Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Midhurst Development Plans Lovefest

It was like yesteryear and everyone from the developers of Midhurst were well prepared and our unwitting staff and council were eating out of their hands. Everyone was, as they say in England, “kicking the ball in the same direction”.

On October 23 at the Simcoe County Museum with coffee and timbits, the new city of Midhurst was unveiled by the developers. In a word, it is a beautiful development and great planning if it were in Barrie, Orillia, Midland or Alliston. It is not the typical small developments we have seen in Springwater since the beginning of rural living by urban workers. This is no Snow Valley or even the new large Yorkwood development on Sunnidale. The City of Midhurst is simply massive and unprecedented for a small rural municipality.
I was surprised to see our Mayor Linda Collins lead off the festivities and CAO Robert Brindley speak to the order of the development process. A layperson had no doubt that the Springwater Council was in 100% support of everything that was presented and the landowners group did a great job at conducting the orchestra. Few would understand that the command performance of all councillors being present that two of them are opposed to what is planned. Only Hanna and Ritchie have had the courage to push back the tide of the runaway train called the Midhurst Secondary Plan.

I spent a lot of time speaking with the developer’s experts and they were well prepared and answered all my questions openly and honestly. To be frank much more honestly and informed than the answers I have received from some of the elected officials.

The first question I had was quite simple, “Why build such a large development in Midhurst instead of Barrie which is a designated primary settlement area? Straight forward answer. The province is running out of development land and the landowners group and developer don’t own land in Barrie. The developers saw an opportunity and through lobbying and salesmanship convinced those in power that developing a city in Midhurst was a good idea. I don’t make that remark as a criticism of the developer, but I do criticize our council and staff for not properly defending the rural landscape and needs of our township. Developers are in business to build houses. That is what they do. They answer to investors and shareholders and owners the same as any business does. They, unfortunately for us, are doing a great job for their stakeholders. I suggest you read the recent Christopher Hume article, Toronto Star, Oct. 27, 2013 for a better overview of the problem with urban sprawl.

It was clear from the beginning that the designer has a lot of experience and has created wonderful community designs for urban centres. It was painfully clear that the Midhurst rural landscape is designed to be a future city landscape when the bulldozers move in. That is just the way it is and I offer no criticism about the design. My criticism has always been that these mega developments have no place in rural municipalities and it was never the intent of the province to permit this urban sprawl. I went as far as to say to the developers that I like their city designs and if I wanted to be a city dweller I would love to live in one of their developments. I also told them that, unfortunately for them, I chose to live in a rural community away from urban sprawl, so their development plans are unwelcomed by most of those directly impacted.

I did clarify and received confirmation that based on the Altus Report of 2009 that the Landowners Group and developers will pay for all the new infrastructure related to their planned mega growth. That is good, as I could not get lucid answers that made sense from our township. The developers lawyer did emphasize that it must be growth related to their developments and that raises a little red flag as I do believe their version of growth related infrastructure costs and the township’s vision may be different tunes from the same hymn book. I hope that gets clarified in the EA 3 and 4 studies. I won’t do my math right now but just point out that the initial infrastructure is $100M paid for by the landowners and developers. The replacement and maintenance will come from our taxes. Keep in mind that 50 years from now the replacement cost will be $250M based on an annualized inflation rate of 2%. That’s means we must set aside about $5M a year to have the funds to replace it and probably another $5M a year to maintain and operate it. These costs come from our tax dollars not development charges! That is a little scary and has been the cause of concern for Barrie, Mississauga and Vaughan which has resulted in huge fiscal deficits and tax increases. Currently we have an annual infrastructure deficit of about $2.5M which we started to borrow to keep on track. That part of the debt will grow by about $10M during the term of this council at the current rate.

The engineer informed me that the wastewater treatment plant discharge into Willow Creek will represent as much as a 30% increase in volume in a low flow situation. That somewhat shocked me and I hope the NVCA and MOE address what could become an ecological disaster. News on CTV this week states that there is a growing concern in regard to the water quality of the Nottawasga Watershed. Nancy Chong from Midhurst wrote a great article recently about other affected species. This mega development will not enhance it. When questioned about the phosphorus, the engineer stated there are new technologies but they are very expensive. So how much will this water treatment plant really cost in the end and what will be the impact on our taxes as it is operated and maintained? I know if someone gave me a two million dollar home, I could  not afford the heat, the hydro and the taxes. If the developer pays in excess of a $100M for infrastructure, will the operating cost have the same impact on us as a township. Will we get something free but cannot afford to operate it and maintain it unless we double our taxes?

It is unfortunate that there was not an open question period at the meeting, but as I said the landowners and developers paid the orchestra to play the tunes they wanted us to hear. I quite enjoyed my discussions with some of the key people and I will continue to meet with them and ask the questions that should be routine from our elected officials. It is unfortunate that only Hanna and Ritchie are concerned about the possible impacts of the mega developments around Midhurst. I don’t understand the blind embracement of the MSP plan by the rest of council, as I can see no net benefit. It will be harmful to the social, economic and environmental wellbeing of the township and each of us as residents. Ironically the Living Green Environmental Action Barrie eco friendly organization that sent a number of glowing letters in 2009 supporting the development of the City of Midhurst have now withdrawn all those letters. I would think that our council would pause and find out why that happened, but not much was said when the withdrawal letter was received at last Monday’s Planning Meeting.

Keep informed. Read this wonderful newspaper we have. Ask the township to include you on the mailing or email list to receive all information regarding the developments of the Midhurst area. Please come to Council and Planning meetings as you must decide who you think should be running this township when you vote next year in the municipal election.

It is great that many more people are attending the meetings as residents throughout the township are beginning to realize that the mega developments and creation of the City of Midhurst will impact each and everyone of us.

A special mention of all those that did attend the open house and asked some challenging questions to those present. We all must keep informed and start asking our council why are they so convinced that this new City of Midhurst is a positive move for Springwater.