Geography More Than Luck

In my last article, Bradford was said to be “very lucky to have a very cohesive development group that’s willing to front-end the water and wastewater projects”. Of course, it’s obvious that a lot more than luck is involved.

It has more to do with geography. Bradford’s core is centered around Yonge St. and it has developed new housing tracts to the west, filling the area between Yonge St and Highway 400. The cost of installing the wastewater services is being absorbed by those new Bradford households. Naturally, those developers are now willing to share the cost of extending that infrastructure beyond Hwy 400 for Bradford’s industrial lands.

My abbreviated history of Innisfil Heights illustrates that the situation is much different in Innisfil. Our town is a collection of small settlements based on historical farming communities and post-war seasonal cottage communities. Our ‘primary’ settlement, Alcona, which encompasses about half of Innisfil’s population, was built adjacent to Lake Simcoe. Hwy 400 is about 12 km distant. Extending municipal services to the designated highway industrial lands without major new residential development to finance it has proved to be virtually impossible. Councillor Doug Lougheed regularly likes to refer to Alcona as “The Mistake by the Lake”. 

Various efforts have been made to push residential development to the west but those plans have clashed with provincial Smart Growth policy for stricter settlement boundaries and higher densities. Developers just aren’t willing to invest millions of dollars on infrastructure when that cost will be have to be spread over fewer than a hundred potential industrial/commercial tenants.

The irony in all of this is that the same rules don’t apply to everyone. Our municipal neighbor, and ‘regional centre’, Barrie, has been allowed to gobble up land and sprawl out seemingly without limit. It has its own plans to push substantial residential and industrial growth west of highway 400 and south on land annexed from Innisfil.

When I read a recent article (Royson James, Mississauga Wants Out, Toronto Star April 18, 2016) about the clash between Caledon and other municipalities in Peel Region, I realized there is another significant flaw in Ontario’s Smart Growth policies. The push for urbanization and higher densities has turned ‘rural’ into a four-letter word in the view of some larger, more powerful and ambitious neighbours:

“Both [Mississauga, Brampton] mayors consider tiny, rural Caledon and its more affluent, horsey crowd — population 70,000 — a fiscal drain and urban nuisance. Caledon pays 5 per cent of the freight, has 5 per cent of the population, but locks down 21 per cent of the votes at regional council.”

Innisfil isn’t particularly affluent, horsey (if you’re the latter, check out Herberts) or overly influential at the County level, but we seem to experience some of the same attitude. If Ontario really wants its Places to Grow policy to succeed, the province needs to find ways to make traditionally ‘rural’ municipalities economically sustainable. How can they broaden their tax base to include a reasonable amount of commercial and industrial development? How can they finance costly infrastructure for that to happen? How can they preserve agricultural assets, and protect natural and environmental features for everyone while satisfying provincially mandated targets for urban growth? Right now, we don’t have answers to any of those questions. Without innovative solutions, our new environments will be neither truly urban nor truly rural.

History of the Heights

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