Monday, May 26, 2014

Midhurst, the Mayor and Links to the Facts

Thank you Madame Mayor, for your insight into the Township’s plans for growth in Midhurst. (Springwater News, May 8). I believe that you genuinely “would like to get it right’, but the facts speak for themselves and lead the inquisitive reader to the inevitable conclusion that your Council is simply not getting it right. You say, “The Township of Springwater must follow processes governed by provincial laws”. True enough. Here’s what the laws say:

The Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) was revised in 1996, 2005 and April 30, 2014. All versions contain clauses protecting agricultural land. e.g. in the current version, Section refers to Rural Lands in Municipalities and states:-
“Agricultural uses, agricultural-related uses, on farm diversified uses and normal farm practices should be protected in accordance with provincial standards”. (The proposed Midhurst development is entirely on Class 1 and 2 farmland). Section 2.3 is devoted to the protection of agriculture. Here’s the Link to the PPS:

The Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe Section 1.1 (page 7, para 10, 11 and 15) states:-
“Despite its many assets, Ontario and the GGH face a number of challenges in sustaining and growing its economy;
Increasing numbers of automobiles are traveling over longer distances resulting in clogged transportation corridors. Traffic congestion and delays in the movement of goods costs Ontario upwards of $5 billion in lost GDP each year.

Urban sprawl continues to the degradation of our natural environment, air quality and water resources as well as the consumption of agricultural lands and other natural resources so critical to the future economy”.

(Does the Mayor of Springwater seriously believe that enough local industry will be found to employ a new city the size of Orillia and that OPA 38 will not exacerbate long distance commuting and traffic congestion?)

Growth Plan 2.1 (page 13, para 3 and 4) states:-
“There is a large supply of land already designated for future urban development in the GGH. In most communities there is enough land to accommodate projected growth based on the growth forecasts and intensification target and density targets of this Plan. It is important to optimize the use of the existing land supply to avoid over-designating new land for future urban development.

Strong, healthy and prosperous rural communities are vital to the economic success of the GGH and contribute to our quality of life. i.e. building so many houses so far north of the GTA was not required by the province. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s the link to the Growth Plan:

IGAP - The County of Simcoe was a special case. Ever since the Greenbelt Act in 2005 barred many developments closer to Toronto, Simcoe had become an easy target for developers. I say easy, because councillors and planners in rural Ontario typically do not have the experience to cope with competitive developer sales arguments. Indeed some councillors are keen to embrace growth in their communities. The following is a quote from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing web site: “Since late 2004, the Province of Ontario, the County of Simcoe and the cities of Barrie and Orillia had been working together on an Intergovernmental Action Plan (IGAP) to address concerns about growth and environmental issues in the Simcoe County area”. Here’s the link:

The IGAP studies made it clear that in Simcoe County there was an oversupply of land approved for development. The report said that in 2006 (the year that the IGAP report was published) urban lands already approved, would satisfy 100% of the Province’s population needs through 2031. But speculators continued to buy land and to lobby for approvals. Then in 2010, the Province introduced its Proposed Amendment 1 to the Growth Plan. This document, introduced the idea of Interim Settlement Area Boundaries (ISABs) no larger than needed to satisfy Provincial population forecasts to 2031. As might be imagined this idea went down like a lead balloon with developers. No one wants to have their options limited. They argued successfully that settlement areas already established should not be reduced in size. So when Amendment 1 was finally released, the ISABs were gone and Midhurst was stuck with an over inflated “Settlement Area”.

Settlement Area - he Mayor refers to the Township of Springwater Official Plan of 1998. The plan was very thorough with 30 Sections, 14 Schedules (maps) and over 240 pages. Section 8.6 covers the settlement area policies for Midhurst. says “agricultural lands and operations should be protected from the intrusion of non-agricultural and community related uses”. says “Schedule A-8 generally identifies the study area within which the contemplated (Midhurst) Secondary Plans (two were envisaged) will set out future growth opportunities”. Other clauses deal with the need for financial feasibility studies, a review of nearby agricultural operations, etc. Provincial, County and Municipal staff and two councillors of the day have attested that the Midhurst Study Area was understood to be just that; an area to study where future development would occur. In those days there was no requirement for “intensification”.

Sections 17 and 18 of the Official Plan covered Agricultural and Rural Policies respectively.
e.g. 17.1.1 ... “agriculture is the most important segment of the Township’s economy. The agricultural industry must be protected in recognition of the increasing pressure from urban type development”.

The Midhurst Secondary Plan of 2008 was much smaller than the Official Plan. It contained 46 pages and two maps, plus the Appendix which provided typical urban design guidelines. The amended Plan assumed the entire study area shown in Schedule A-8, to be a “settlement area”, including the class 1 farmland in the north east, the class 2 farmland in the south west and the entire Springwater Provincial Park.
The Growth Plan defines Lands for Urban Uses as “Lands that are not designated for agricultural or rural uses within a settlement area identified in the approved official plan for the municipality”. But the Official Plan shows that the entire development is on agricultural land.

Required or not required?

Let’s not get confused as to what the province does or does not require. Secondary plans are a normal requirement for areas like Midhurst which are experiencing growth. But the wording of the provincial Growth Plan makes it perfectly clear that a secondary plan to bring 25,000 more people to Midhurst was not only unnecessary but actively discouraged by the Province. Check Schedule 7 of the Growth Plan. The mayor writes, “The Province required the Council of the Day to proceed with the Midhurst Secondary Plan”. If she means the plan as adopted by the Township, a simple glance at the above regulations makes this highly unlikely. And if it were to be true, why then in 2010 would the Province have tried to get the County and its municipalities to accept Interim Settlement Area Boundaries - a clear attempt to control the oversupply of development land in Simcoe County.

The mayor said, “We must follow the laws of the land”. Why then she did she write to the Minister of Infrastructure arguing against the Interim Settlement Area Boundaries and begging for more population to be allocated to Springwater than the laws permit. She wrote, “Despite the request made by Springwater in September 2009, the Township was not allocated a further increase in population or employment allocations. Current allocations fail to acknowledge the development potential in the Township within our primary settlement areas.”

But don’t take my word for it - here’s the link:

(Incidentally, it is true that Midhurst was considered to be a primary settlement area in Springwater; but not in Simcoe County. If you follow the link to the Growth Plan, you will see in Schedule 8, that there are seven Provincial primary settlement areas listed. None are in Springwater).

The County - The mayor provides a history of the Midhurst Secondary Plan known as OPA 38. This plan was adopted by Springwater Township on November 3, 2008 in defiance of the 1996 PPS, the 2006 Provincial Growth Plan, IGAP and two letters from Simcoe County which questioned the proposed number of units, the extent of the settlement boundary and general conformity with the Places to Grow legislation. The County wrote a third letter to the Township on December 16, 2008 stating that, “One of (the County’s) concerns is that the forecasted population as a result of the approval of the Official Plan Amendments 37 (Hillsdale) and 38 (Midhurst), would significantly exceed the Township’s population allocation as identified in the Growth Management Study and the adopted County Official Plan. The conformity of these amendments with Provincial legislation and policies and the County Official Plan is necessary to enable County staff to proceed with consideration of these amendments.”

OPA 38 was effectively shut down by the County for three years until, on October 12, 2011, under mysterious circumstances, the County suddenly approved OPA 38 saying that it had been modified and now complied with the PPS and the County Official Plan. But on October 28, 2011, the Province appealed the County’s decision to the OMB stating, “The reasons for this appeal are that the County Council’s decision is not consistent with the policies of the Provincial Policy Statement, 2005 (PPS); does not conform to the County of Simcoe Official Plan and is premature”.

But don’t take my word for it. The full version can be found here:

So if OPA 38 truly contravenes Provincial policy, is not even required and Jack Hanna, Rick Webster, Perry Ritchie and Sandy McConkey have all at one time or another questioned the wisdom of it, why don’t we just put a stop to it?

The mayor mentioned a possible cost to the Township of $100m if the Township was to rescind OPA 38. She implied that to do so would be breaking the law. This warrants further scrutiny.

On January 19, 2012, three months after the Province wrote to the OMB with its reasons why OPA 38 must be appealed, the Province amended the Growth Plan adding Section 6 specifically for Simcoe County. The new section granted several concessions to Simcoe including allowing two “Strategic Settlement Employment areas” between Barrie and Bradford. (You can see the signs in the fields along the 400). Also dated January 19, 2012 were a set of Transition Regulations 311/06, which included a “Special Rule” intended to permit the first half of the Midhurst development to go ahead. Was this a result of the County writing to the province confirming that the proposed development was to be on lands which were designated Lands for Urban Uses as of January 19, 2012, or perhaps the result of the six or more lobbying letters sent to the Province by the developers? We can’t be sure.

Probably someone will argue that the $100m quoted above is nothing to do with how much developers have spent, it's all about lost future business. I wonder how many businesses would like to secure compensation from customers who changed their mind about buying a product after accepting sales pitches? Sure the developers have had costs. And if their investment doesn’t bear fruit, that’s a business loss and a tax deduction. And any losses would be offset against the 12% per year appreciation in the farmland they purchased between 2006 and 2010.

I can’t imagine any judge awarding a figure of $100m, but this number might even prove to be small compared with the cost of building and maintaining the new infrastructure, as many other municipalities have discovered. Even the County admits that growth doesn’t pay for growth. This is obvious unless growth is backed by some revenue generating industry. Why else would municipalities with high population growth and no industry have the highest taxes?

Then there’s the question of the developers paying for the up-front costs of roads and water plants associated with the development. On this point, I truly hope that the mayor is right. If the development were to go ahead, we must pray that the Township remembers to ensure that the up-front payment requirement get’s typed in bold print in any contract signed with the developers. Also let’s hope that there is an insurance bond in place to protect the Township against deficiencies, incomplete work and other unexpected outcomes.

The mayor wrote “Over the past few years you have heard the perspective of others that proposes a path that conflicts with these laws.” We sure have. The path was proposed and driven by developers, as is usually the case. Perhaps the public must accept some blame for not keeping our eyes open. But it’s hard when people are focused on earning a living, while developers are focused solely on developing. It’s sad that politicians so often allow themselves to be influenced more by big business than by those who elect them.

David Strachan - Midhurst This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (I’ll be happy to email the links)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

How do you find the Truth?

It was great to see the two articles from Mayor Collins in the last edition of Springwater News.

I have no real problem with Mayor Collin’s comments on the former Suncor (Petrocan) property at the main intersection in Elmvale. I only question why Suncor was given a tax break on what is still a long term problem for someone at some point. The main reason the valuable property has not been sold is the fact that there is some question on soil contamination from leaching gasoline over its more than half a century existence. I have not seen the agreement but I am hoping that it includes clauses covering the potential cleanup costs at some point. I am sure Suncor would have also agreed to continue to pay the taxes of just over $2,000 a year if it had been requested. Paying approximately $24,000 of tax over a ten year period would have been an inexpensive deferral cost for such a large company. The obvious question will be, “How do we recover the investment of the park improvements when the agreement expires?” I do appreciate that the Mayor actually responded rather than deferring to an administrative response as she usually does.

Now the Mayor’s comments on Midhurst are a different story. It was obviously edited by the Administration staff as I know by her usual comments at Council and Planning meetings, the statements are far above her typical vocabulary. I appreciate the detail provided but I encourage you, that care about our wonderful Springwater, to spend some time and dig into her explanations. The reality is that the province in the early 2000’s saw a disturbing trend of sprawl and poor planning especially in Simcoe County and passed two important policies, the Provincial Policy Statement and Places to Grow. It had become obvious that developers preferred flat farmland to develop their large subdivisions, as the costs were less expensive than redevelopment of declining neighborhoods. If you look around Springwater, especially in Hillsdale, Snow Valley, Minesing, Phelpston, Centre Vespra, Apto and Fergusonvale, they were all small developments complementing the existing areas. If you speak to the council members of the late 90’s, the development of Midhurst was expected to follow that trend. The proposed Mega City of Midhurst was a concept driven by developers and supported by this and the previous council. It was not mandated by the province and the province projected a growth in Springwater of 6,500 people from 2006 to 2031, not another 28,000. If this council had informed the Provincial Growth Secretariat and the Facilitator, who met with all stakeholders, that the proposals for Midhurst were not in keeping with the township’s vision for it future, then there would have been no “Special Rule”. Remember the proposed Mega Developments in Midhurst are only permitted because of the Minister’s order approving the Special Midhurst Rule. A future Minister could as easily reverse the decision, it if done before actual development commences. The Mayor seems a little misguided if she thinks this is trying to subvert the law.

You have seen recent articles from our Mayor, Deputy Mayor and Ward 3 Councillor. At least we know where they all sit on Midhurst and effectively it is full speed ahead. They all  blame the decisions on higher levels of government. The reality is that our local council could have and should have taken more control to avoid what will be the most negative economic, environmental and social impact on Springwater in its entire history.

The October 27th election is a long way off. You need to understand these important issues. Don’t take my word for it, do you own research and talk to those in the know.

It’s you choice!


Sunday, May 4, 2014

Why Not Protect Springwater’s Unique Character?

During my career I had the opportunity of living in some nice cities and enjoyed it very much. I spent two years in London England living in the Kensington High Street area in a lovely 3 bedroom flat. I lived for a year in Santa Monica in a beautiful Condo Complex at Marina Del Rey and had Mick Jagger as a neighbor in the building next to mine. I also did a half year stint in Boston. We lived and raised our children in Scarborough for 17 years. In all cases my wife and I enjoyed the amenities that were offered and the many conveniences. As expected we paid dearly for those conveniences.

After a hectic 35 year business career, I decided that I would forego some of those amenities for a simpler way of life. I chose Springwater because of its natural setting and its collection of small communities. Maybe I am selfish, but I think many people moved here for the same reason.

Last weekend I was reminded of why I moved to Springwater Township when I semi-retired. I attended two Church Suppers on Saturday. I visited the Grenfel United Church supper attended by about 150 people and also the Midhurst United Church Supper attended by about 300 people. These events are the true marks of rural living and the very reason why so many want to protect it against the speculators and profiteers that have invaded the Midhurst area in recent years. Where do you find gatherings today when many faces are recognized when you go into the room. You may not know them by name but you have seen them in your community on a regular basis.

Contrasting that was the open house on Wednesday to view the subdivision plans for the Mega Developments in Midhurst. Effectively, if both phases are allowed to proceed, there will be another 10,000 homes or about 28,000 more people in this rural peaceful hamlet. It is simply crazy. The plans for the approved lands outlined two areas of development around Midhurst with the first phase requesting the approval of zoning for over 5,000 new dwelling units. That would represent a 400% increase in the number of homes in Midhurst in the first phase. If the second phase proceeds that would present an 800% increase in the number of homes. As far as the neighborhood designs on these tiny lots, they are quite good and if they were situated in the annexed lands in Barrie, they make perfect sense and would complement the similarly designed developments you find in Barrie. None of the plans presented complement any of the existing community designs in Midhurst today or any other area of Springwater. The big disappointment is that our council passed a resolution to simply address a few nuances such as wider streets, some wider lots, room for snow storage and other matters of this nature and forward the comments to the OMB as the landowners and developers have bypassed the normal township controlled planning process. No one on council said that the entire rezoning application is unsuitable and contrary to the existing character of Midhurst or Springwater. The motion passed unanimously.

The atrocity of the Midhurst Secondary Plan and the Mega City developments can be stopped or greatly curtailed but you must get involved. If you don’t engage then you must be prepared to accept the consequences, which is simply the destruction of a unique community that has survived for over 150 years. Call your councillors and ask them to at least take a strong position at the OMB hearings on the rezoning matter. Currently it appears that aside for the minor nuances, they plan to take a passive role and not protect the distinct character of our existing communities.

To show how forthright our elected officials are, I emailed a variety of questions to Collins, Hanna and McConkey that sit on the Environmental Assessment Committee for the Mega Development. This was prompted by Deputy Mayor McLean’s comment in his recent letter to the editor that our elected officials are ensuring that everything will be environmentally protected with the Midhurst Mega Developments Plans for water and sewage treatment. I received this response from Councillor Hanna “I provide the following in response to your questions. I am not responding on behalf of the E. A. Committee or Council. I can confirm that there have been two meetings of the E. A. Committee. I cannot provide the minutes. You may wish to check the Twp web site.
I will ensure that the rest of your questions are advanced at our next E A or liaison committee meeting and seek an appropriate response”. From McConkey the response was “We have had 2 meetings. I want to respect the Mayor and her message in keeping with the protocol of communication from these meetings. I understand from her response that she will be referring your questions to the next meeting for a response”.  I received this response from Mayor Collins, “In keeping with the protocol of communication from these meetings, I thank you for your questions and will refer them to the next EA meeting for response.”. For those that attend the planning and council meetings this is a normal response from the Mayor on any subject. She must be a mushroom grower as she is great at keeping you in the dark and covering you with manure. My questions were not exactly threatening since the first two asked about how many meetings had been held and if there were minutes published. Hanna and McConkey at least answered some of them. And just to confuse issues the CAO emailed me and said there was only one EA meeting. I also saw a timeline chart that suggested by now there should have been 7 or 8 meetings of each committee.

It is important to study the candidates for the Municipal Election in the Fall and find out who is running. Unfortunately, the current council is being coy and have not filed their nomination papers and will probably wait until the last minute hoping that the OMB will make a decision on Midhurst so they don’t have to deal with it. In my eyes that is cowardice. You have seen recent articles from two of our elected officials and both conveniently blame someone else. That might work in government jobs but never seems to work in the real world. It is time to remind them that we do live in the real world and not some parallel universe.

It’s your choice!