The public meetings at City Hall recently have highlighted a couple of issues regarding development.
The first of these is the concept of infilling as opposed to using new land. A number of Province of Ontario municipal planning guidelines mandate certain levels of density in new developments, whether they be on new land or old. The result is that developers now have to provide a greater mix of housing types. The result is that, where once you might have found an entire subdivision of fully detached houses, just about every new development now contains detached houses with decreased lot sizes, semis, an multiple housing styles such as quadriplexes and town houses.
There are advantages to this, of course. For one thing, it slows down urban sprawl and slows the disappearance of farmland and open space land. It also integrates neighbourhoods, providing for a wider range of socio-economic groups, no doubt to the chagrin of some upper income people. However, the pitfalls become obvious when the density becomes so great as to disturb existing neighbourhoods or cause problems sometimes associated with greater density, including traffic and crime, not to mention more student rentals in Thorold.
But, since the Province says it must be so, the City must make it so. The only real alternative is to change the City’s Official Plan so that there is no more development. You’ll be told, however, that’s not an option to most politicians. Why not?
That leads to the second observation that arose out of these meetings. Despite numerous studies done over the years, which show that new developments cost more to operate than they provide in taxes, there are still a number of politicians and others who believe that more taxpayers means more money. Of course, it does in total income, but not where maintenance and operation are concerned. This is largely due to the expanded service requirements that the development generate.
Of course, not all the studies show that imbalance (especially the ones by the construction industry), but, at best, it’s a wash, in which case there just isn’t a benefit to more unless you’re empire building. And, hey, don’t development charges pay for the extra infrastructure and services required? To a degree but, especially in cases of infilling, brownfields developments and special circumstances, the developers may recover some or all of them by way of Community Improvement Plans (CIPs).
So, what can be done about all of it? Likely not much. The problem lies in the fact that there are pros and cons to each side of the arguments. That means that each side will argue the points which best serve their interests. And decisions will usually follow the (real and perceived) money. It did when we tried to save the Richmond Street Forest the last time, and it likely will again.