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.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s