Casino Dialogues

This past May, Vaughan Council voted to be a host candidate for a casino. During the same meeting Vaughan politicians allowed the council chamber to be a forum for pro casino lobbyist who spent the first two hours of the meeting selling the casino for council.

What Vaughan was denied was a real conversation about what a casino really means for the city and what exactly the City will receive. Vaughan Council has made their pitch and created a pro casino staff report. To help initiate a balanced debate about the casino Sustainable Vaughan invites you to the first in a series of Casino Dialogues.

On July 15, Sustainable Vaughan invites you to join in the conversation. The leaders of No Casino Toronto will be speaking at Vellore Village about their reasons for fighting the casino. Toronto overwhelmingly rejected the casino. Politicians and the development community in Toronto were not sold on the idea, come out and learn why

Monday July 15th 7:00pm – 9:00pm Vellore Village Community Centre (1 Villa Royale Ave) Activity Room 3.

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A Casino Next to a Subway?

The future Spadina Subway line expansion into Vaughan was a gift from taxpayers across the country, paid for by federal, provincial and municipal funding. This incredibly expensive infrastructure project provides Vaughan with the key stimulus for its aspirations of creating a dense, urban mixed use core with vibrant streets and less car dependent neighbourhoods. Centred between two future subway stops, the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre (VMC) will be the city’s future downtown.

Coupled with the future Highway 7 Bus Rapid Transit Line, these two public transit projects are the envy of other suburban municipalities. Unfortunately, a Vaughan staff report touts the benefits of placing a casino within the borders of the VMC, on provincially owned lands adjacent to the future Highway 407 subway station. Leveraging public transit projects to lure a casino complex is a short sighted decision and will undermine the efforts already underway to create the city’s new downtown.

As a future Urban Growth Centre, the VMC has a provincially mandated responsibility to house higher densities and a diversity of uses. Approving a casino in the VMC would not only be an irresponsible use of the new subway infrastructure, but also contravene the City’s own Official Plan for the area.

The Vaughan Metropolitan Centre Secondary Plan prescribes the vision for the future downtown. The secondary plan advocates that “buildings in all areas of the VMC, and all types, have a responsibility to help define the public realm, bring vitality to streets and parks, and contribute positively to the image of Vaughan’s downtown.” The VMC secondary plan does not discuss the creation of large windowless boxes surrounded by a sea of parking. It was decided this was the past vision of the city.

A Vaughan staff report sells the benefits of placing a casino within the VMC. The report states that a casino “has potential to be a catalyst for development of the city’s new downtown.” There is no proof in the report that a casino will have this effect. In reality, a casino is a threat to future residential and commercial development.

In Toronto, developers of Liberty Village understood that a casino would undermine the future potential of this growing community before it had time to mature and fully build out. First Capital Reality, the lead developers of Liberty Village, knew that these types of facilities are not compatible with the creation of vibrant urban communities.

In a letter to Toronto city councillors and the city manager, First Capital Realty Inc. stated a casino “will destroy the unique character and lifestyle of King Liberty Village and Queen Street West and irreparably impair the community attributes and value of this neighbourhood.” When a casino resort complex was proposed by Oxford Properties Group in a retrofitted Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Front Street West, developers RioCan, Allied Properties and Diamond Corp all came out strongly against the proposal, understanding the threat it posed to the success of their respective developments on nearby lands.

A casino complex will bring patrons to its facilities and make sure they spend their day and money within the facility, and only that facility, generating little to no economic spinoff for the future downtown core. Restaurants and retail shops will make up a significant portion of the gaming complex, drawing visitors away from other restaurants and shops throughout the VMC. A casino complex will suck the life out of the businesses surrounding it and destroy the vibrant, dense mixed-use neighbourhoods the city has been working toward building.

The City of Toronto overwhelmingly rejected a casino within its borders. This decision was the result of a number of factors. For some councillors, it was the inadequate hosting fee that was the deal breaker. For others, the issue came down to a moral imperative. For councillors in the downtown, it was obvious why a casino should be rejected: Why threaten an already vibrant urban city that continues to lure people, jobs and development and generates large amounts of tax revenue? In Vaughan, voting yes to a casino will severely hinder the city’s ability to create the same type of diverse economic generator and is a poor use of our precious and scarce subway infrastructure.

We have a deficit of transit infrastructure within the Toronto region and have only now begun the conversation as to how to fund its much needed expansion. Making use of the subway to host a casino is an insult to other municipalities struggling with traffic congestion due to a deficit of transit infrastructure.

Vaughan has an enormous responsibility to use this infrastructure to develop a more sustainable urban core. By accepting the instant gratification brought by a casino complex and its revenues, the city would be admitting it is not up to the difficult task of city building. Vaughan will undermine its own urban aspirations if it approves this visionless pursuit.


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3rd Annual Sprawl Speaker Series

Please join Sustainable Vaughan on Thursday November 22nd for our third annual, Sprawl Speaker Series;

Debt Financing and Development Charges, Unsustainable Subsidy or Necessary Tool for Growth?

Thursday November 22, 2012 7:00pm – 9:00pmVellore Village Community Centre, 1 Villa Royale Ave, Maple, ON L4H 2Z7

This event is a continuation of our Sprawl Speaker Series begun in 2010. This third installment invites three preeminent researchers on the topic of Development Charges to discuss municipal finance, planning and the future shape of our suburbs.

Sustainable Vaughan announces Urban Planner Pamela Blais, Lawyer Travis AllAn and Professor David Amborski as the 2012 Sprawl Speaker Series presenters.

What are development charges and how are they shaping our city?

The Region of York pays for the upfront cost of building infrastructure associated with new development in the form of sewers, water, roads, transit and education. The concept behind this is that new growth should pay for itself and not burden existing homeowners.

In theory this seems like sound fiscal policy, however development charges are having a profoundly negative impact on how our city is planned and grows. Due to debt financing York Region has managed to dig itself into a financial burden by building infrastructure in one area of the Region and gambling that money from development charges in another part of the Region will offset these costs. As a result the Region is in debt by close to $2 billion.

This past summer, the Region decided to accelerate the development of recently expanded urban boundary lands in Vaughan and Markham.  The reason for this decision is for the need to collect development charges on these lands sooner rather than later. The Region, desperate to reduce its debt burden is treating undeveloped land in both Vaughan and Markham as collateral.

The development charges that will be collected on the new development in the former whitebelt lands will be used to write off the Region’s debt. These charges will not be entirely used to pay for growth related infrastructure costs incurred by the future developments. In reality the Region needs sprawl to help pay for debt incurred from subsidizing sprawl elsewhere in the Region. York Region is caught in perpetual debt & sprawl trap.

The next sprawl development will pay for the cost of the previous sprawl development and so forth. There is no incentive for the Region to limit or attempt to reduce sprawl. In fact the Region requires unlimited land supply and perpetual sprawl to meet it debt obligations.

The City of Vaughan, who collects the development charges on behalf of the Region, is flush with cash as was Mississauga when it had ample land to build sprawl development. For the first time in 30 years Mississauga has gone into debt as the city begins the inevitable repair, maintenance and replacement of their now aging infrastructure. The city is set to borrow $446-million over the next eight years to both build new infrastructure for an urbanizing city while repairing, maintaining and replacing infrastructure within its aging sprawling communities.

Mississauga’s sprawl is both fiscally and environmentally unsustainable. Mississauga tax payers were hit with a 7.4% increase to its portion of the property-tax bill this year while maintaining the same level of services. The 2013 increase is predicted to be in the order of 9.7%. Mississauga had a property tax freeze from 1994-2002.

As Vaughan continues to approve urban sprawl north of the city, the city also wants the high density development that is being stimulated by new rapid transit infrastructure in the form of the future subway expansion, the bus rapid transit way along Highway 7 and the Concord West Go station.

As the Region stretches outward and builds upward the demand for infrastructure increases exponentially. Can the Region have it both ways? Can it subsidize the infrastructure for the growth of new housing developments north of the city and pay for the infrastructure needs of an ever increasing urban city?  Add to this the reality that the city will need to begin addressing the ongoing repair maintenance and replacement of existing infrastructure in the older sprawl developments.

How long can the Region plan its future in this way? Is our current model for growth sustainable?



Pamela Blais is an urban planner and Principal of Metropole Consultants Ltd., where her focus is on creating better cities by integrating planning, economic and environmental thinking in the analysis of urban issues and the development of innovative policy. In her twenty-plus year career as an urban planning consultant, her work has included reurbanisation strategies and research; long term regional growth planning; municipal economic development strategies; innovative land use policies for industrial areas; urban regeneration strategies; sustainable urban form, community design and infrastructure; and research on the impact of technology on urban form. She is the author of Perverse Cities: Hidden Subsidies, Wonky Policy and Urban Sprawl, which was shortlisted for the 2011 Donner Book Prize – awarded for the best Canadian public policy book of the year. Pamela has a Masters in Planning from the University of Toronto and a PhD in urban economic geography from the London School of Economics


Travis J. Allan is a lawyer who also advises private and public sector clients on environmental, corporate and regulatory matters, with a focus on climate change at Zizzo Allan Professional Corporation. In addition to providing advice on a broad range of corporate transactions, Travis has helped public and private sector clients understand issues such as municipal liability resulting from climate change, greenhouse gas reporting obligations and novel policy tools to control urban sprawl. Travis is the co-author of numerous publications, including the recently released “Live Where You Go” report. He serves on the boards of the Climate Change Lawyers Network (as co-chair), Project Neutral and the Ontario Land Trust Alliance.


David Amborski holds Master’s Degrees in Economics and Urban & Regional Planning. His research and consulting interests are in the areas where urban planning interfaces with economics, especially in the field of municipal finance and land/housing markets. More specifically, he has undertaken a number of fiscal impact analyses including development charge and TIF studies for municipalities and the Provincial government. Recent publications and reports include; “Ryerson University Dundas Square Metropolis Project” in The University as Developer, and “Current Issues and Planning for Canadian City Regions” in Studia Regionalia. He has been involved in teaching seminars for in-career government officials both in Ontario and internationally. In Canada, this includes seminars for new municipal councillors and staff offered by the Ontario Municipal Management Institute and the Local Government Program delivered by the University of Alberta and Dalhousie University. Internationally, this includes a variety of seminars delivered in the Baltic States, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Spain, and the Ukraine. He also serves on a number of international editorial boards and committees including being on the advisory committee of the Institute for Finance and Local Governance, Munk Centre University of Toronto and being selected as a member of Lambda Alpha (honorary economic society). Locally, Professor Amborski has served on a number of planning committees in the Town of Aurora, and is vice-president of the Ontario Municipal Management Institute.

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Current Political Thinking as Backed up as our Roads

Would be Vaughan MPP’s recently proposed solutions to alleviate your traffic congestion woes, unfortunately their proposals, ranging from road expansion to “improving” public transit will do nothing to reduce your commute times. Without real funding attached to these promises, your commute will continue to be miserable. In an age of budget deficits, do Vaughan wannabe politicians and their parties have the political will to take on this problem?

Politicians during every recent election claim to have the cure for our traffic congestion blight. They don’t, there is currently no solution to help alleviate traffic congestion in Vaughan or elsewhere in the GTA. In fact what politicians will not tell you is that Vaughan’s traffic congestion problems are going to get far worse before they ever get better.

The City of Vaughan intends to develop 20 570 single and semi-detached houses. Thanks to a recent decision by Vaughan council, the recently approved accelerated development on whitebelt lands will add another 9600 single and semi-detached homes north of the city’s existing urban boundary for a total of 30 170 single and semi-detached homes over the next twenty years. This in a city already composed of approximately 85% single and semi-detached homes.
The average Vaughan citizen doesn’t need a degree in traffic engineering or urban planning to understand what their future will look like. The majority of the new home buyers will commute by car. Regardless of what York Region politicians and planners will tell you about their grand public transit plans for these new growth areas, people don’t move to Vaughan to take a bus for two hours to get to work.

There is currently no plan at the Provincial level to deal with the traffic congestion that is costing the province billions of dollars in lost productivity annually and ruining your quality of life. In fact the Province’s Standing Committee on General Government is currently conducting a study on traffic congestion in the GTA referred to as the study on “gridlock”.

As we await the findings of this study, the Province intends to reward the new growth areas in Halton, Caledon, Peel and York Region with a new mega highway which will stretch from Highway 400 in Vaughan and arc all the way around the Golden Horseshoe down to the Niagara border with Fort Erie. First planned in the Province’s Big Move document, the coyly named GTA West corridor and the Mid-Peninsula Corridor will pave over portions of both the Greenbelt and the Niagara Escarpment.

Unfortunately this new highway will do nothing to alleviate congestion in the long term. According to University of Toronto researchers Gilles Duranton and Matthew Turner, “roads cause traffic”. In their study, The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion, Duranton and Turner, concluded that road construction can never keep pace with road congestion.

In the long term building new roadways does not divert traffic from existing roads. The only mechanism that does help reduce traffic congestion, according to their report, is congestion pricing. Not surprisingly, this solution is not mentioned by any of the political parties. Also not mentioned is the idea of a new tax geared towards raising funding for public transit infrastructure.

In a recent study by Canadian sustainability think-tank Pembina Institute, 70 per cent of Toronto area car commuters stated they are prepared to pay user taxes or tolls if it helps to reduce their commute times.

We need to eliminate car dependency by offering citizens an alternative means of getting around other than by car. This will require billions of dollars over the next twenty years spent on a mix of public transit infrastructure coupled with the political will to curb continued sprawl. Are citizens of Vaughan willing to pay for a shorter commute? Do politicians have the political will to raise the necessary funds through new taxes and tolls? Or do we endure yet more political campaigns with empty promises.

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Help Support a Real Cycling Infrastructure

The Region of York is currently proposing a painted bike lane along Highway 7 adjacent to the future Vaughan Metropolitan Centre. Sustainable Vaughan has always maintained that a painted lane is not acceptable and that all new bike lanes on Regional roads must be segregated by either a continuous physical barrier or more preferably, a lane raised to the level of the sidewalk.

To read more please follow the link below,–york-region-risks-empty-bike-lanes-as-legacy

To bring attention to our demands Sustainable Vaughan is organizing a community bike ride along Highway 7 to protest the Region’s painted bike lane proposal. Sustainable Vaughan intends to hold the cycling protest ride in mid September.

In order to hold the event Sustainable Vaughan requires a road permit from York Region. In order to acquire such a permit we will need to obtain insurance for the event.

In addition to this, we believe the community bicycle ride should be accessible to cyclists of all ages and experience. This is what we ultimately want by demanding a segregated bicycle lane. In order to ensure the safety of participants for the event, we need to hire two York Region police cyclists and one patrol car.

These requirements will push the cost of the half day event up to $3500. In order to provide a safe community cycling event open to cyclists of all ages and experience levels for a leisurely ride along Highway 7, we are required to obtain insurance and the assistance of the Regional Police. This speaks volumes about how unsafe cycling along Highway 7 currently is.

Creating a painted lane will invite cyclists onto the highway without insurance or the benefit of a police escort, however this painted lane will not be much safer

In order to make this event possible, Sustainable Vaughan is asking for small donations from concerned members of the community to help make this one day community bicycle ride possible and to show York Region that we demand safe bicycle lanes.

Please get in touch if you’re interested in lending your support, any amount is greatly appreciated.

Thank You!

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Region, Vaughan need to curb insatiable sprawl

The City of Vaughan recently voted to backtrack on a key piece of legislation that would have provided an orderly phasing of development on the City’s whitebelt lands over the next twenty years. In doing so, the city green lighted and acelerated the type of development model the province has been trying to curb for the past decade. However, the province seems content on sitting back while its own legislation is undermined.

Vaughan Official Plan Policy “ – Timing of New Secondary Plan Areas,” required that five of the six missing secondary plans within the city’s existing urban boundary had to be substantially complete before development of lands outside the city boundary (whitebelt) could proceed. After the vote, only two of these secondary plans are required.

What precipitated this revote was a report crafted by York Region (Ground Related Housing Demand/Supply Analysis) arguing there is a looming deficit of single and semi-detached homes within the Region. Unfortunately those Vaughan councillors who voted in support of the revised policy did so based on flawed information.

One of the major flaws in the Region’s report is that it excludes all future townhouse developments within the City’s existing urban boundary. Leaving these townhomes out of the report artificially creates a deficit of ground related housing which further helps to substantiate the Region’s argument for accelerated sprawl.

The city hired a consultant (Hemson) to look at the housing supply potential in Vaughan as part of creating its new Official Plan. The consultant found that there is the potential for 6720 new townhouse units through intensification in the existing urban boundary. This number was excluded from the Regions report. The number of single and semi -detached housing units that the Region is desperate to develop in the whitebelt totals 6260.

The Region’s report also excludes the future townhomes that will be built within the six missing intensification areas. These would also number in the thousands once secondary plans are complete.

In fact the consultant has stated in the same report;
“One of the advantages that the City of Vaughan has…is the potential for a relatively large supply of rowhouse (townhouse) units, which are somewhat better suited for families than apartment units.”

Vaughan is fortunate enough to be receiving the type of public transit infrastructure that will help support higher density development; a future subway and bus rapid transit line within its existing urban boundary. The city is also well suited, as stated by the consultant’s report, to develop ground related housing in the form of townhomes. The Region can have both development levies and intensification, so why the aggressive need to develop more houses outside the city’s boundary?

York Region is in debt by approximately one billion dollars. This debt is mostly due to the York-Durham Sanitary Sewer Southeast Collector, more commonly referred to as “The Big Pipe”. York Region’s entire debt financing model is based on recuperating costs through development fees collected from the urban boundary expansion. In fact, the Region was planning the urban boundary expansion as far back as 2008, before the creation of the Vaughan Official Plan had begun.

York Region has managed to dig itself into a financial burden by building infrastructure in one area of the Region and gambling that money from development levies in another part of the Region will offset these costs. In order to pay this debt down, the region is using the white belt lands within Vaughan as collateral.

Those who believed the Provinces Places to Grow Act would help to place limitations and controls on this type of growth have been severely disappointed. If the Province is willing to stand back and allow Vaughan and York Region to undermine the Places to Grow Act and accelerate development of single and semi-detached housing for the sake of recuperating development levies, how soon can we expect the Region to begin going after the Greenbelt? York Region’s insatiable appetite for sprawl has not been abated by provincial legislation.

With traffic congestion the worst in North America, can the GTA handle thousands of new single and semi-detached homes along the edge of the Greenbelt? With the Province and Federal governments in deficit, there will be little chance of increased funding for public transit. These developments will be car dependent and will exacerbate the problems of congestion on GTA roads.

Your council’s short sighted decision was based on flawed information. Thanks to a lack of Provincial oversight, citizens of Vaughan will have to deal with the headache for decades to come.

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How do you build a cycling infrastructure in York Region?

You start by creating bicycle lanes that people will actually use.

York Region is currently planning to create a bicycle lane along Highway 7. This lane will be painted to separate the area meant for cyclists from motorists. Although speeds along highway 7 will be decreased when these lanes are implemented, I believe a painted bike lane will do little to provide safety for cyclists and convince more people to bicycle.

The link below is a recent op-ed piece I wrote for the Vaughan Citizen newspaper, criticizing the region’s decision to have a painted lane not physically segregated from vehicular traffic.–york-region-risks-empty-bike-lanes-as-legacy

It is for this reason why I ask your support in promoting the idea of a bicycle lane segregated by a curb or one raised to the level of the sidewalk as a means for providing the safety needed to help grow a cycling culture in the suburbs.

I am aware that many of you do not use a bicycle as a part of your daily commute to work or even recreationally. Vaughan and other suburbs are difficult places to ride a bike due to the large distances between destinations and concerns over safety. As Vaughan rapidly urbanizes, parts of the city will grow more compact and dense. It is important, as part of the city’s future transportation mix, that riding a bicycle become one of several commuting choices. It is only fair that this choice is also a safe.

I ask for your support in demanding that York Region implement a segregated bike lane along highway 7 and abandon the idea of painted bicycle lanes.

I encourage you to take a moment and email York Region councillors and mayors who sit on the Regions Transportation Services Committee as well as Kathleen Llewellyn-Thomas Commissioner of Transportation and Community Planning and Steve Kemp, Director of Traffic Management and Intelligent Transportation Systems at Regional Municipality of York.

Let them know that you do not support a painted bike lane along Highway 7 and instead want to see a bicycle lane segregated by a curb or raised to the level of the sidewalk.

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