April 24, 2013

Partnership with developers deferred by council

1,000 new homes would triple Hillsburgh's population

As published in The Erin Avdocate

Consideration of a potential partnership with developers to share the costs of further sewer studies has been deferred by town council, saying they need time to digest a report that recommends full municipal services for both Erin village and Hillsburgh.

Residents packed the council chamber last week after learning that the council agenda included not only the draft Final Report of the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP), but a motion drafted by Chief Administrative Officer Frank Miele to authorize collaboration and cost sharing with developers for the next three phases of the Environmental Assessment (EA).

Representatives of two developers appeared as delegations to support the motion, while the Transition Erin community group said the process is being rushed.

The SSMP report may still receive minor revisions after review by council and two committees. A "final" version will be published, and the public will be invited to make comments during a review period, which could lead to further changes. Only after that would Council vote on its recommendations and choose a course of action, which would include further EA phases if a sewer option is chosen.

"This is probably the single most important issue that's going to confront this council, and probably the next council," said Councillor John Brennan, saying more time is needed to consider the report. He noted that Councillor Barb Tocher was not present to give her input.

"We need to listen to reports from Transition Erin and comments from a lot of people before we proceed," said Councillor Deb Callaghan.

"There has been a considerable amount of investment – it's coming down to: what does council wish to do?" said Miele. Over the last four years the SSMP, representing Phases 1 and 2 of the EA, has cost the Town about $500,000, and Credit Valley Conservation a similar amount.

"If council wishes to pursue this SSMP, it needs to move forward," said Miele. "Phases 3, 4 and 5 need to be completed to determine the kinds of services we need. It is in Phase 3 that we need to identify the technology and how much it will cost. Because (the EA) is a costly venture, we need some financial support."

He said the only immediate cost resulting from his motion would be the $10,000 to $15,000 required to develop a Request for Proposal (RFP). Consultants would then bid for the opportunity to complete the next phases of the EA.

The cost of those studies could be from $250,000 to $500,000, said Miele, but only $100,000 is earmarked for this in the current capital budget. That is why he is recommending sharing the costs with developers as "co-proponents", a process governed by provincial regulations.

Shelley Foord, of Transition Erin's Wastewater Solutions Working Group, said they have been planning to present alternatives to the strategy recommended by the SSMP, but are waiting until all the reviews of the SSMP are complete.

"I'm concerned at the speed of how fast this is going along, and some of the wording in Mr. Miele's report – it refers to the $65 million facility," she said. "We're looking at options that would be far less than that, and haven't had a chance to present them yet."

They are studying decentralized "small-bore" systems, with waste initially processed in a digester on the homeowner's property, and the effluent pumped through small pipes to a small treatment plant. They're also studying upgrades to septic tanks.

"I quite agree with what you're saying," said Councillor Jose Wintersinger. "Council feels it's being rushed a little bit too. There are options, and we need to digest the information. We're not ready to make any decision on anything."

Maurizio Rogato of Solmar Development Corp. said he supports both Miele's report and the SSMP recommendations. "We wish to reiterate our position, which is to cooperate with the Town and of course the development industry," he said.

Consultant Bruce Donaldson, a partner in the Guelph planning firm BSR&D, spoke on behalf of Manuel Tavares (Dominion Meat Packers) who in 2002 bought land for a housing development in southeast Hillsburgh. Much of the planning work was completed, but the project was put on hold when the Town was forced to conduct the SSMP.

There were to be two phases, originally totalling about 167 homes on large lots with septic systems. But the density requirement is now at 6.5 homes per acre, with full sewer service.

"My client's project would have in excess of 800 units, and if you take into account other developments in Hillsburgh, I'm sure it will add up to about 1,000 units," said Donaldson.

The 2011 census showed only 1,065 people living Hillsburgh, so 1,000 new homes would more than triple the village population.

"We're looking forward to receiving a proposal from the municipality as to what you are looking for from Dominion Meats or Manuel Tavares and other developers in Hillsburgh, to contribute to the funding of the additional work that's required," said Donaldson.

"It makes some sense, if you're all going to paddle the canoe in the same direction, to all get into the canoe," said Mayor Lou Maieron. "But if the Town decides we don't want to go that route, we want to stay on septics, can the various proponents move forward on their own EA process, have it approved and build the infrastructure they need?"

Miele confirmed that a developer would have the right to potentially build their own sewage treatment plant, as long as they follow Ministry of the Environment regulations and get the necessary planning approvals.

"Under current provincial regulation, the Town would be required to assume ownership and operate the system," the SSMP report says.

"The concern is that you could get a dichotomous town, where the new portion has servicing and the old portion is on septics," said Maeiron.

The SSMP report expects that the total population of the urban areas (Erin village and Hillsburgh combined) will be capped at between 10,000 and 13,500, based on the capacity of the West Credit River to safely handle treated sewage effluent. The current urban population is about 4,300.

Provincial review agencies have yet to comment on the 10,000 to 13,500 cap, but are expected to do so in the next few weeks. The cap could be raised even higher with enhanced sewage treatment, something that would be studied in future phases of the EA.

The SSMP report outlines three possible scenarios for council to consider. The first is full servicing for both Erin village and Hillsburgh, with the goal of creating smaller lots, a range of housing types, intensifying and redeveloping existing areas, retaining businesses and attracting new ones.

Scenario two is to build sewers for Erin village only, resulting in downtown Hillsburgh struggling to survive. "Different service levels between Erin village and Hillsburgh may also have a bearing on where community facilities and institutions, such as schools, are located," the report says.

Scenario three is to build no sewers, and attempt to revert to development on large lots with septic systems, which would "deter new commercial and industrial from locating in the Town. Existing businesses may be forced to relocate from the downtown cores. It is likely that local employment levels will not improve and a majority of residents will continue to work outside of the Town," the report says.

Citizen group petition opposes major growth

As published in The Erin Advocate

Members of the Concerned Erin Citizens (CEC) group are knocking on doors in Erin village, seeking support for a petition that opposes construction of large-scale housing developments and a centralized sewage system.

The mandate of the group is to provide information and "to ensure that current residents are not negatively impacted by growth." They have launched a website, concernederincitizens.wordpress.com, providing articles on growth issues and an opportunity to sign a petition on-line. They also have a Facebook page.

The group came together after Solmar Developments purchased land on the Tenth Line at Wellington Road 52, for a possible sewage treatment plant to service their proposed 1,240 home development north of Dundas Street.

They are also responding to the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP) draft report, which last week recommended a traditional sewer system to eventually serve all existing and future homes in Hillsburgh and Erin village. Sewers are part of a strategy to deal with failing septic systems and encourage commercial growth.

"We cannot proceed with this – we are already overtaxed," said spokesperson Matt Sammut. "You can't stick it to the people. We have voted in politicians who have to respect our wishes. If we have gone down a wrong road, maybe we need to turn around."

The CEC had primary support from the three neighbourhoods closest to the potential sewage plant: Pine Ridge Road, Waterford Drive and McCullogh Drive / Aspen Court. They have 408 signatures on a petition specifically opposed to the plant in that location.

A second petition now circulating is more general, taking in the interests of other urban residents. CEC plans to present their petitions when they appear as a delegation at the next town council meeting on May 7. They also plan to put up signs and conduct an email campaign to make more residents aware of the issues.

They are not entirely opposed to housing growth or sewage treatment, but want them on a smaller scale that will have less impact on the nature of the village. The current petition is made up of three paragraphs, setting out a series of concerns, predictions and preferences:

• Proposed housing plans far exceed current growth projections.

• A traditional sewage system would cost at least $65 million, with heavy costs for existing homeowners.

• The streets would be torn up.

• Traffic will increase.

• Schools may be overcrowded.

• Recreation facilities would be "stressed past their limit".

• "Our town will become a suburban sprawl community."

• "Any major shifts in town direction must benefit existing tax paying residents."

• "We need full disclosure and transparency on how the town will be impacted."

• "Our social and environmental fabric is critical to our community and these issues must be closely assessed."

• "If we do have minor septic tank issues, lets fix them at a minor cost relative to a centralized system."

Additional information is available from several sources. The SSMP report is part of the agenda of the April 16 council meeting and can be downloaded at www.erin.ca. The town site also has an SSMP section called Defining Erin.

The work of the Transition Erin group on wastewater and sustainable development can be accessed at www.transitionerin.ca. And a wide variety of related news reports and columns from The Erin Advocate can be viewed at www.erininsight.blogspot.com.

April 17, 2013

Mayor clashes with CVC over Code of Conduct

As published in The Erin Advocate

Mayor Lou Maieron is facing a complaint under Credit Valley Conservation's Code of Conduct for board members, amid a series of disputes he has initiated over the board's procedures. Penalties for contravention of the code range up to removal from the board.

Maieron represents Erin on the 12-member board, which governs CVC operations to protect water and other natural resources in the Credit River watershed. He has sent a letter to Premier Kathleen Wynne recommending stricter procedures for all conservation authorities.

He argued for over an hour with other CVC members at last Friday's board meeting, but could not get anyone to support his motions for new closed-door meeting procedures, for the nullification of this year's executive elections (in which he lost his Vice-Chair position), or for changes to the Code of Conduct. He did get support for having staff review the election procedures.

Maieron was opposed to the Code of Conduct that the board debated and approved last year. While he says that he is bound by its provisions, he refuses to sign a form, formally agreeing to adhere to the Code. Signing the form is a requirement of the Code.

It was announced at last Friday's board meeting that a formal complaint under the Code had been made against Maieron for refusing to sign it. Afterwards it was disclosed that Halton Hills Councillor Joan Robson is the complainant.

"This is bullying at its finest," said Maieron, but Robson said it is he who is the bully.

"The people of Erin should know what we're dealing with," she said, complaining about the amount of staff and board time being consumed by procedural wrangling.

The Chief Administrative Officer must now set up an information package on the complaint, and provide a report with details of the situation during a board meeting.

Chair Pat Mullin will assemble a special committee of three board members not directly involved in the complaint, which will investigate whether Maieron has broken the Code. They will make recommendations to the full board, which will vote on the matter.

If found in contravention, he could face consequences ranging from a request for an apology, to various forms of reprimand, suspension of pay for up to 90 days, or a written petition to Erin Town Council to have him removed from the CVC board.

Maieron's was the lone vote opposing the recent adoption of a council Code of Ethics for the Town of Erin. He is bound by the Erin code, but it does not require members to sign their agreement. He argues that a code is not needed because existing legislation is adequate to regulate members' behaviour, and that codes should not be imposed mid-term.

Both codes generally set standards of professional behaviour, ensuring avoidance of conflicts of interest and protection of confidential information. They restrict gifts that members may accept, but Maieron argues the CVC code is not specific enough and should have a minimum threshold. He also wants the CVC code to conform to requirements of the Municipal Act, even though that act does not govern conservation authorities.

His main complaint with the CVC code is that board members will pass judgement on alleged offenders. The Erin code provides for the hiring of an independent investigator, which is a more expensive process.

Maieron read a legal opinion from his lawyer Dennis Perlin, saying that the CVC had no legal mandate to create a Code of Conduct. The CVC's lawyer disagreed. Perlin also said he thought it was improper for the code to prohibit members from suing the CVC.

The board rejected Maieron's motion to develop a procedure bylaw, with CAO Rae Horst saying that process could cost up to $86,000 if a consultant was hired.

Maieron had been elected as one of two vice-chairs of the board in 2012, but lost that post (and a $5,800 annual stipend) in the 2013 election. He lost some support due to his refusal to sign the Code of Conduct. He said his concern is not the money, or the position (which has no specific duties), but the process.

With three people running for two vice-chair positions, Horst said the election procedure was changed this year, with legal advice, to avoid confusion that had been a problem in 2012. Instead of having one ballot, with the top two people being elected, there were two ballots and the results were combined. Members were not allowed to vote twice for the same candidate.

Maieron said this created more confusion and worked to his disadvantage. He and his lawyer said any change to the process should have been approved by the provincial government, but the board asserted that it had leeway to structure elections as they thought best. Staff will re-examine the procedure.

Maieron's call for the keeping of agendas and minutes at closed-door meetings was rejected by members, many of whom do not follow that practice in their home municipalities. They said written records of frank confidential discussions could leak out and be used against the interests of the CVC.

Chair Mullin said she took "great exception" to Maieron's call for more oversight, openness and transparency at conservation authorities, which was covered recently by The Toronto Sun. Maieron says it is not his intent to attack conservation authorities.

"I don't believe we can be more transparent and accountable," said Mullin, noting that conservation authorities are under attack by the Progressive Conservatives. "This is not the time to start that kind of conversation."

Rosemary Keenan of the Credit River Alliance, composed of various environmental groups, has monitored board meetings for four years. She has sent a letter to the Sun on her own behalf:

"It is unfortunate that Mayor Maieron of Erin takes such a dim view of Conservation Authorities and Credit Valley Conservation in particular," she said. In drafting the Code of Conduct, the board "devoted considerable time and expertise to ensuring that this was done in a transparent and accountable manner."

Climate activists hoping film sparks a revolution

As published in The Erin Advocate

Don't be too alarmed, but you should be aware that some people in Erin are talking about Revolution. It is of the polite and peaceful nature, of course, but it is definitely radical – prodding people towards new ways of thinking about the survival of our species, and towards action.

Climate change might seem like old news by now, or too political, or too complicated to fit into a busy lifestyle, but it is not going away. About 120 people did come out to the Legion last week to see Revolution, at Erin’s 2013 Fast Forward Environmental Film Festival.

Presented by the Climate Change Action Group of Erin (CCAGE) and Transition Erin, and sponsored by Treehaven Natural Foods, the film starts out with the fight to stop the slaughter of sharks for shark fin soup.

Director Rob Stewart of Toronto goes on to document the death of coral reefs and the acidification of oceans due to carbon dioxide emissions, which could wipe out the fishing industry within 35 years.

He heaps special scorn on Alberta's tar sands, as a blatant example of corporate greed and environmental degradation, and covers the efforts of environmental activists to influence global climate change negotiations.

Erin District High School student Sarah Graetz helped introduce the film, saying it is important, especially for young people, to rise to the challenge presented by climate change and be aware of what others are doing.

"I'm definitely not going to sit around and do nothing about it," she said. "As part of today's young generation, our biggest crime so far is ignoring what's going on, and turning away from it.

"I'm looking forward to making a difference, but it's a little hard knowing the facts. I'm just a speck, this one little person in a big world full of people who know more than me, talk louder than me, and have more money than me. But, even being a speck, I can make an impact – a small ripple, if you will – and hopefully it will spread."

The movement has become apocalyptic in its tone, forecasting the extinction of the human race if we don't change our ways. We may be more ambitious than the sharks, but perhaps less resourceful, since they have been around for 420 million years and survived five mass extinctions of other species. Our Homo erectus ancestors evolved only 1.8 million years ago, and Homo sapiens only 200,000 years ago.

Liz Armstrong of CCAGE urged people to promote the Revolution, which opened at major cinemas in Guelph and Brampton last weekend.

"We think this film can be a huge force for positive action on climate change, led by youth," she said. "We can make it truly revolutionary, help it make an indelible mark and a turning point."

Erin's film nights are made special by organic snacks, and last week's featured a spicy Marinated Goat Cheese, from What's Cookin', and Parsnip Chips by LolaJean Gentles. There was promotion of Erin's "FoodShed", which like a watershed, refers to our local resources.

"We try to put people in touch with a really easy, accessible way to be part of the beginning decline in carbon dioxide emissions, by eating differently," said Cathy Hansen of Bernway Farm. "We talk of organic food, of local food, of seasonal food, of simple food, and of storied food – food that has a story that we can relate to that comes from our community."

Armstrong asked people to contact local MP Michael Chong (866-878-5556 or michael.chong@parl.gc.ca) to support stronger climate change policies. And she asked them to take personal action to reduce their carbon footprint, suggesting the website: www.12simplethings.org. For a wide range of local initiatives (and FoodShed recipes), go to: www.transitionerin.ca.

This Saturday, April 20, there's a hands-on gardening workshop called Way to Grow, Erin, 12:30 - 4:30 pm, at Field of Dreams Farm, 9347 Sideroad 9. It will cover seeding, composting, backyard chickens, fruit trees and raised-bed gardens.

On May 4, Erin Trails, CVC, the Rotary Club and other groups are teaming up for a community tree planting at the Deer Pit next to the Elora-Cataract Trail behind the tennis courts starting at 9 am.

That same day, Transition Erin is having its official launch, or "unleashing", noon to 2 pm in the Shamrock Room at Centre 2000. There will be a free hearty soup lunch and author Mike Nickerson will speak about the philosophy of the Transition Movement.

Also on May 4, Erin residents can pick up free trees to plant at home, at the Works Yard on Trafalgar Road. Wellington's Green Legacy Program is providing 5,000 trees, and there is a limit of 50 per family. Donations to the Food Bank will be welcome.

Mix 881 Radio celebrates new format, new home

As published in The Erin Advocate

Erin’s radio station had a party last week to officially celebrate its move to modern digital studios on Thompson Crescent.

Mix 881, formerly known as Erin Radio and Main Street Radio, had a major reorganization last fall. It continues to broadcast a mix of popular music, special interest shows and local information as CHES FM 88.1, but is now managed by a group that also operates the community station Grand 92.9 in Fergus.

The music mix has been altered to appeal to a wider range of listeners, and they now have modern software to create commercials and organize their on-air schedule. They are still a non-profit group, and have opportunities for volunteers both on and off the air.

Mix 881, which promotes itself as Headwaters Radio, currently broadcasts with 250 watts from its transmitter on the Erin water tower, but has applied to upgrade to 1,000 watts. Their coverage now extends from Orangeville and Caledon to the eastern side of Guelph, and they are hoping to improve reception and expand their reach.

To listen on-line or get more information, go to their website (still under construction) at www.mix881.com or call 519-833-9300.
Cutting the cake at the Mix 881 opening celebration are (left to right) Mayor Lou Maieron, MPP Ted Arnott, Board President Larry Peters, Councillor John Brennan, Station & Sales Manager Vic Folliott, Director David MacDonald; (in front) Afternoon Host Ronia Michael and Morning Host Erin Montgomery.

April 10, 2013

Septic insurance could ease upgrading costs

As published in The Erin Advocate

Searching for practical wastewater options in Erin, it is obvious that septic systems will be part of the urban landscape for many decades to come.

After all, the Town has a tradition of doing some major things only partially. For example, did the people who planned our municipal water system ever imagine that a portion of the urban population would still rely on well water more than 50 years later?

So, what if Town Council, at the end of the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP) study, decides that its "vision" for Erin's future definitely does not include sewers, at least for the homes that exist today?

Or, what if they want sewers, but can't get enough infrastructure funding from the federal and provincial governments to make them possible?

Or, what if the Town allows the downtown core to tap into a Solmar sewage plant, but never gets around to expanding the system to the rest of Erin village and Hillsburgh?

Or, what if the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) decides the impact of climate change will make it impossible for the Credit River to handle sewage effluent in the future? (Assuming too that they don't force us to build a sewage system, which they could also do.)

Whether you think sewers are a good idea or not, everyone can probably agree that the Town needs to make a commitment one way or the other, fairly soon.

Two weeks ago, I suggested that if we want to take the non-sewer route, mandatory inspections of septic systems could help convince the MOE that we are capable of dealing with our own waste in a responsible manner.

If the Town commits to no sewers in existing neighbourhoods for the foreseeable future, many property owners may see their way clear to upgrade or replace old septic systems that are not functioning properly.

Standard septic systems will not be allowed on most smaller lots, so some people will be looking at costs of more than $25,000 for a higher-end system. And of course, there are no amortization plans or infrastructure grants for septics.

One possible way to ease the financial blow of septic replacements would be a self-insurance system, funded by everyone with a septic tank, and administered by the Town.

I don't know how much everyone would have to chip in to make it work. You would need a high-priced consultant to figure that out. But for the sake of discussion, let's say it could be $200 per year, added to your taxes.

That might seem expensive, and intrusive, especially if your septic system is new. But consider that I'm talking about an alternative to a sewer system that has a starting price tag of $65 million. Sewers would mean every road in town eventually being torn up, a debt of $20,000 to $30,000 on every property, hook-up charges and a perpetual sewer bill.

I do want to make it clear that I am not an expert on septics or insurance, and that a septic insurance plan is not a proposal that is being considered by the Town right now. I'm simply bringing up the topic, and saying that a communal problem might require a communal solution.

Your mini-sewage treatment plant would still be your private property, but if the Town brings in a widespread inspection system, you would be obliged to make sure your system continues to meet the standards of the Ontario Building Code.

Thinking through how this might work, your septic surcharge could entitle you to two things. The first is a basic mandatory inspection, including a full pump-out, every four years or so. This is something you would otherwise have to pay for at the time.

The second is the right to apply for and receive a subsidy when your septic system is failing. There is a basic fairness to this, since every property will need major septic work, sooner or later. It is a recognition that wastewater is a public health issue, whether it flows through a sewer or not.

The insurance subsidy would not pay the bulk of the cost of replacing a septic system. It would simply ease the pain by a few thousand dollars. The exact amount is something for the high-priced consultant, but I'm thinking that it might vary depending on how much money is in the fund. It would have to be set up to never run a deficit.

Is anyone with me on this? If we end up with a two-tier system (Solmar lands with sewers, and the rest without) are we prepared to do what it takes to make it work to our best advantage? Let me know, or send a letter to the editor with your views.

Erin trails plan will highlight heritage

As published in The Erin Advocate

The Erin Trails Network should focus on local heritage as a way to promote economic development, according to Recreation and Culture Chair Bill Dinwoody.

He updated councillors last week on plans for a new parkette on Town land on Church Street near Hull's Dam. It would include picnic tables and an interpretive sign about the "big ditch" that once delivered water from above the dam to power the grist mill on the other side of the downtown core.

"This idea stemmed from a request by 'day' tourists from the GTA who asked if there was a place for them to have a picnic after they had explored the village," said Dinwoody. Future development could include observation platforms for people to view the river and wildlife.

"This location is also a key link in the future trail network expansion throughout the village. The Town of Erin should be looked at as an 'Emerald Jewel' in the heart of Ontario, uniquely positioned as the doorway to the Headwaters. Our trail network should be promoted as such."

Erin Trails is organizing a tree planting session for May 4, starting at 9 am, in the Deer Pit next to the Elora-Cataract Trailway, behind the Tennis Courts. It is being done in conjunction with Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) and the Climate Change Action Group of Erin (CCAGE).

The public is welcome to assist with the planting of 200 trees and shrubs, based on a landscaping plan previously commissioned by the Town. The goal is to reduce erosion and enhance the appearance of this municipal property.

There has also been discussion about developing a trail around the upper perimeter of the Deer Pit which could provide an improved link from the high school area to Erin Park Drive and be used as a cross-country track.

Erin Trails is a sub-committee of the Recreation and Culture Advisory Committee. Over the past two years they have worked with the Rotary Club of Erin to refurbished the trail from the Delarmbro subdivision to the Water Tower Road and the Cenotaph on Main Street. They have planted trees, erected signs and shamrock trail markers, and built both a bridge across a small stream and a stairway up a steep incline.

The two groups were recognized for their work by CVC recently, with a Friends of the Credit Award. Frank Smedley of Erin Trails presented the award to Council last week, and paid tribute to Steve Revell for his many years of hard work and leadership in this area.

Dinwoody said Erin's network of trails could link up with trails in the Headwaters and Grand River watershed, and form a part of the Active Transportation initiative in Wellington County.

"We are planning to research and promote the heritage of the Town, and will work with the Heritage Committee, BIA and Chamber of Commerce to present the 'charm' of the Town," he said.

"We believe that by presenting the main streets of Hillsburgh and Erin villages as 'Heritage Trails' which connect with the Elora-Cataract Trailway, promotion brochures with trail maps for visitors to conduct their own 'exploratory' walks would be appealing."

Erin Trails will be registering the Town with Ontario's 2014 Doors Open program, as well as the Trails Open event, both of which will attract visitors.

Alternate designs pitched for Solmar development

As published in The Erin Advocate

A group of planning students has delivered a batch of fresh ideas to Erin's discussion of the subdivision proposed by Solmar Development Corp.

In December, the Sustainable Development Working Group of Transition Erin approached Cecelia Paine, Associate Dean of Graduate Studies and Professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Guelph, to explore the idea of having planning students evaluate the Solmar proposal.

A group of second-year Masters students took up the challenge as part of their Community Design course.  Last week, with an audience of about 50 Erin residents, they presented a series of six alternative concepts for the layout of houses, seniors apartments, parks, industrial buildings and shopping areas on the site, located between Dundas Street and Wellington Road 124, at the north end of Erin village.

Student Liz Nowatschin
Their assignment was to fit 1,240 housing units onto the land (as Solmar hopes to do) along with enough business development to create 1.3 jobs per home, keeping in mind the environmental principles championed by Transition Erin.

"We wanted to stretch our imaginations," said Jay Mowat of Transition Erin. He said the designs "are very professional and some are quite radical."

Paine said this was a unique opportunity to be integrated into a planning process.

"This is about the students understanding what it takes to make a community and how physical design can influence how a community actually works, and whether it works," she said.

"I was truly impressed with the students and the detail of the concept plans," said Maurizio Rogato, Director and Planning at Solmar. "There were also some really innovative open space treatments. Clearly, open space is a significant component of the Solmar plan and getting the treatments right is key."

Students Ben Vander Veen and Liz Nowatschin presented a concept with housing facades, porches and window styles that match those found in the existing village. Entrance to garages would be through back lanes.

"When you're driving down the street, you're not seeing a lot of driveways and cars," said Vander Veen. Existing hedgerows that now divide the land are maintained, there is a buffer zone between the residential and industrial areas.

There are boulevards, swales (shallow depressions in the land) and rain gardens with native plants that tolerate both wet and dry conditions. These are featured in most plans as an attractive way to help the storm ponds intercept runoff before it enters the river.

Christine Fraser, Alex Forbes and Andrew Briggs presented a circular central park, with a large roundabout road (similar to that in Goderich, Ontario), and five side streets radiating out through concentric circular roads.

"We wanted to make cohesive and integrated green space throughout the whole site," said Fraser. The roundabout has stores and other businesses at street level, with two stories of apartments above.

Kelly Hodder said she wanted to "create a community that fits within the existing town, both physically and socially, by using similar features and patterns, to plan for a variety of housing types and lot sizes to fit the needs of young families, seniors and everyone in between."

Her plan has lots of pedestrian walkways and trails, and allows almost every home a direct view of a natural corridor, 10-25 metres wide. She has only 1,068 housing units, instead of the standard 1,240.

"I feel like doubling the population of the town is going to be unsustainable – it's just too much," she said.

A street layout aligned north-south to take advantage of passive solar energy was presented by Kent Semeniuk and Stephanie Shantz. It's a self-sufficient energy design employing solar panels and geothermal heating.

Instead of facing regular streets, most homes face towards a strip of shared parkland that includes a one-way vehicle lane. Garage access is from an additional back lane. There is a long central park with a one-way street on each side.

Zenan Zhang and Mark Affum presented a design that includes three semi-circular parks, the largest one called the "Town Green". The commercial area near County Road 124 has a unique outdoor pedestrian mall with shops on both sides.

"You have a really vibrant downtown core in terms of your historic architecture, so we wanted to bring a little bit of that into our concept, but at the same time we wanted to link it to green spaces, so we want to connect the best of both worlds," said Affum.

An "equestrian greenway" is a prominent feature of the concept presented by Kathleen Corey and Sarah Taslimi. It also has 3 metre wide sidewalks plus 2.5 metre cycle tracks along the two major roads. In addition to seniors housing, it also has two apartment buildings and a commercial block, each of which surrounds a green courtyard.

Rogato said he will review the students' design ideas with his study team.

"With regards to the use of back lanes, green space connections and live-work building designs; Solmar has not reached that level of detail quite yet," he said, noting that these options are well known to developers. Back lanes and live-work units were popular in some urban designs in the early 1900s, but are less common now.

"I do see some neighbourhood commercial being accommodated, at the ground level, surrounding our proposed central square," he said.

Here is a group photo and a sampling of some of the images from the student plans:
Landscape Architecture Professor Cecelia Paine of the University
of Guelph (front left) is joined by members of Transition Erin and the
teams of students who worked on alternative designs for the
proposed Solmar development in Erin.

A circular park at the centre of the development showing
live-work units (businesses on the first floor, apartments above),
by Christine Fraser, Alex Forbes and Andrew Briggs.

A street layout with a strip of green space
behind most homes, by Kelly Hodder.

A bird's eye view of the subdivision from the west,
with industrial units in the foreground,
by Zenan Zhang and Mark Affum.

A street layout angled to take advantage of passive solar energy,
by Kent Semeniuk and Stephanie Shantz. Most homes face towards a
green strip of park that includes a one-way vehicle lane,
with additional garage access from a back lane.

April 03, 2013

CAO seeks cooperation on economic development

As published in The Erin Advocate

Renewal of Erin's economic development efforts will require broad collaboration, Chief Administrative Officer Frank Miele told a recent meeting of the East Wellington Chamber of Commerce.

"We need support from the business community, to come before council and talk to us, to work with us in putting together the strategy," he said. "How do we go about removing the barriers to growth? Growth isn't bad, if it's managed properly."

Council has decided to revive the Economic Development Committee, and is seeking members to represent not only various types of business, but other sectors of the community.

The committee is to advise councillors and staff on a new Economic Development Strategy, with a commitment to the quality of life for all residents, and to responsible, sustainable growth. The previous committee was disbanded last year after Chair Brian Gentles resigned, citing lack of direction from council.

"Council is committing itself to creating a strong economic development force," said Miele at the Chamber meeting. "It's going to be a very unique and historic committee, because it is going to help chart the course of where we're going to be in the next five to ten years in terms of economic growth."

The committee mandate includes "marketing and the promotion of the Town of Erin as a key southern Ontario destination", "broad consultation with community stakeholders", collaborating with other organizations such as Wellington County and "enhancing growth opportunities" for both existing and emerging economic sectors.

Miele said the Town and the Chamber have "common objectives", and stressed that economic development is a long-term investment, not an expense.

"Our objective is to attract and retain businesses, it's as simple as that. You generate new jobs, and new taxable revenues – meaning new taxes. A combination of those two factors ensures long-term financial sustainability for our community."

Miele advocates an "asset-based" strategy, assessing the strong areas of the local economy and trying to build clusters of similar businesses. He said strategic action plans must have measurable objectives.

"If we dream about achieving something, and not having a time frame associated with it, it's like having a nightmare."

Only 13% of the Erin's local tax revenues come from business. Miele believes that can be increased to 20% within 10 years, along with increasing the overall tax base (business and residential) by 30%. He sees more potential in knowledge-based and creative sectors of the economy, than in traditional industries.

One part of the marketing strategy could be to appoint volunteer "ambassadors", people who already travel as part of their businesses, and who may have opportunities to promote Erin if provided with suitable materials. Miele also said improvements are needed to make the Town website more competitive among neighbouring communities.

He said 80% of all new jobs come from existing businesses and 20% from new investment, so the Town needs to focus on the retention component.

"Businesses go where they are invited. They stay and expand where they are well-treated. How can we help you? Are you finding it difficult to expedite the development process at the local level? I want to know about it," said Miele.

"Business is the number one priority in this community. We need to be business ready. When an investor comes in, you need to provide them with information that is very up-to-date."

For  example, they may want a comparison of Erin's development charges with those of communities within a 30 minute driving radius, or details on house prices, labour rates, the availability of skilled workers.

"They want to know, do you have serviced, available lands where I can hook up and flush my toilet? And unfortunately we do have some challenges in that respect."