Prince Edward County’s Newspaper of Record
May 18, 2024
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Visions and Realities

There’s a fortuitous overlap between livability — “healthy, complete communities” — and good design that is well worth attention. 

The County’s 2021 Official Plan is a powerful policy document. It is the framework for “comprehensive, integrated, place-based planning,” the kind that is coherent because ordered by a long-term vision. 

Among the opening paragraphs, there is this statement:

This Plan is more than a set of individual policies. It is intended to be read in its entirety and the relevant policies are to be applied to each situation. All decisions affecting land use planning matters shall conform to the vision, principles, objectives as well as all relevant policies of this Plan. 

What are “the vision, principles and objectives”? Well, there is a “Vision Statement.” 

As the County grows over time, new development will reinforce [it] as a special and unique place. New development will be reviewed through the lenses of sustainability, agricultural focus, a diverse cultural and economic fabric, and healthy, complete communities. All new development will be compatible with its surrounding context, champion the protection of rural habitats and the natural environment and, where possible, reduce the climate impact of our decisions.

Ideas about “healthy, complete communities,” sustainability, the natural environment, and climate run all through the Plan. And for good reason. Like over 650 other municipalities across Canada, the County has declared a climate change emergency. 

The reality of County planning and decision-making around development, however, falls quite a bit short of the lofty language of the Official Plan.

Consider Hilden Homes’ proposal for a new subdivision in Fawcettville, and the public conversation on the topic.

That discussion turns around parks, trees, sidewalks, transit, traffic, affordability, and walkability. The things that most concern the residents of Fawcettville, unsurprisingly, are precisely what make a place most livable. That these are also key considerations in green urban design is not a coincidence. There’s a fortuitous overlap between livability — “healthy, complete communities”   — and good design that is well worth attention. 

At the public information meeting on the new subdivision a couple of weeks ago, suggestions from the neighbours, the current residents of Fawcettville, addressed improvements new development might bring about. There was hope for things Fawcettville could really use: a transit stop, another park, sidewalks, a corner store, and trees.

None of these things are big asks. And they are entirely reasonable in the framework of new development. 

One could hope that by the time Hilden Homes and County planners bring this application to Council, some of these things will have been included. But that is by no means a foregone conclusion. 

In fact, a closer look at the nature of this proposal suggests that expectation is pretty far from reality. 

Hilden Homes plans to clearcut the existing forested lot before it builds. It will re-plant exactly one young tree per home constructed. There will be no effort made to save the existing trees, 16 of which are endangered — Butternuts — and protected under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act. A permit will be needed to cut them down. It has already been applied for. 

There is no new park planned for the 300-odd people that will eventually live in this new neighbourhood. In lieu of a park, cash will be paid to the municipality, to be put it into a parks fund for future use. The process is called “cash-in-lieu.”  It’s a routine way for a developer to evade the requirement for greenspace in healthy, complete communities. 

The houses will not be affordable. One can hope that the rows of attached townhouses at the center of the development might be more affordable than the single-detached, two-storey homes that will line the perimeter, but there is no express commitment to affordability anywhere in Hilden’s plans. Even though the County’s Official Plan is quite stern on the subject, and invokes a series of Secondary Plans to back itself up: 

This Plan establishes a County-wide target for the provision of affordable housing at 25 percent of all new housing units. Further, this Plan anticipates that the target for affordable housing will be met primarily within the Urban Centres of Picton, Wellington and Rossmore, as set out within their individual Secondary Plan policies that require a minimum of 33 percent of all new housing be affordable.

As for walkability, that’s a complete dead end. This development is stranded, far from the shops of Picton. It will, without a doubt, create 85 new two-car and even three-car households. Lots of parking is planned, for exactly that reason. Not only are there no amenities within any imaginable walking distance of this community, not even a corner store, there is also no transit. 

Hilden’s planners express the hope that an increase in population in and around Fawcettville might warrant a transit stop, sometime, in the future, eventually, but there is nothing for the people who already live in Fawcettville, and nothing in the works. 

So, a subdivision is planned, well beyond the town core, without a single amenity within walking distance, not even a corner store. There is no transit, and there will be no shade. To be fair, the development will back on to the Millennium Trail, but I am not sure that’s quite the all-star solution the developers seem to think it is.

This is sprawl. Hilden Homes built Kingfisher Cove. Kingfisher Cove is not the way of the future. 

70 per cent of emissions in Canada are produced by cars and houses. By, in other words, suburban sprawl. Yet the Official Plan makes sustainable building a core principle: 

The County will also promote climate change mitigation and improved air quality through land use patterns that minimize energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions….The County will recommend high standards for green building design, including the latest and most effective green building technologies and techniques.

But never mind our toothless planning documents. The Federal Government has set well known targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions based on pledges to the Paris Climate Accord. Cuts of 40-45 percent by 2030. That is six years away. What are now ignored as principles, guidelines, and “visions,” in other words, are rapidly becoming legislation. 

We need to get serious. Raise the bar. What residents want, and what climate change needs, are basics. 

Save the trees. They offer crucial shade in planet that is rapidly heating. Insist builders incorporate green heating and cooling technologies from the beginning, as the law will soon require. Make houses smaller, closer together, and affordable. Build only where there are amenities and transit within walking distance. Make the Plan and its visions a reality.

This text is from the Volume 194 No. 19 edition of The Picton Gazette
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