By Gerry Barker
December 26, 2016
Former Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion reported to Premier Kathleen Wynne that the Province’s rules of urban development were imposing anti “sprawl” restrictions on builders and citizens. The government is engaged in forcing urban municipalities in the Greater Toronto Area to build high-density housing (HDH) – strip-linked homes, low rise condos and town houses.
These policies are frustrating the human desire for space where they live. I call it government degradation of personal space.
There is a basic human desire to have a home where there is freedom of movement and a place for families to grow. The latest demands of the pointy-headed planners in downtown Toronto, is to increase the number of households and jobs per hectare from 50 to 80. In already urbanized areas, the increase rises from 40 residences per hectare to 60.
There are two terrible long-term caveats to consider in this provincial decision. One is affordability of single-family homes. The cost of these homes will rise exponentially as builders of those homes either flee to other distant jurisdictions or switch to build HDH homes. As the number of single-family homes decreases, the cost of housing in Metropolitan areas in the province will explode. It is already happening in Toronto.
Those municipal leaders who are in favour of high-density homes dismiss this argument. Mostly because it’s about revenue. Those HDH developments deliver millions in added revenue because the increased number of residences deliver more revenue per hectare than single-family development. The HDH residences are taxed not only for operating and capital spending by the city but provide increased assessment, contributing to the municipality’s bottom line.
The Province’s experts say this is greater use of land and less strain on civic services. But every time your assessment increases, your taxes go up.
The story of HDH in Guelph
You do not have to travel far in Guelph to see the high-density developments that were planned and approved by the Farbridge administration in her eight years as mayor. She saw the value in boosting revenue from these developments south of Arkel to Clair Road east of Victoria and Gordon Street.
Another more recent HDH development is on Eastview Road adjacent to the former Guelph landfill site.
In eight years, the Farbridge administration did not approve any single-family home development in the city. It is a city with hundreds of acres of undeveloped land, much of it owned by the University of Guelph.
This is what I call cramming people into a residence that has no street parking, waste removal, with many forced to use private contractors because the city collection vehicles cannot maneuver. Yet, many residents in these HDH developments still pay for waste collection through their taxes.
The former mayor and her council supporters, were well ahead of the curve ten years ago when they launched the HDH development program while explaining it was part of the Provincial government’s “Places to Grow,” policy.
Farbridge campaigned in 2006 that the city had to stop urban sprawl (read that single family homes). I remember a column written by Tony Leighton in the Mercury at the time, complaining that the single-family homes built in Guelph were all the same with little design or panache (my word). I recall the term “cookie-cutter development” used.
That was the beginning of planning a city without including single-family home development. The basic planning principle of mixed-use development was thrust aside by the Farbridge Administration for all the wrong reasons. The most glaring was the abandonment of develeoping affordable housing in Guelph by the administration for eight years.
City angles for getting something for nothing
Today, ten years later, we have a city council determined to (a) gain control of the 549 acres of the Reformatory lands without paying the Province, and (b) sending the mayor to consult with Premier Kathleen Wynne, MPP Liz Sandals and MP Lloyd Longfield. The inclusion of Longfield escapes me as the lands are totally out of his jurisdiction.
The administration is proposing a “collaborative accommodation” with the Province. This would justify the estimated thousands of dollars already spent by city employees to plan a bucolic “Vision,” a Euro-style, ground efficient complex, that is self-contained with shopping, work sites and bicycles. Perhaps a few electric motorized scooters.
Now the Provincial Liberals are anxious to overcome their revenue deficits by next year, according to Finance Minister Charles Sousa. Do you believe that the city administration, is sending our mayor to persuade lending us the rights to plan the lands without paying for it? The Wynne government can be blamed for a lot of mistakes but I don’t believe this will be one of them.
Think about it. If the Province allowed this modern version of lend lease, can you imagine the rest of Ontario’s 445 municipalities will demand a similar deal to gain ownership of provincial lands?
It then brings up the question: If the working agreement between the city and Province regarding the reformatory lands expired in 2014, why is the staff bringing it up now? Who is pushing this? Is it the staff or the majority of Council who support another failed Farbridge initiative?
The staff admits there is no money to purchase the property. This is self-evident, as the administration cannot afford to build the Wilson Street Parkade, South End recreation centre or a new downtown library.
These are all long term, capital projects that former and present administrations have failed to fulfill.
Where did the money go?
Taxes and user fees have increased steadily.
The answer is that our money has been spent with irresponsible abandon on building monuments to self aggrandizement such as the Waste Resources Innovation Centre on Dunlop Road; and increasing city staff to a point that is unsustainable when compared to similar sized cities; the multi-million dollar losses Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc endured that was personally chaired by the former mayor and Chief Executive officer, Ann Pappert; The $23 million loss building the new City Hall complex.
These are some of the reasons why there is a capital funding deficit of $170 million, according to Chief Administrative Officer Derrick Thomson.
If the city cannot afford to purchase the lands, how does the administration sell the idea of putting a large-scale development on lands they do not own? Doesn’t the owner of the lands have to approve the plan of subdivision and go through the long approval process? How is the public, the Ontario Municipal Board that would have to adjudicate any objections to the plan and, interested parties become involved in the process?
On a slightly different topic, a release by a Guelph radio station last week declared the salary for CAO Thomson was $230,000 fixed for three years. What was new information is that his contract includes six weeks vacation plus an extra week in lieu of overtime. It is difficult to comprehend why the CAO should be rewarded for working overtime. This means that the CAO will be off the job 13.4 per cent of his time in office each year of the contract.
Then there is the car allowance of $800 a week or $9,600 per year. That is a taxable benefit. When he was Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, his car allowance was $6,300 a year.
It appears Mr. Thomson’s annual remuneration totals $239,600 or $4,607 a week.
What the release didn’t mention was the effect of the cost of Mr. Thomson’s pension or the other perks of his office.
Mayor Guthrie felt it was a fair arrangement and praised Mr. Thomsom for revealing some of the details of his executive pay.
Now, if only the mayor would reveal the details of the $98,202 increases that went to former CAO Ann Pappert, DCAO’s Mark Amorosi and Derrick Thomson for 2015. It would reinforce his dedication to open government and his fiduciary responsibility to the people.