February 06, 2013

Public must demand benefits from growth

As published in The Erin Advocate

With the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP) wrapping up in the next two months, Erin residents should finally get an estimate of the cost of a sewer system.

That will be a major issue, but the question to consider first is: Do people really accept the need for sewers in the existing urban areas? If the answer is yes, then we need to know: How much development and sewage effluent can our branch of the Credit River handle?

Once we have those answers, we could turn our attention to: How might we build it and pay for it?

The process has been very long, but for those who are trying to keep track, there is a workshop meeting tonight (Wednesday), at 7 pm at the Town office, where SSMP consultant Matt Pearson will discuss aspects of his coming report with councillors and staff.

The public is welcome to attend, but not to participate at this stage. The draft report will be formally presented to council at their Feb. 19 meeting. Residents will get a presentation and a chance to speak, at a public meeting on February 21, 7 pm, at Centre 2000.

It is still just a "draft" report. It will then be reviewed by the Liaison Committee, the Core Management Committee and Council, then submitted as a "final" report. Council will have to decide whether or not to approve the report's recommendations.

Running at the same time as this is the Solmar plan for a large subdivision in the north end of Erin village, which is likely to move ahead regardless of what council decides on the SSMP.

One of the key links is the SSMP background report on the assimilative capacity of the river. Based on provincial guidelines, it will indicate the limit on how much discharge from a sewage treatment plant could go into the river without harming it. The limit will vary based on the intensity of the treatment.

I have no idea what that capacity will be, but what if it is fairly low? Could we end up in a situation where the Solmar subdivision uses up most of the available capacity, leaving not enough to allow sewers in existing neighbourhoods, or for other proposed developments that have been on hold for many years?

The restrictions may not be that severe, but the capacity of the river will effectively limit future growth, perhaps at a level that is less than the population targets for Erin now being considered by Wellington County.

Many other aspects of the Solmar plan must be scrutinized. Solmar submitted a series of reports with its development application, but not all of them have been available on the Town website, partly due to the large size of the files. The Transition Erin group has obtained lower-resolution versions of some key ones, such as the subdivision sewer and storm water plans, and have posted them at www.aanimad.com/transition.

The Town should also be thinking creatively about how this development might proceed with the greatest benefit for the public.

For example, Solmar has ambitious plans to bring in 900 jobs, with new commercial and industrial development on their "employment lands". They have shown (in Bolton, for example) that they can do this sort of thing.

But what if approval for construction of residential units was tied to new business development. The residential component could be split into smaller phases. The developer could have incentive targets: bring in a certain dollar value of new commercial/industrial assessment, to get approval to proceed with a certain number of new homes. Bring in more assessment, build more homes.

The province is demanding denser housing in urban areas, and Erin may have to take its share. But the province also wants "complete" communities, with more local jobs.

Many things are open to negotiation between a developer and a municipality, so Erin may be able to exercise some leverage in this area without triggering an expensive fight at the Ontario Municipal Board.