Is growth good? Depends who you ask

Discussion at the March 22 Wellington North council meeting took an interesting turn during deliberation on the municipality’s sewage allocation policy.

While the above sentence is clearly one which could be written with a straight face only by a die-hard municipal beat reporter, it is nonetheless true.

While debating some minor tweaks to the policy, which is designed to allow council some control over growth through limitations on the amount of capacity released annually, councillor Dan Yake asked if the policy was bringing pressure on staff from developers who want to move faster than allocations allow.

Mayor Andy Lennox took a stance rarely voiced at such gatherings: that it doesn’t much matter.

The mayor pointed out the pressure staff and council feel from the development community represents only one side of the equation.

“Their economics tell them sometimes that building quicker is better, and that is in conflict with what we’re trying to do, which is make sure the community is, and continues to be, a great place to live. So if some of the developers have to adjust some of their economics to make it work, then to me that’s completely appropriate because we are doing the things that we believe are right for our community in the long run,” Lennox stated.

“I often get the comment, ‘Well, why do we need to grow at all? I love the community the way it is,’” explained Lennox, who continued by noting Wellington North has “some fantastic places to live now and we don’t have to have growth at all to continue to have fantastic places to live.”

This is a pretty radical departure from the usual kowtowing to developers that goes on among many councils desperate for development and the increased assessment dollars that come with it.

There’s an argument to be made in support of Lennox’s position here, both in terms of maintaining a small-town atmosphere, which was his primary point, and perhaps fiscally as well. Municipal finance staff often assert that increased assessment allows a municipality to spread costs around, which helps keep taxes down, and tools like development charges mean that “growth pays for growth” without burdening current ratepayers.

And yet, if any small-town homeowners were to conduct the mental exercise of moving their current abode to a significantly larger centre, they would likely find the combination of their home’s higher individual assessment and the local mill rate would see them paying even more property tax on the same type of house.

So who needs growth?

Well, we all do, it can also be argued. Financially, as communities that aren’t renewed with both new residents and new infrastructure will atrophy and end up with a smaller pool of hangers-on left to pay for ongoing maintenance and upgrades needed to remain viable.

And then there’s the whole question of why are the “rights” of residents already here more important than those of people seeking to move in, or to branch out from their family homes into places of their own? Is the latter’s need for affordable housing less imperative than the sanctity of the single-family home neighbourhood?

So what’s the answer? Stay tuned. The debate plays out in some form at most council meetings these days.

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North Wellington Community News