggestions" that developers have been free to ignore (to the city's detriment) into the category of "mandatory requirements".

That is also great. Rules that you're free to ignore aren't rules at all.

But, of course, these newly streamlined and enforceable rules will only apply to new devlopments. And although recent plans for both the southwest corner, southern approach and nothern gateway to the city predict thousands of new residents and hundreds of new developments, those will take decades (or generations) to fully come to fruition.

And even then, only new builds will be affected by the new standards. Existing buildings — no matter how ugly or non-conforming — get to stay ugly and non-conforming.

I have an idea to change that. And all it would take is a single move by city council.

Of course, it's a move that would take a ton of what they call cojones.

I would add a single line to the plan, or to the by-law that incorporates it. This line would read:

"All existing properties must also conform to these standards within 10 years or be subject to a surtax that is equal to their annual property tax bill."

Yes, give existing buildings a decade to upgrade their look and design, and then double their property taxes until they comply.

Tough? You bet. Fair? I think so.

Existing developments are notorious for being pedestrian unfriendly and bare-bones when it comes to look and feel. They're not great even from the perspective of motorists, either, and they often don't fit into any of the city's hopes for safe, healthy and attractive environments.

The new rules aren't onerous, and many existing developments will just need to be prodded to plant a few trees, to pave a few sidewalks, and to freshen up their exteriors a little bit more.

The new rules don't apply to single-family homes, nor to industrial plants. And, under the new rules, commercial developments that find themselves in impossible-to-comply situations are still able to apply for variations to allow for that.

If I had my druthers, the surtaxes would go towards other civic beautification — more walkways, bike paths and pocket parks, for example. But the city could also hold them in reserve like the hotel tax, for special projects. Or they could go as prizes to the best-designed developments in town as a carrot to match the stick.

But, of course, the real hope is that no surtaxes be collected at all, and that every development in town take a look at these 14 pages of very readbale guidelines, and realize that it wouldn't take very much to upgrade themselves at all.

And we will all benefit from a better designed city.

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I like it!

I've heard of some silly ideas, but this one....pretty durn silly.

Let's penalize the homeowners and businesses after the fact. That's a great way to be a progressive city. It's one brilliant way to drive the city into the ground.

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