Friday, May 14, 2021

Meaford is on the Verge of a Development Boom – But Are Residents on Board?

If you have lived in Meaford for any length of time, you are bound to have heard a time or two that this municipality is on the verge of a development boom. I heard it when I moved here 16 years ago, and every few years we hear discussion of a building boom heading our way. Nothing ever seems to come to fruition. We have been hearing the development boom rumblings again in recent months, but this time it’s for real.

A number of proposed developments are on the horizon, from the construction of the new long term care facility on Cook Street, to the development of the former Knights factory property on Boucher, to a new commercial building with 20 apartments above on Sykes Street, the proposals keep coming, and shovels are heading into the ground.

Any time new developments are proposed, there are typically two distinct camps in this community (and most other small towns) – those eager to see new development, and those who push back against any and all proposals. If you ever want to discover just how many ‘experts’ there are in a small town, propose a few developments, and those experts come out of the woodwork pretty quickly.

The density is too high, there isn’t enough green-space, the design doesn’t fit with the rest of town, there’s too much parking, there’s not enough parking, that isn’t affordable for locals, the building is too tall! Three stories maximum! My view will be blocked, the road can’t handle new traffic, the design is ugly – a small sampling of the commentary we hear with each new development proposal.

Resistance to new development is to be expected in any small town. Residents of small communities are well aware of the many benefits of small town living, and we don’t necessarily want to share those benefits with the outside world. So in an effort to protect our little slice of heaven, some will push back against proposed developments, even if they would be good for the community at large or over the long term.

A Toronto-area friend of mine calls it ‘small town privilege’ (don’t be offended, we call them ‘citiots’ after all).

We hear much about high property taxes in Meaford (a notion that doesn’t exactly prove itself when you look at the data from other municipalities; Meaford tends to be middle of the pack when it comes to municipal levies). One way to lessen the burden on existing ratepayers is to broaden the tax base by adding new ratepayers. Not that new residents and ratepayers would significantly impact tax rates, you’d need some significant commercial or industrial development for any real impact on municipal levies, but an influx of new ratepayers could certainly reduce future increases.

An influx of new residents would certainly help our struggling (and shrinking) retail and service sector, but it won’t happen overnight.

If we do want to see this community grow, we will need to let go of some of our historic demands, particularly when it comes to building height. With the province and the county both pushing for higher density developments, that means for the most part building up, not out. We in this community have clung to a maximum building height of three stories, but if we are to grow and evolve, taller buildings will definitely be part of our landscape. Personally I could do without taller buildings, but the writing is on the wall, and taller structures are in our future whether we like it or not.

Small town dwellers are often conflicted. We would like to have some of the bells and whistles that larger communities are able to enjoy such as indoor swimming pools, or outdoor skating rinks, but we are also hesitant to welcome new residents in any significant numbers for fear of losing the quiet, slow paced, small town living to which we have become accustomed.

Change is rarely easy, it takes time to accept the reality of the day, but change is coming. We can stand on the sidelines and complain, or we can embrace the change and work to minimize any potential negative impacts brought along by growth, and to maximize the benefits that can be realized by a larger population.

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