It’s not only the past antics of the current mayor and council that’s enraging Vaughan citizens this election. As with most of the GTA, nothing gets voters’ blood boiling more than traffic congestion. With the Spadina Line subway extension still years away and funding for the Highway 7 Rapid Transit Line on hold, the car is still king in Vaughan.
York Region Council recently voted to allow the City of Vaughan to sprawl further north onto white belt lands continuing the type of car-dependent development that has led to the region’s grid lock woes. White belt lands are rural lands not protected by Oakridges Morain or Greenbelt legislation. These lands can be made available for development under strict rules set out by the Provinces Places to Grow Act. The decision, quietly passed during this election campaign, permits the development of single and semi-detached houses to the east and west of Highway 400, promising to further exacerbate the traffic along this already overstressed route.
The province stood by and allowed this decision to be made in light of studies by the OECD, Metrolinx and the Toronto Board of Trade which clearly state that traffic congestion is costing the region billions of dollars in lost productivity and leading to commute times that are now longer than those in famously traffic-snarled Los Angeles.
York Region is putting its own self-interest first instead of considering the health of the regional economy and the quality of life of its citizens. Driving this decision is the fact that York Region is in debt by approximately one billion dollars, mostly due to the York-Durham Sanitary Sewer Southeast Collector, more commonly known as “The Big Pipe”. This large infrastructure project will connect York and Durham’s sanitary systems, a project that further promotes urban sprawl and pushes the per capita debt in York to the highest in the GTA. York Region’s plan to dig out of this hole is based on recuperating costs through development fees.
The province’s Places to Grow Act is forcing municipalities to grow in a more compact way, focusing a minimum of 40percent of new development within existing urban boundaries. This growth will mean higher density housing in the form of town homes and apartments. York Region will receive an influx of development levies from high density development within the existing urban boundary and, by expanding the urban boundary northward; it will receive development levies from more traditional low density housing. The Region’s strategy is to collect development fees from a combination of single family home subdivisions, and condos, keeping a continuous cash flow if there is a market down turn in one type of housing versus the other. In fact, the region estimates it will recuperate $6.4 billion dollars through development charges by expanding the boundaries of Vaughan, Markham and East Gwillimbury.
Over the next 20 years the city of Vaughan will easily exceed the region’s own growth targets for new housing, helped to a large degree by the Spadina line subway extension and the Highway 7 Rapid Transit Line. This new development will come in the form of apartments and town homes. Vaughan is currently composed of 85 percent single family homes and the Region’s plan calls on 40 percent of new growth in Vaughan to be even more single family homes. By continuing to forecast a high demand for traditional suburban housing, the Region is sacrificing its rural lands for development charges, regardless of the consequences to our roads and quality of life.
With new congestion-reducing transit on its way, expanding the urban boundary in Vaughan is completely the wrong direction to be taking at this time. Unfortunately, the 905 is still addicted to the outdated development model that created traffic-filled roads in the first place – something to consider next time you find yourself idling on Highway 400.