Next week on June 10th at 6:00 pm, the Town of Mississippi Mills will host a public meeting in the Old Almonte Town Hall to discuss rural development. Hopefully, residents interested in the community will attend. The issues about rural development are fundamental to the basic premises of the Community Official Plan. This discussion comes on the tail of the Enerdu issue which has been a divisive and deeply frustrating issue in the community. Both issues are related.
In this term of Council, there was a constant and relentless drip, drip, drip of arguments from some councillors that rural development was being unnaturally constrained. As the arguments went, rural development needed to be expanded in all its forms, both severances and estate lot subdivisions, with hundreds and hundreds of rural lots to be added. A fulsome study of current potential severances indicated a potential supply of 700 buildable lots in the country which would provide 35 years of supply. The argument then mutated into the 700 lots being in the wrong place; ie. Pakenham and western Ramsay. (Personally, I do not understand this as these areas are particularly attractive.) Arguments were also put forward that rural estate lot subdivisions were needed though no evidence was provided. When it was pointed out that White Tail Ridge still had a 140 lots to develop and it was a rural subdivision and there were still additional lots in other rural subdivisions, this too was somehow undervalued and still more lots were needed.
At this point, it was clear the discussion was based less upon facts and more upon values. Certainly, more severances for rural landowners is a politically popular platform to be promoting in the rural areas come election time. Sometimes the issue is even used as a wedge issue between rural and urban residents to further divide the community. Proponents of higher rates of rural development say rural areas are not getting their share of development and it is lagging development in Almonte.
Stephen Stirling, the town planner, says otherwise. Almonte has many apartment, row houses and semi-detached housing which distort the figures in Almonte’s favour but Stirling says the COP adequately responds to the development needs of our community, both rural and urban. They explicitly criticize the COP as not reflective of community needs and expectations. In fact, the opposite is true. The current Community Official Plan was established with the input of 813 rural and urban residents over a two year period and guided by a committee of farmers, environmentalists, development industry reps, residents, community activists and businesses.
It was only with a broad public consultations (eg. COP process) in combination with rational small ‘c’ conservative values that the Town was able to create a plan which balanced community character with development expectations. It enabled environmental ideas(eg. Dark Skies, locally significant ag lands, etc.) and landscape preservation. (Landscape preservation has always been a ‘conservative’ value in the broader sense of the word as has been environmental protection.) Notably, with the current COP, the private sector investment in our community has been enhanced (Look around at the commercial and residential growth) while larger public values have also been promoted, though perhaps not as well. Some would create a combative and conflict-based approach between these two large themes but this is counter-productive and destroys ‘community’ by creating winners and losers. This is what is going on with so many issues, including Enerdu and the rural development issue. After twenty years in local politics, I have always experienced the vast majority of our residents wanting growth and preservation of our character and they do not see these as contradictory.
Though rarely read, the COP contains the community authored approach which balances growth with preservation of rural character and small-town character. Our community does not need unsubstantiated arguments to accelerate development beyond what is called for and planned for in the COP. Some will always say that all development is good development and the faster it occurs, the better for everyone. Those who hold this opinion are rarely convinced otherwise. The broad community, as evidenced in the COP, firmly believe that good development can be achieved while we enhance the qualities and characteristics of our Town at the same time.
Lastly, and most significantly for the Miss Mills taxpayer, municipal investment decisions are based upon the COP. The largest public investment ever made in Miss Mills history(incl., Almonte, Pakenham and Ramsay) was $27,000,000 for a Waste Water Treatment Plant for Almonte. It was based upon the COP and the development assumptions within it. Prudent and wise management of the Town’s growth would clearly advise that after only two years of this huge investment being made, it is no time to start tinkering with the development rules of our Town as these are fundamental to our financial plans. At the minimum, we need five to ten years of paying down the enormous debt before we start to investigate the diversion of growth to other areas within the Town. Playing politics with severances by promising financial gain for property owners while downplaying or ignoring fiscal impacts upon the municipality and ultimately the taxpayer is focusing entirely upon short term gain for a few.
Mississippi Mills is growing quite well in all areas of the municipality. We have a COP which knits together all the interests and expectations necessary for orderly and affordable development leading us to a community which values, our heritage, our health, our wellness, our environment and our jobs. Let’s put more energy into making it work more effectively and less into pulling it apart. Please attend on Tues evening at 7:00pm. It will be your chance to speak. The COP truly belongs to the community. Councillors are merely custodians. “