Thursday, May 24, 2012

Sandy Agnew - Chair of AWARE sub Committee

Here are the remarks by Sandy Agnew regarding the concerns about the growth direction that is being proposed by the County of Simcoe. These remarks were made at the AWARE Simcoe Media Conference, May 23, 2012

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Thanks you for coming out this morning. My name is Sandy Agnew and I’m a member of the AWARE Simcoe board and chair of our AWARE Growth Subcommittee.

We’ve invited you here to share our views on Amendment 1 of the Provincial Places to Grow Plan, the so called made-in-Simcoe County plan to manage growth to 2031 in Simcoe County.

This Amendment one has many major shortcomings.

There is no long term vision for what the residents of Simcoe County want the County look like in 50 or 75 years. I come from Vaughan. 50 years ago it was a rural farming township. Do we want Simcoe County look like the GTA?

We need to know what the maximum population is that can be sustainably supported by the land, water and ecological functions of the County? Is it 500,000, a million? How many people is the upper target to live in Simcoe County, Barrie and Orillia?

The County planning department is telling County Council that this Amendment is a “Good to go” plan that allows development to proceed in up to 91 Settlement Areas across the county, regardless of the 667,000 number cited by the province. This appears to be based on the myth that all growth in good, always leads to prosperity and can continue forever.

For starters, the notion that growth can continue forever is utterly ridiculous. It is the philosophy of a cancer cell. And we know that cancer, left untreated, always ends in the death of the host, in this case our planet.

On the other hand, the province is telling us that the 667,000 number stands and they want to see growth directed to the seven Primary Settlement Areas and that there are strict conditions that must be met to allow growth in the non-primary settlement areas.

AWARE Simcoe believes that planning in Simcoe County should be driven by two priorities:

1. The need to preserve farmland and agricultural activity because these are the essential elements that the county can contribute to the Greater Golden Horseshoe, and

2. The need to limit sprawl, because it is a wasteful and short sighted use of precious resources and will irrevocably change our unique and fertile landscape.

Among AWARE Simcoe recommendations to the province are:

1. A study to determine the level of sustainable population for Simcoe County.

2. Legislation to protect agricultural businesses as outlined in the Places To Grow vision.

3. Policies to close the loopholes in Sections, and in Amendment 1 allowing unwarranted development.

4. That the Province stand firm with its appeal of the approval of the Midhurst OPA 38 by the County of Simcoe and stop the development on these prime pieces of agricultural land.

Bernard Pope Ontario Farmland Preservation

This is what Bernard Pope had to say about the growth plans for Simcoe County and area at the AWARE

News Conference Simcoe County Museum May 23, 2012

It is a pleasure to be able to be here this morning to discuss the opinions of the AWARE Land Use Sub-committee with regard to the Places to Grow legislation.

The main concern that I have, coming from an agricultural background, is that there has been a lack of understanding of the importance of agriculture in our economy.

Currently figures are suggesting that agricultural is the number one value added sector in the Province. The sector, when you look closely, encompasses a huge diversity of enterprise, from the farmer’s markets, to the retail stores that supply farmers, equipment dealers , fertilizer and seed suppliers and all the wages paid through farm work.

Typically, when the farmer or rancher is doing well, so does the economy, because that farmer will buy land, stock, equipment (especially trucks) and other infrastructure for the farm.

I drive a GMC extend-a-cab 4x4 and when I showed up at a Soil and Crop meeting in Blackstock in February I had the smallest truck in the lot.

When the AWARE team met with the Provincial Development Facilitator, last June, we stressed the concern that we had for un-required sprawl on the food producing land and as such asked her to incorporate major protection for this land. All the documents dating back to the Policy Statement of 2005, including the Places to Grow document have stated the importance of the preservation of farmland.

What we want to see is serious legislation that does in fact preserve the land that produces the quality local food that more and more people are demanding.

Since the Province recognizes the value of farming and farmers, I think that, especially now that the global insecurities are so prevalent, that the County of Simcoe should lead the way by showing the respect for the agricultural sector in the preservation of food producing land. This would be a major component of the Official Plan.

A working group that believes in the holistic progression of our development would serve Simcoe County and the Province and be a model for which others would aspire.

I have to say that being invited to work with the AWARE group is a pleasure.

The public is indeed being served well by the activities in which AWARE is involved.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Mixed Messaging on Simcoe County Growth

I have had the opportunity of being close to the growth issue for about 8 years and learned firsthand about the issue while a member of the Committee of Adjustment for Springwater Township, a small municipality of 18,000 bordering Barrie and Wasaga Beach. My initial thinking was that all growth was good growth when I was asked by the mayor and councilor of the day to sit on the committee. As I studied the Provincial Policy Statement, the Places to Grow and the IGAP policies as they unfolded I quickly realized that uncontrolled growth is bad growth and is definitely not sustainable. That is what is happening in Simcoe County if allowed to proceed.

When we talk about sustainability it involved three key factors, the economy, the environment and the social wellbeing of the people. Some people refer to sustainability as people, planet and profits. Without one the system fails.

Let’s look at the economic impact. On the short term there would be a spike in jobs in the building and service trades, but where will the sustainable jobs come from? The province directs employment lands to be created but no method of restricting residential growth until jobs are created. I was amazed that the economic study undertaken by Springwater Township in 2010 confirmed that almost 90% of non-farm workers left the township for employment. Why would it make sense to add more housing without job creation? In the past most municipalities grew in an orderly and organic fashion to bring people to a community as the job opportunities were created. The world has discovered in the last five years that growth is not the answer to the economic crisis of the world.

Most people have come to realize that we are upsetting the ecological balance in the world today. Creating more bedroom communities is contrary to the intent of the province’s growth directive as the dependence on the automobile must be reduced not increased. The current growth plans promotes commuting. The 7 primary settlements identified in Places to Grow make some sense. They are all close to large bodies of water that can provide both the drinking water and the effluent discharge from their sewage treatment plants. The other 84 settlement areas need to be restricted in growth as they can cause irreversible harm to both the aquifer where they will draw water or the small creeks and tributaries where they will discharge the effluent. In these smaller settlement areas restricted growth on sub surface waste treatment systems must be the order of the day. That means very small developments. We can’t ignore the environment in our thirst for growth.

If we have no jobs and people must spend 2 to 4 hours commuting to seek employment and it takes both partners to make ends meet, how does that improve the social wellbeing and health of the individuals or the community where they live. The simple answer is that it does not. Livable communities are more than parks, trails, bike paths and recreation facilities and places to shop. Communities should be places to live, relax and enjoy the company of your neighbor. With the growth that is planned for Simcoe County in the next few decades, these community aspects will decline and we will see the creation of urban ghettos.

Simcoe County has the opportunity of becoming a model of how good growth should occur. That can only happen if the local and county councils take planning back into their hands, listens to what the current residents have to say and proceed in an orderly fashion. The policy and phasing in each of the municipalities must be created by the local council and not be dictated by the large landowner groups or developers, which has now become the norm in the last ten years.

When the green belt around Toronto was created about 10 years ago, the view was that residential growth will stay close to the large employment centres around the GTA and density will automatically increase. I don’t think anyone imagined that as the land disappeared and was ate up with poorly planned urban sprawl that these large developers would leap frog the green belt and simply treat Simcoe County as an extension of the GTA. That is what is and will happen if the Province and the County fail to control growth and keep the numbers controlled and possibly reduced to avoid the spread of the development disease.

Our hope is that the county will keep the projected number at the 667,000 or less, that growth will be directed to the primary settlement areas and that residential growth is only permitted when jobs are created and there is proof there is a real need for more housing in the communities.

We are at a precipice and if the local municipal councils and the county council do not take charge, then the unique character of both Simcoe County and those 91 settlement areas will be destroyed forever.