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Grey Highlands candidates talk about future growth

Those running for Grey Highlands council have shared their views on future growth and how to manage new development
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CollingwoodToday asked the candidates running for council in Grey Highlands four questions about the issues facing the community.

The following responses were submitted by the candidates. The answers have not been checked for accuracy; they represent the candidates’ platforms and opinions.

Please visit CollingwoodToday’s municipal election web page for more coverage of the local municipal elections.

Responses are presented in alphabetical order beginning with candidates for mayor. Responses received by publishing deadline are included below. 

Q: In the coming years, Grey Highlands can be expected to experience significant pressure for growth and development. The development wave is moving up the Highway 10 corridor, as evidenced by the growth in Dundalk. As a member of council what will your priorities be for managing and planning for this anticipated growth?

Candidate for mayor: Don Alp

I will put large-scale development fees at an amount that will cover the cost of the growth requirements of town services like sewer and water, while trying to lower development fees of out-of-town housing that doesn't use public water/sewer services.

Candidate for mayor: Paul McQueen

Growth has and will continue in Grey Highlands, we know why; it’s a great place to work, rest and play along with all the great things it offers. I have spoken to many people over the years that don’t live here but some comments they say are: “what a beautiful place, you are so lucky to live here.” We have to look at good growth that is right for Grey Highlands. The redevelopment of downtown Markdale, our largest urban centre, will be key to creating housing and business opportunities, along with a centre that people will talk about and be proud of.  

Candidate for mayor: Danielle Valiquette

Everyone deserves a home they can afford, where they want to live. We are in a housing crisis, and we need to think outside of the box to provide attainable and affordable housing including more housing choices through expanded zoning options, gentle density via infilling with smart growth. Governments of the past paved over prime agriculture, let's not make the same mistake in Grey Highlands. My priorities for managing and planning for this anticipated growth is density where density belongs, and that is where there are existing services. Housing is more affordable where most of the infrastructure investments have already been made. 

Grey Highlands has implemented some very forward policy changes in the past four years aimed at supporting attainable housing, for example, this council removed the minimum building size for a single-family dwelling, and started the process by requesting a staff report on amending the Grey Highlands zoning by-law to eliminate or reduce the minimum square footage of a single-family dwelling in a residential zone and removed development charges on Secondary Dwelling Units (SDUs), allowed a duplex or triplex by way of right in serviced areas and have supported a review of minimum parking requirements in built-up areas. 

As your mayor, I will:

  • Encourage infilling within existing in-catchment boundaries that are currently serviced.
  • Support secondary dwelling units (SDU), as well as an analysis of increasing the number of units.
  • Support tiny homes on temporarily leased land. (At the county level, temporary land leases are being explored as a way to help support tiny home development; this solves the high cost of land, it does not solve the high cost of hooking into services.)
  • Support partnerships to get truly affordable homes built.
  • Support a review of minimum parking requirements.

Candidate for deputy mayor: Dane Nielsen

Over the last four years, Grey Highlands has been preparing for the growth up the Highway 10 corridor. We have invested in a new water tower, fought and won the battle for the new school in Markdale and for the hospital. This is creating a place for the growth to go. I believe that while there may be pressure on Flesherton to grow, it is not desired. Flesherton has a lack of municipal services that insulate it from growth. Developers will pass over Flesherton in favour of Markdale allowing Flesherton to stay the beautiful artsy community that it is. With growth directed to our main settlement area, we will see services follow. New shops and businesses that will, optimistically, mean we will not need to travel to Orangeville, Owen Sound, or Collingwood.

Candidate for council: Paul Allen

We have anticipated growth in Markdale, the largest settlement area in Grey Highlands, for some time and have been proactive in ensuring that we are ready for it. We have recently replaced the water tower to increase not only capacity but also pressure that is required for 'pushing' the water to homes while maintaining fire fighting pressure requirements. We have upgraded areas of our sewage treatment plant to speed up the treatment process and to allow us to discharge 12 months of the year. Previously we could not discharge during the winter months. We have also made some amendments to our zoning bylaw to allow more building flexibility in our residential areas which has provided more housing at reduced cost. My priorities are:

1) Review and update our 2004 zoning bylaw to today's standards. This is in process. (With public input)

2) Review and update our 2017 official plan to spell out the municipality's expectations for developers. (With public input)

3) Review our strategic plan to ensure that council has a unified plan of action for the type of growth that is proposed to come to Grey Highlands. (With public input)

4) Encourage and support attainable housing strategies, both for purchase and rental.

5) Promote more public input at planning application hearings and bylaw reviews.

Candidate for council: Tom Allwood

The current term of council has been able to work collaboratively with staff and all levels of government to achieve progress on economic development that will see Grey Highlands grow and have its residents enjoy a vibrant, healthy, lifestyle that respects our rural heritage and the environment. This growth will happen in our primary settlement areas where full water and wastewater services are available. The visioning sessions the Planning Partnership facilitated with our residents proposed a vibrant downtown with public spaces, a streetscape that added landscaping and amenities that favour pedestrian use, retail and office space that will provide jobs, and the kind of density that will provide for attainable housing. I support this growth.

Candidate for council: Reid Dennison

It’s a truism of politics that you should never come out against growth. Growth means jobs, right? But at this moment, we lack people to do the jobs that we already have. Employers, from large factories down to mom-and-pop restaurants, are having a hard time finding people to work. Sure, they might try raising wages, but that can just lead to a vicious inflationary cycle for all of us. We have to manage growth carefully while maintaining the essential character of our communities. So development – yes, but the right kind of development. Do we want larger and larger factories springing up on farms everywhere? Under a current proposal to change the Official Plan, that’s what we’ll get, but I haven’t yet met anyone in favour of this, aside from municipal staff. Do we want more subdivisions built away from existing settlements and urban areas? Many fear this is what will happen, now that Grey Highlands has sold the Talisman properties to a Toronto developer – a wasted opportunity in my opinion. What if instead, we focus our efforts on development of housing that most people can afford, housing we desperately need, taking advantage of infrastructure that we already have in our towns and villages? Sure, we’ll be pressured (and sometimes forced, by the Ontario Land Tribunal) to approve the luxury projects that developers want, but we don’t have to make it easy for them. Instead, let’s ease the way for attainable housing, by cutting fees and red tape for those proposals, and directing municipal staff to make them a priority.

Candidate for council: Nadia Dubyk

As councillor, my priorities to manage and plan development align with the smart growth approach - economic prosperity, strong communities, and environmental health. This includes:

  • Directing development to existing communities and hamlets where infrastructure already exists, which can be more cost-effective and provide a higher quality of life being closer to jobs, services and cultural hubs.
  • Supporting quality housing for all income levels and life stages, including affordable and attainable housing. Working with the County, municipalities and other partners for better solutions and cost-effectiveness.
  • Promoting mixed land use to make places livable, walkable and viable – residential, commercial, recreational uses together.
  • Engaging the community early and often in the planning process to solve for their unique needs. With development being directed to existing communities and hamlets, farmlands and the natural environment are maintained, keeping the character of our green space and tourist draw strong.

Candidate for council: Emmett Ferguson

I am excited at the prospect of our community growing, and my plan will be first to celebrate and welcome new residents in our communities. I am just as strongly committed to conserving the agricultural and natural assets of Grey Highlands, and to human rather than car-centred design. A strong council can lead the way with investments in and championing of cooperative housing corporations or other strongly affordable and accessible housing developments, ideally matched by private, provincial and federal sources. This should include the use of otherwise- surplus municipal lands to partner in the building of more diverse and affordable housing options without simply selling land outright. To build affordable housing we need civic leadership, investment, and partnerships. We need to lead the way using communications, evidence and advocacy to bring housing-seekers together in the early stages of new housing development. We need to invest patiently in capital projects to serve the diverse housing needs of Grey Highlanders without seeking only profit for private coffers. We need to partner with other governments, investors and operators of housing to sustain the affordability and accessibility of as many housing units as possible. A lot of development is needed to get a project shovel ready, and most often that time is funded by private speculation interests, without clear attention paid to current housing needs or community contexts. The biggest impediment is simply that the market is not designed to care about the affordability of basic needs, but rather to seek profit from them. However, local government has a role to play in moderating this market and bringing together partners to create different and more affordable options.

Candidate for council: Gary Franklin

Yes, the growth of housing developments is steadily creeping north. Knock on the door as close as Dundalk now. Many people would like to move and live in Grey highlands and why wouldn’t they? It is one of the most beautiful areas in Ontario. The development needs to be managed carefully, proper planning is the key. We have time to do it right. Let’s be ready in advance and have a plan in place. 

Candidate for council: Joel Loughead

Growth and development are perhaps the two most pressing issues Grey Highlands will experience in the coming years. Development is a good thing for our local economy, services, and communities when planned carefully. Long-term health of communities and environmental sustainability always need to be prioritized over developers' profits. That means not selling municipal lands without a sound plan for sustainable development. That means strong provisions in municipal planning acts to ensure that prime agricultural areas aren't paved for cheap subdivisions. We need councillors who will work tirelessly to ensure that our municipality protects the farmland, green spaces, and sensitive watersheds that are so vital to the well-being of Grey Highlands.

Candidate for council: Brian McCulloch

As the development wave moves up Highway 10, the municipality is well-placed to manage the pressures. The growth is in tourism, residential homes and business opportunities as more people look north from the GTA to a rural environment and an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors. Growth must be environmentally sustainable and respect the character of existing communities. For tourists, how do we get them to stop and smell the roses? How do we ensure that they respect a slower pace and especially the farm vehicles that also travel the asphalt and gravel roads? The tools are already there for planning and managing the growth. Grey Highlands has an official plan and a four-year strategic plan in place. The five guiding principles of considerate communities, healthy lifestyle, respected environment, strong governance and vibrant economy provide the direction and focus to achieve our goals of moving forward. What do we have to offer? The Economic and Community Development Department has not been sitting idle. There is an Economic Development Strategy that provided a framework on how to encourage a vibrant local economy that is rooted in programs like “re[Imagine] Markdale” for the downtown core. Grant assistance was provided to help businesses revitalize their building frontage. We must insist that developers provide mixed housing that is accessible and attainable if they are going to build here. Trail systems that encourage walking and off-road parking would give better access to main street shops and a professional building of small offices would diversify business opportunities. An industrial park location would keep low-impact manufacturing in an area away from residential homes and with roads designed to accommodate trucks.

Candidate for council: Lynn Silverton

It will be interesting to watch this growth phenomenon. Flesherton is a quiet village and most local citizens I believe want it to remain that way. You need a willing host for expansion so there is the possibility that Flesherton might remain as is for many years. Nobody wants to pay to expand the sewage system and having the independence of your own well is liberating. As a councillor, I would be supportive of this mindset. This serenity may not last forever, but expansion will come when it makes sense to do so. 

Markdale is the next stop north and is expanding because it has the services to support new growth. With 1,000 new homes planned over the next decade, this town will take on a new look. Trucking is important to our economy but we must work on solutions to move this traffic away from the centre core. Downtown Markdale needs a growth plan and there is an indication that there is a need to develop a comprehensive development plan for Markdale. I would love to be part of this direction. 

Candidate for council: Joe Van der Vechte

Growth is inevitable, as people discover all the beauty our community has to offer. This growth needs to be planned out with community input. We need to keep the environment, farmland, infrastructure, roads, affordable housing, and our seniors in the planning process.  We not only need to think short term but long term as well. All our communities in Grey Highlands need growth and development, but it cannot come with a cost to the environment or affect our farming communities. With community involvement, I would like to see a long-term future plan for development. It’s a lot easier to get to where you want to go when you know your destination. 

There are a lot of issues currently facing our community and proper planning will assure growth that matches our community needs. We need to truly understand our current infrastructure and assess its condition so we can move forward.

Candidate for council: Christine Wagner

Grey Highlands is in the direct path of the urban sprawl. We must protect our agricultural community and lands against overdevelopment and industrial manufacturing on our agriculturally zoned lands. We must also embrace growth and development that will not change the face of Grey Highlands. We need affordable housing for our local residents to keep our community strong. There needs to be control measures in place to safeguard against land purchases for the purpose of overpriced developments and resale. We need growth that fits our surroundings and the infrastructure to support this growth. We must have consideration for the existing residents and how these changes will affect them.

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About the Author: Chris Fell, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Chris Fell covers The Blue Mountains and Grey Highlands under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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