A new chapter in Prince Edward County’s long history is opening up before our eyes.
In Picton, about 300 new houses are filling in the northwest side of town, in neighbourhoods called West Meadows and 7 Acres. A new Catholic elementary school is part of the deal, along with commercial spaces. Vineridge is proposing another 525 more residences on the Heights. Wellington’s expansion northward is almost ready to commence in earnest now that trunk lines along Millennium Trail are under contract. Kaitlin has said it will build as many as 200 new homes per year once it gets started. An infill development for the town proper is also in the works; Sterling Homes is asking to build 250 townhomes in fairly short order. And the first phase of Base31 is not just on the horizon. About 450 new units, for rent or to buy, will be here as soon as three years.
That invisible ceiling, the one that’s kept Prince Edward County’s population hovering around 26,000 for about a century, will be no more before the end of this decade.
That means growth of a beleaguered tax base that cannot afford to pay for the 1,100 kilometres of roads the County of Prince Edward maintains. More water and wastewater customers to share the burden of high rates, and maybe even bring them down. Growth brings much needed services and amenities, too, like parks, rental apartments, schools, daycare, and transit, but these things don’t just happen with the wave of a wand. They have to be planned. They have to be built into the development framework right from the start. Or they may not happen at all.
That’s where a Community Benefits Network comes in. A CBN is a group of local businesses, organizations, and individuals that come together with the goal of creating Community Benefit Agreements to frame public and private development. A CBN guides the conversation between the municipality and would be developers, leading to negotiations that are in touch with the most urgent community needs and priorities.
In Toronto, Build a Better Fairview, a neighbourhood in North York, is a CBN guiding responsible and sustainable development. Their advocacy has increased the supply of affordable housing. New rental units in Fairview must now include a whopping 20 per cent deemed affordable, including 10 per cent rent-geared-to-income social housing.
Closer to home, when Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation awarded a $63 million contract to rehabilitate the Skyway Bridge in 2019, over 10 per cent, or $6.9 million, went to the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, as negotiated in a community benefit agreement. The sum included $500,000 over five years committed to local workforce development — hiring and training local Indigenous residents for the reconstruction work. Another $400,000 went to the band council.
Jobs and training. Higher affordable housing ratios. A steady supply of rental apartments. Sounds good.
Thanks to our first-rate community non-profits, The County Foundation, Prince Edward Learning Centre, and Thrive PEC, community-led discussions and the development of a CBN framework to be included in the County’s Official Plan are already underway.
Process was one of the key points Dominique Jones stressed at a CBN Community Conversation in Wellington last week.
“This CBN is going to mean negotiation does not have to happen at a microphone, with a long lineup of residents poised to grill staff, councillors and developers. A CBN changes the conversation from ‘all development is bad’ to asking ‘how can this development benefit people both the people living in the community already and those who are on their way?’”
Thrive PEC has facilitated over 400 community consultations organized around asset mapping over the past three years. Nine key pillars emerged, such as Affordability, Sustainable Tourism, Community Infrastructure, Climate Protection, Transportation, and Quality Jobs. These conversations reveal pressure points. The HUB, for example, has a waitlist of 400 families. A couple of years ago, it was 100. A year or two before that, there wasn’t one. Our schools are almost at their limits — an unforeseen reversal from a decade of closures. Expanded public transit networks to facilitate a new emphasis on aging in place is another new flashpoint.
Karl Andrus is the head of the Hamilton Community Benefits Network. In Steeltown and beyond, Mr. Andrus knows what CBNs can accomplish.
Manor Park in Ottawa is an example the County could learn from. A plan for a major 3,900 unit redevelopment that included high rise buildings, townhouses and a village square was approved only after the developer agreed to keep the current tenants, who moved into the new suites at their current rent. The CBN also successfully sought a 10 per cent affordable housing ratio. Construction jobs were reserved for disadvantaged groups as part of the development agreement.
“It’s the gold standard for what a Prince Edward County CBN would be trying to accomplish in terms of negotiations between a developer and the municipality,” said Mr. Andrus. “The Ottawa CBN’s work is pretty inspiring to a lot of us and this scenario is probably the most applicable to Prince Edward County.”
It will be interesting to see Council’s reaction to a proposed Community Benefits Framework amendment to its Official Plan that it did not ask for, but which will be delivered to them nonetheless. As Ms. Jones stated, the CBN is not directly involved in negotiations between developers and the municipality. It informs and guides staff and councillors about what could be or should be on the bargaining table. An Official Plan amendment gives it force — and staying power.
Previously, the municipality would be presented with developers’ carrots large and small (and some times none at all). A community benefit might get hammered out in the negotiation. Maybe it wouldn’t.
This is a different, grass roots approach. CBNs have done wonders for larger communities throughout North America facing the same development pressures we are seeing here. Council would be wise to listen to its community members — including a good number of folks who never step foot into Planning meetings — to build a better Prince Edward County. Jobs and career development. Ample, secure housing for low-income residents, students, and seasonal workers. Plan the daycares, then the schools. Get ahead of things. Above all, ensure a community that is highly engaged, because its voice has clout.
Not all benefits are easily calculated on a spreadsheet. They are tangible nonetheless.