Even in somewhat rural Innisfil – that collection of small communities scattered around our agricultural surroundings – people are dissatisfied with the access to some of our green spaces. Resident parking and weekend crowding at Innisfil Beach Park are perennial sore points. Some people even suggest the park should be closed to outside visitors. A few current members-only neighbourhood beaches are the descendants of early cottage associations.
Lake Simcoe shoreline was taken up long ago by private seasonal cottages, which have evolved into much more substantial permanent lakefront residences. So it’s hard to imagine how to achieve more waterfront public space.
The town has recently developed plans to create more “place-making” public spaces with playgrounds, splash pads and skating areas expanding on the rinks, arenas and libraries already in place.
With all of this in mind, I was interested to read an article by the CEO of BILD (Building Industry and Land Development Association) titled, “Where did the money go? Parkland dedication fees should be used to build parks in the GTA”, (David Wilkes, Toronto Star, August 31, 2018).
“Ontario’s Planning Act allows municipalities to require that each new development contribute land for a park, or pay a fee to be used to purchase parkland, or to pay for buildings and machinery for parks or other recreational purposes.”
According to the BILD article, the City of Toronto collected $482 million “cash- in-lieu-of-parkland payments from residential and industrial development” over 10 years (2006 to 2016). In September 2016, $196.4 million (40%) remained unspent in reserves. BILD is upset that there are proposals to increase the parkland fee in “many [Toronto] areas where significant development is happening …”. I’d guess that’s because high-rise development increases surrounding land values and depresses the purchasing potential of accumulated parkland funds.
Do you see a problem here? The whole ‘cash-in-lieu-of’ concept is self-defeating. It is nothing more than a license to fill up urban areas with towers, make potential park sites all the more scarce and impossible to find and shift the burden onto the city. The need for open public space can only be met by a ‘land-for-land’ requirement. A developer should be required to provide the legislated amount of parkland (0.4 hectares per 300 units, in Toronto) either on the proposed building site or at another site acceptable to the city.
The lesson here is that ‘cash now, plan later’ is no substitute for proper planning and zoning up front. And developers have to accept that realistic provisions for parks are an essential part of any development plan. As Mr. Wilkes himself wrote, “When you pay for a park, you should get one …” So far, Innisfil’s plans for ‘place-making’ are a step in the right direction.