Sir: At the Oct. 28 special meeting of municipal council once again went against the best professional advice of municipal administration, consultants, and upper tiers of government.
This time the decisions related to the comprehensive official plan review (COPR), which was produced after months (even years) of hard work by staff and consultants who are paid to be experts in the field, and are guided by policy produced by provincial government experts in the field.
The official plan concerns itself largely with land-use management in the municipality. Dominant themes in the guiding provincial policy statement and in Chatham-Kent administration’s recommendations are “intensification” and “redevelopment.” These themes emphasize the more intense use of currently developed lands and the redevelopment of serviced lands that may have fallen into disuse as priorities before any expansion of the urban boundaries is permitted.
Why are these good ideas? There are several reasons.
Municipalities are facing large “infrastructure deficits.” The taxes they collect aren’t sufficient to pay infrastructure costs. Chatham-Kent is in that position, with roads, bridges, and water and sewer lines badly in need of maintenance, repair, and replacement. Intensification and redevelopment will result in a larger tax base for the existing infrastructure, thus helping to overcome the infrastructure deficit.
We’ve all heard about the problems of “sprawl” land development – subdivisions and commercial centers extending further and further out, with each home or business surrounded by relatively large properties. It looks like community prosperity and growth, but many studies have shown that the costs of municipal services for residential or commercial sprawl are greater than the tax revenues it generates. The lengthy roads and water and sewer pipelines, the distances travelled by police and fire services, the transit costs, etc. eat up more than the new tax revenues generated.
In an agricultural area like Chatham-Kent sprawl often eats up prime agricultural land.
Intensification and redevelopment give shorter travel distances, saving fuel and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Commercial and residential sprawl is killing our downtowns and hollowing out our communities. Just count the number of vacant storefronts and underutilized upper floors.
Councillors talk up the job creation in the power centre (Walmart, Loblaws, Home Depot) but studies have shown that after five years there is a net job loss in the communities served by those centres (again, count empty storefronts and the people who formerly worked there) and employees’ average income is lower.
Our land use planning professionals know all this. Members of council don’t seem to. On Oct. 28 they voted to approve every application for extension of the urban boundaries (sprawl) that came before them, approved a land-use measure that put us on a slippery slope towards expansion of the power centre, and implicitly took on the very expensive installation of sanitary sewers in Bothwell.
Each of these measures has its own rationale, but taken together they represent an unjustified rejection of the land use strategy recommended by the province and by expert staff and consultants.