Sunday, October 16, 2011

Rocky landscape in Caledon, Peel Region

CALEDON - Every new mile of road laid in this burgeoning community north of Toronto comes with a price tag.

Not just the gravel, asphalt and labour that go into new streets, but water and sewer lines, sidewalks and stop lights, schools, police and fire stations, hospitals and hockey arenas that service new homes and businesses along those streets.

Caledon is on the precipice of explosive growth — a population boom that will see the number of residents here increase from 60,000 to more than a half million over the next 50-odd years.

A relative blink of the eye, from a municipal planner’s perspective.

But the witches brew of growth politics, billion-dollar stakes, self-interest, conflicting visions of growth and frustration over who should pay local bills for services has stimulated conflict and poisonous debate here.

Controversy surrounding development and in particular two proposed projects in the community of Bolton, which is part of Caledon, has in fact dogged the community for years.

It has led to defamation lawsuits and allegations local council ignored provincial planning rules permitting development to thwart one developer in favour of another.

There have been darker allegations of conflict of interest against Mayor Marolyn Morrison, her denials of those allegations, an OPP investigation into the mayor’s “activities” as they relate to development and her subsequent exoneration.

There were fraud and forgery charges against an individual who raised allegations against Morrison, pitched and poisonous accusations in last year’s municipal election and, most recently, a potentially costly Ontario Municipal Board hearing on the matter.

Morrison said the dispute has been personal and dirty, including allegations repeatedly dredged up during election campaigns that her friend and former campaign manager, who runs a successful garden market in Bolton, stands to make a bundle by selling land to developers of a project called Mayfield West, east of Hwy. 10.

“She has not sold her farms,” Morrison said this week. “They have no intention of selling their farm. They never had any interest in selling their farm.”

At the crux of the dispute is where Caledon builds first, and how fast. There’s provincial approval to create homes for 20,000 people.

Caledon’s council isn’t keen to support short term growth, preferring to slow things down and see growth occur between 2021 and 2031.

There are a number of new commercial properties in Bolton, too many in fact unless the town grows. A number are struggling and a number have shut down.

“We are the donut in the hole,” Kelly Darnley, executive director of the Caledon Chamber of Commerce said in a recent interview. “There is just not enough new population here to sustain the businesses that have opened here.”

A recently built complex containing a KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut was forced to close and other businesses, including Boston Pizza, Shoeless Joe’s, Canadian Tire and Home Depot reportedly have been forced to restructure or get help from their corporate head office.

“We are bleeding here,” said Darnley.

Then there’s pressure from developers, including Solmar Development Corp. which wants to build a 2,100-hectare, 6,000-home Humber Station Villages housing project in the town.

A number of different developers have property in town and all them want to build, Morrison said.

We’re not against growth,” she insists. “What we’re fighting for here is to plan the growth properly and not be developer driven.”

The Mayfield development, which sparked what Morrison describes as a “smear campaign,” was first identified in the late 1980s as a future area for growth in Caledon, she said.

“Humber Station is a farm field,” Morrison said. “It’s no different from any of the other developments that want to be considered for next areas of growth.”

The dispute between the town and Solmar will go to the OMB later this month.

And while the scandal has had tongues wagging in Caledon, it’s also fueled concern and controversy in neighbouring communities, particularly Mississauga.

Taxpayers are picking up the lion’s share of the legal bills to sort out for the OMB dispute.

Mississauga residents, like home owners in Bolton and Caledon, are partners in the Peel Region government. And because Mississauga’s population dwarfs Caledon’s, residents there are on the hook for most of the estimated $5 million cost of the OMB hearing, according to councillor Nando Iannicca.

“It’s the crime of the century,” Iannicca told the Toronto Sun in a recent interview.

“Our costs will be at least $3 million, while Caledon with its 60,000 residents is very pleased to say here’s our cheque for $250,000,” Iannicca said.

He also suggests Caledon is fighting development because residents there enjoy large lots and a small town feel.

“They are living the dream right now and they know it and they are hanging on to that dream,” Iannicca said. “With a major highway that goes there and a Go Train station mapped out, Bolton is the logical place to grow.”

The debate now switches to intensification, putting more people into denser communities with smaller lots is the antidote to “sprawl” and costs less to develop and service.

In Iannicca’s view, Caledon is suffering from “that NIMBY thing.”

“It seems everybody hates development after they have built their castle and moved into it,” he said. “My constituency has over 80,000 people. All of Caledon doesn’t have 60,000. And they think my taxpayers want to take their density? And they think my taxpayers want to pay their bills at 95 cents on the dollar? They’re mistaken.

“If Caledon wants to fight that battle, go ahead and fight it,” he said.

Caledon is not alone.

The majority of municipalities across the Greater Toronto Area, struggle with how to pay for the increasingly high cost of new development and the demand for services growth brings.

“You’ve got to tackle how you pay for it, and can you afford it,” said Pat Vanini, executive director Association of Municipalities of Ontario.

AMO asked political parties during the recent provincial election campaign to reform legislation governing development charges.

Fees paid by developers, and ultimately new home and business owners, account for 32% of actual municipal capital costs in high-growth GTA communities, and 15% in most other areas.

Among their “asks,” AMO would like to see charges increased to help pay for everything from ambulance stations to new parks, municipal buildings, transit and hospitals — which would effectively create a massive new revenue source for local governments.

Premier Dalton McGuinty, who won a minority Liberal government this month, wouldn’t commit to reviewing development charges during the campaign.

But unless that happens, AMO figures, municipalities that are already struggling to keep their fiscal heads afloat simply won’t be able to afford new development.

“We really need to go back at those (charges) and figure out what they need to be,” Vanini said.

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