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I'm a little worried about Brandon's expansion plans

In the last couple of weeks, Brandon residents have had the chance to see draft plans that will dramatically change the face of this city in the next few decades.

Both the North Gateway Secondary Plan and the Southwest Brandon Secondary Plan were shown off at public open houses this month, and there's lots to like about both of them.

Read the draft plans online here:

They're also each embedded at the bottom of this post.

They each make all the right noises about maintaining mature greenspace in the areas that they propose to develop, and they have plans for extensive trails and walking paths.

They each make progressive use of roundabouts in their proposals — a trend that I'm really proud Brandon has begun to embrace.

But, as they say, the devil is in the details, and it doesn't take too long to ferret out some worrisome details.

Let's take the North Gateway first. Roughly, it's most of the area between the Braecrest Drive and the Trans-Canada Highway, from First Street to 18th Street.

Of course, there's plenty of development along the edges of there already, but the huge wide central area is largely barren field. A golf course in there is slated to be closed, as well.

Meanwhile, the provincial highways department is planning, somewhere down the road, to make massive improvements to the Trans-Canada interchanges leading into Brandon — a project that will necessitate pushing them further apart.

That means First Street and 18th Street will have to moved, creating both an opportunity and a challenge for this development area.

The plan says, rightly, that the city needs to provide an "inviting gateway" for the travelling public, and quotes the larger BAPD Development Plan that the goal is to establish "a stronger presence near the Trans-Canada highway in other to reflect the 'real' Brandon."

For me, that rings true. Brandon, mostly tucked away in our valley, is difficult to see from the highway, and people speeding past could be forgiven for thinking we're just a two-stoplight town.

We are blessed by that very same valley, however. Driving down 18th Street into the city, with the Experimental Farm on one side and the Riverbank ahead, with the city skyline in the distance, is a great introduction to Brandon.

(It's unfortunate, by the way, that the Corral Centre wrecked the last major green-on-all-four-corners intersection in Brandon, but I'll return to that later.)

That 18th Street drive is only topped by First Street. Coming down the hill beside the new North Hill ACC campus (sorry about the wart of the industrial machine shop on that classic set of red-brick buildings) the swoop of road alongside the river, with a "Brandon" water tower beckonging you on is one of the best ways to introduce newcomers to the city.

If we are making a push to expand the city northwards, closer to the highway, we need to find a way to capture that feeling, and funnel people on.

Unfortuately, nothing I see in the North Gateway Secondary Plan does that.

The arterial corridors are given over to high-density highway commerical development — think big box malls, car dealerships and farm or implement dealers.

Those are all necessary and welcome parts of development, but they'll do a terrible job of welcoming people to the city, or of showing travellers any part of the "real" Brandon. I fear we'll have a succession of cookie-cutter chain restaurants and massive multinational retail stores, surrounded by acres of parking lot — and the bare minimum of bushes and decorative rock as a perfunctory nod towards landscaping.

We'll have all the trappings of "big-city" success, with absolutely no soul. Aside from some very small and non-reflective) highway signs, there will be nothing to say that this is Brandon instead of any other mid-sized Canadian city with a Walmart and a Home Depot and its fingers crossed for a Costco.

How many travllers, lured into poking their heads into the city and off the highway, will make it through that commercial strip and all the way to the top of the hill with those fabulous views?

Not many, I'd wager.

Heck, I wouldn't be surprised if the almighty Corral Centre starts to fade, once shiny new stores start going up, one steel box at a time.

Of course, this massive power centre style of retail development is a fading trend. But, like many trends, Brandon is just far enough out of the way that we'll be stuck with it for a lot longer than we should be.

The situation is sadly similar in the southwest corner.

Once again, the Southwest Brandon Secondary Plan makes a number of great gestures in the direction of accessibility, of greenspace, and of active transportation.

Unlike the North Gateway, however, there is very little commercial development proposed in this tucked-away corner of Brandon. It's primarily eyed as low-density, single-family homes, with pockets of moderate-density housing here and there, plus a new school.

What there is permitted of commercial development is a small square of mixed use zoning at the very edge, at the corner of 34th Street and Patricia Avenue.

In the draft plan, it's described as "a neighbourhood commercial component to serve the … area, as well as the adjacent neighbourhoods. This area is designed to provide retail and personal services within walking distances."

Do you see the problem?

If this commercial area is designed to provide services within walking distance, why then is it placed at the corner of two main drags? I'm certain that the city won't relax parking minimums, so even if you're walking there, get ready to cross parking lots.

And why is it placed at the very far edge of the development? If you want people to walk there, you'd put it in the centre. And if you want it to serve adjacent neighbourhoods, then you'd put it at at the border between this new development and one of the existing ones — not at the absolulte very outside edge of the city boundary.

But let's take a wider look.

This development is likely to guide city growth for a couple of decades. In that time span, the city is also looking at building a "western bypass" that would mirror the Brandon East Access Route leading around the city from Highway 10 to the Trans-Canada.

Sadly, this southern entrance into Brandon is just as uninspiring as I fear the North Hill ones will be — endless billboards and service roads.

This new "western bypass" would, presumably, go around the southwest residential development — that's a new big road, a little to the south.

And suddenly, those huge open fields are going to look just ripe for intense commercial retail development. Oh, and there just happen to be some retail space right there already.

And if you think it won't go down this way, let me remind you that it already has.

A decade ago, some folks in the Kirkcaldy Heights area — planned in the '80s as a low-density housing development — got a shock when the Corral Centre was approved (by a single vote) right next door to them.

City council had to rezone the land to fit the big box store.

It had been envisioned as primarily residential, with a bit of small-scale neighbourhood commercial mixed in.

Sound familiar?

UPDATE:

I didn't mean this piece to come off as negative as it ended up being. As I said, there are some defeinite positives about both of these plans — whoever wrote them seems to have their head screwed on in a progressive way, and they seem eager to implement a lot of green space, multi-use trails, and higher-density residential development in a positive connected way.

But I've seen plans like these go awry before. There's always someone who can make a buck by paving a parking lot, and there are too few people who seem willing to forgo that easy money.

I'll be watching with interest how it all plays out.

 

North Gateway Secondary Plan — DRAFT — September 4, 2013 by ghamilton4002

Southwest Brandon Secondary Plan (draft)

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