CITY VIEW – If this is the Farbridge train, it’s time to get off

Posted April 15, 2013

Putting it together, you discover why our city is lagging provincially mandated rates of growth. The Places to Grow Act of the provincial government set out time lines for population growth. In Guelph’s case the target was set at 175,000 by 2031. In order to meet this goal Guelph requires a specified pattern of growth that calls for 1,100 new homes per year.

The city has fallen short of this target for several years. That means that the city’s population must grow by 47,000 in the next 18 years. To achieve that figure today, the city will have to produce 1,850 new homes per year. Because the city has not met its Places to Grow targets for the past six years, the number of new home starts needed every year grows exponentially.

This council has been unable to even meet the 1,100 new homes a year to meet the provincial mandate.

So what’s the problem?

The record is dismal when taking the past six and a half years of the Farbridge Administration’s scorecard in promoting development both residential and industrial commercial. First, in January 2007, the new council let it be known its policy would be to curtail urban sprawl. That sent a cold message to developers.

Then development fees for new home construction were jacked up to almost double, which further slowed development. The result was driving up home prices as the builders passed the new charges to the purchaser.

Then a large swath of lands were designated “Heritage Lands” and most were owned by private citizens. This narrow policy squeezed available raw land for development.

But some developers have fought back and a record number of appeals of city planning decisions are on file with the Ontario Municipal Board. The city promised a litigation status report in March but has delayed release allegedly because of the legal department’s workload in managing the legal issues files.

Infill and brownfield lands are mostly unsuitable for single-family homes. As a result of the 185 starts in the first quarter this year, only 41 were for single detached homes. The rest were for linked town house projects.

Failure on the part of the administration to not only maintain the level of residential development but since 2007, to seek out and attract industrial and commercial development. Guelph’s ratio between residential assessments is 84 per cent with only 16 per cent for industrial/commercial assessment. Well-run municipalities look to a ratio of 60 per cent residential and 40 per cent industrial/commercial.

As a result of these failed policies, the load keeps building on the shoulders of private property owners and businesses. City revenues are dependent on property taxes with 94 per cent making up city income.

Now, the city financial department has produced a four-year tax increase scheme that limits increases to 3.87 per cent. When compounding these proposed increases, taxes will rise by 16.4 per cent in only four years.

While the idea of proposing long-term tax increases as a public service, it is sheer stupidity. How can the city finance department make such assumptions? The city is relying more and more on the taxpayers to shore up its library of social engineering schemes, undocumented capital spending, unknown budget liabilities and pension guarantees.

The record is clear and despite the Farbridge propaganda machine turning out glowing reports of its accomplishments, the real story is masked in obfuscation, secrecy and amateur manipulation of the facts.

If you were a businessman wishing to locate in Guelph it would not take long to figure out that there are too many hurdles and obstacles facing your application. Two independent consultants have stated that Guelph is a difficult place in which to do business.

It’s one of the reasons that the $10 million Hanlon Business Park has not attracted new industrial/commercial development. It goes back to the anarchist occupation of the Park in 2009, when construction was halted, equipment was damaged, the contractor was threatened, and the police watched from the sidelines.

Yet the city council did nothing to condemn the illegal occupation and it cost at least one councillor his job in the 2010 election. It also cost an additional $1 million to complete the Hanlon Business Park.

These are some of the reasons why Guelph lags in developing our city with new housing and new job–creating industry and businesses.

The latest Farbridge gambit is to offer a holiday of development fees to high-rise projects downtown. The idea is to encourage housing in the city’s core. Wonder if other developers and builders are being offered the same juicy arrangement. The irony is the holiday is internally financed by taking funds from the brownfield restoration fund.

Sure the developers will eventually pay the non-indexed development fees. But that could be ten years from now.

Another example of voodoo economics that is burying the city’s reputation and financial future.

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2 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

2 responses to “CITY VIEW – If this is the Farbridge train, it’s time to get off

  1. Glen N. Tolhurst

    Those who are fed up with the current administration should note the following ” The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits” Albert Einstein.

  2. rena

    amen to that Glen

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