My View: Get involved in Official Plan
Growth never pays for itself and the cost is even worse in rural areas like Springwater, as everything starts from scratch
By Bill French
I attended the Public Statutory Meeting on the new Official Plan being developed by the Township of Springwater to gather further information as the Township moves forward to update its 1998 Official Plan.
The process commenced in 2016 but with the changes in provincial government in 2018 things have been on pause for over a year to better understand how the Ford regime would impact future plans.
Official Plans are to reflect how the populace sees the future of the Township rather than just the ideas of the development and land bank speculation industries. Unfortunately that is how the current 1998 Official Plan was developed with big money dictating the plan rather than the residents. One of the misfortunes of the 1998 Plan was the expansion of the Midhurst settlement area (well that was the interpretation by the high paid development industry).
Some of the Councillors of the day understood it as a Study Area rather than a new settlement boundary, but that is now water under the bridge as the Guergis 2008 Council approved the Midhurst Secondary Plan (MSP) and the Collins Council had it approved at the County level in 2011, forever destroying 2,000 acres of the best farmland in Springwater.
Both Mr. Strachan and Mr. Evans from Midhurst addressed the follies of the MSP at the meeting and their comments hopefully hit home with the new Council. Up until the recent proposal in Innisfil to build a new City of 150,000 people in the middle of farmland, the MSP was probably the worst plan in Ontario when it comes to creating urban sprawl and endangering the environment forever.
I hope the Council heeds the comment made by Councillor Ritchie. He noted that he feels that they, as a Council, are making decisions and rubberstamping ideas without adequate input. It is unfortunate that Mayor Allen did not invite Councillors to question the 5 presenters that came forward to challenge the report to date.
The Consultant WSP are quite good and I have no issues with their work to date, but it is Council that needs to provide more commentary if the Township really wants a “Made in Springwater” plan. That is what we did with the Township Strategic Plan in the last term and it is still the guiding light as it is consistent with the ideas brought forward by Council, Staff and a number of Residents. That is why it still works. The Province and the County keep talking about affordable housing, yet no one has defined that term.
I asked the Consultant to provide a definition of “affordable” in the plan based on different levels of income. The reality is that there is far too much focus on just home ownership rather than safe housing. Rental accommodation is an important aspect of affordable housing but few dedicated rental buildings have been developed in the last 40 years which has resulted in all levels of accommodation being out of reach for many especially the young and elderly.
I think the Township needs to provide in its plan specific areas in the Township that would allow developments such as the Parkridge development which is a complex of lower cost single detached condominium approach. Possibly this could be done outside settlement areas where land has not been hoarded by a few deep pockets. If these special developments were highly restricted in size and pricing, I am sure the land costs would be reflective of lower cost housing and it should be a combination of both ownership and rental. Projects like the Seniors Proposal in Elmvale presented to last week’s Council Meeting would fall under this category in my view.
During the first part of information gathering for the Growth Management Study and Discussion Paper, WSP conducted a number of workshops and Council has said they will continue this trend as they work toward a new Official Plan by the end of next year. Because of the pending MSP approvals, and noted by Councillor Hanna at the meeting, unfortunately WSP had to propose ideas that would be implemented if the MSP ever does receive final approval.
I am one that hopes that never happens as Springwater will not continue to be a sustainable community as the costs for services especially water, sewer and roads will escalate at double digit rates and will be paid for by you and me the taxpayer. If growth is so good why do Barrie’s taxes continue to escalate while they fall farther behind in infrastructure replacement?
Growth never pays for itself and the cost is even worse in rural areas like Springwater, as everything starts from scratch. It is important to get involved now or you may have a plan for the Township that is totally contrary to what you feel Springwater should look like in the next 50 years.
Because of inadequate dialogue, that is how we got off track in 1998, so don’t let that happen again. I encourage you to read the Growth Management Study and Discussion paper on the Township website found under the link of Official Plan.
Bill French served as Mayor of Springwater and Simcoe County Councillor from 2014 to 2018.