There is a saying popular among planners, bureaucrats and politicians, one which you have heard many times: “Growth pays for Growth”. The idea is that, by allowing development, whether residential or commercial, the various fees and taxes levied on the new projects will cover the cost of providing necessary infrastructure to cater for the new growth.
Infrastructure means, in this case, roads, water and sewage pipes, and municipal services. On the face of it, this makes perfect sense and should work out fairly well.
Unfortunately, the past history of North Grenville seems to indicate that the system can go astray in achieving its aims. Sometimes, one got the feeling that development was taking place at local taxpayers’ expense; that, somehow, the deals being made with developers didn’t seem to make economic sense. That may not be the case, but it is certainly the impression many got at the time. I also keep reminding people of the fiasco that is the North West Quadrant, where it seems, again, that development that was promised and for which permission was granted, was completely altered in reality to change the look, nature and character of the development that actually took place.
Let’s hope all of that is in the past. Previous councils had some very odd ideas. One mayor had as a principle that the municipality had to “grow or die”, a rather dramatic approach to growth. If you think about that, it would mean that the community could never stop allowing development of all kinds, or else we would cease to be able to maintain ourselves. But there is, and has to be, a limit to how much “growth” and development we can allow, unless we want to cover every acre of the municipality in concrete and ticky-tacky boxes (as Pete Seeger called them).
Undirected, or badly directed development has really had a negative impact on the community. Allowing the North West Quadrant to be developed as it has, before getting the expansion of County Road 43 finished, was irresponsible, to say the least. What it means now is that, once work starts on CR43, traffic will either be reduced to one lane for many months, or else the road will be closed completely to install an extra bridge over the South Branch. All the traffic that commutes from the 416 to west of CR44, and which is already heavy and almost gridlocked as things stand, will get much worse.
There were a number of complaints raised by various developers when the council announced that they would be raising Development Charges [DCs] to try and cover the costs of future development. Some of these complaints have a validity, especially for local builders, who already can’t compete with the larger companies from outside North Grenville when it comes to buying land and building homes. Of course, the municipality also has to cope with regulations and directives from the provincial government that limit their freedom in this, as in so many areas.
There was a danger, as noted by local builders, that a rise in DCs would raise the cost of building a house so much that any hope of providing affordable housing would be impossible. The added costs from DCs would be tacked on to new houses, and make them unaffordable, in that context. It is good to see that the new DC rules exempt affordable housing, at least for now. At the same time, it has been known for years now that Kemptville urgently needs a new water treatment plant, which is calculated to cost well over $30 million. This is one of those facts which undermine the idea that we need growth to survive. The more we grow, the more infrastructure we need. To pay for that, we need more growth and more revenue from DCs, and other taxes on residents. If Growth is to pay for Growth, which it hasn’t yet, then that growth needs to be carefully managed and based on long term planning. Yes, the more people move into all those new houses, the more revenue from property taxes goes to the municipality. It is a fascinating balance which has to be maintained by the municipality: and it requires that answers are found, in advance, to certain vital questions.
Do we continue to allow new housing in North Grenville? How much is too much, if we want to keep the relatively rural character of the community? How far should we allow development in the rural areas, particularly in the hamlets, before they also lose their traditional character? North Grenville has already changed quite radically from what it was like when I first moved here twenty-five years ago. In 2007, the Historical Society, as part of a Time Capsule project for Kemptville’s 150th anniversary, photographed all of CR43 from the 416 to Somerville, all of Clothier and Prescott Streets too. Already, those pictures show a very different scene. What will it be like when the capsule is opened in 2057? That’s up to us.