Sony Rai Deputation to Vaughan Council May 17, 2010

Mayor and council, thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak. Sustainable Vaughan is a grass roots community organization focused on issues of sustainability and the environment. This is not an anti-development organization. This organization is supported by both environmentalists and developers.

The Town of Markham had an open, public debate about the future of its rural lands, allowing politicians, citizens, and the media to discuss that city’s future. The politicians in Vaughan decided to forgo such a democratic process and instead have proposed an urban boundary expansion with no studies, public engagement or debate about such an important issue.

The City has gone on record as saying that this is not the case and they did have a very engaged public process. This is true, up until they proposed an urban boundary expansion.  This is when the doors became shut to the public. There was no public involvement on the decision to open the white belt lands for development.

In addition to the undemocratic process, the city also believes it necessary to push through this decision at break neck speed. Two weeks after the open house of the draft plan, the city is having this public hearing allowing citizens to question and comment on the contents of the plan. This means the average citizen is expected to read and digest a 300+ page document within this short time frame. The faster they push this through, the less people will notice.

Council is scheduled to vote for adoption of the Official Plan on September 7th, a day after Labour Day.  The city has been candid about its wish to approve the plan before the fall recess is called prior to the municipal election. If you’re thinking that the optics look bad, you’re right, desperation breeds recklessness. In not wanting the contents of this plan to become an election issue, Vaughan council has done precisely that, they’ve created an election issue. It looks even more absurd when you consider that Markham won’t be releasing its draft official plan until sometime next year (the democratic route obviously taking longer).

During the past two years of developing the official plan I and many other Vaughan residents participated in city organized public workshops where the consensus among citizens was clear, no more urban sprawl, no more sprawl induced traffic congestion, and no more sprawl induced tax hikes. During one of these workshops, the “Visionary Workshop” the outcome was unanimous; citizens declared that intensification, not sprawl was their preference.

As a result of the Visionary Workshop, the City’s consultants produced a report in 2009, “Where and How to Grow” which showed there is the option to accommodate all new growth directed by York Region within the existing urban boundary. This would require the city to develop denser on areas already targeted for intensification as well as on greenfield sites.

The introduction of the Spadina subway line and Viva rapid transit system will provide the city with the stimulus for such a population and density increase. Instead the City is lowering the intensification numbers for the areas that can accommodate sustainable, transit supportive growth. This is what’s happened between the Where & How to Grow document and the Official Plan. This is how Vaughan is justifying urban sprawl. They are working backwards, creating sprawl first, and then reworking the remaining population numbers across the city.

This city has been given the gift of an enormously expensive, publically funded subway system, providing it with the stimulus for a population increase, yet it still feels entitled to sprawl. The City politicians claim that the market demand for denser housing types will not be strong (there is no Vaughan specific market study released to prove this assumption).  In fact we’ve seen the opposite happen in Vaughan even before the subway is in place. Developers are game for intensity throughout Vaughan.

The City has not proven to the public that the expansion is necessary or that it will not have a negative environmental or economic impact. There have been no environmental or economic studies available to prove this nor has there been a secondary plan. These studies are requirements before urban expansion can be approved under the Places to Grow Act. Council wants to vote to expand first and then produce the justification later.

Vaughan citizens have been denied the opportunity to discuss the two options available, expanding the urban boundary or increased intensification within the existing boundary.

Sustainable Vaughan has proposed a very fair and sensible way for the city to prove to citizens they are both democratic and open debate before the start of this year’s municipal election.

A five year moratorium on development on the White Belt lands is required in order to allow the proper studies and an open public debate on this issue to occur.

This is the best compromise between the region, the city and the citizens of Vaughan. Our organization is only getting started and support for this proposal will only grow between now and September. I urge you to consider this, work with us not against us.

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