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Charles Hamilton

Does growth pay for growth?

Excellent article by Charles Hamilton in The StarPhoenix

It’s a question cities throughout Western Canada have been grappling with for decades: does new development pay for itself ? Does the city spend more money servicing new neighbourhoods than it collects from the developers who buy the lots and build houses?

A new report released by Saskatoon civic administrators that says not all costs of new suburban development are paid for by the service rates charged to developers is stirring up the debate.

“Most of the direct services – most of the capital costs to build a neighbourhood – are included in the overall developers’ fees, but there are a number things that are not covered like leisure centres and fire halls and other things,” said Randy Grauer, Saskatoon’s acting city manager.

Some cities, such as Calgary, have decided to dramatically increase development levies. Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi says it’s an attempt to recoup the real cost of growth.

Some planners in Saskatoon say the same model should be considered here as the city’s population continues to grow at a rapid pace.

“The city has been encouraging developers to go develop on the outskirts, and now we are paying for it because we cannot afford to maintain the infrastructure,” said Avi Akkerman, a professor of regional and urban planning at the University of Saskatchewan.

“Everything that is associated with it is unsustainable.”

Of course developers disagree

“The new areas are paying a large portion of the tax burden,” said local developer Ron Olson, a former president the Canadian Home Builders Association. “The new areas are subsidizing the older neighbourhoods.”

Olson said city planners have to be careful not to “drink the Kool-Aid on this densification.” Restricting development on the outer edges of the city will only force young families to move outside the city – to places like Warman and Martensville – where they can find more housing choices.

“Calgary is a prime example of what we are talking about. The mayor has decided that new growth and suburban growth is a bad thing, and that kind of policy is regressive. You will have a bunch of satellites around Calgary, and those satellites are because young people want to live in single family homes,” Olson said.

Actually I would challenge Ron Olson’s assertions about Calgary.  I would suggest that the Calgary satellite communities have everything to do with house price than a desire to live in single family homes.  The farther you are away from Calgary (or Saskatoon), the less access you have to amenities and then less you have to pay for housing.

Of course the other point is that it isn’t about housing, it is about the cities ability to pay for sprawling infrastructure.  It’s weird but some still see libertarian values as something that needs to be met, even in the city.

A 33rd Street BID?

A great idea for Mayfair and Caswell Hill.  Story is by Charles Hamilton of The StarPhoenix.

When Nicola Tabb looks out the front door of her vintage clothing shop on 33rd Street, she sees a community ripe with potential.

This strip is home to one of Saskatoon’s most acclaimed bakeries, a handful of antique shops, a tattoo parlour, a hair salon and hardware stores.

While prostitution and drug use are still relatively common sights in the area, these few blocks on Saskatoon’s west side have all the makings, she said, of a place on its way to becoming this city’s up-and-coming neighbourhood.

“I get people coming in all the time saying, ‘Thank you for opening on 33rd. I love to support my local business.’ I’m not sure if I would have got that anywhere else in the city,” she said.

Tabb lives in Caswell Hill just a few blocks away from where she opened her store, Better Off Duds, eight months ago. Since then, she said, the community has embraced her and now she is just one of a number of local entrepreneurs keen on the idea of starting a business improvement district (BID) for 33rd Street.

Similar BIDs are already operating in the Broadway, downtown, Sutherland and Riversdale neighbourhoods. The idea of a BID, according to supporters, is to get community and business people actively engaged in development decisions affecting the neighbourhoods.

“You look at what 20th Street was 10 years ago even, and since the inception and development of the BID look at what happened to the neighbourhood. It’s a trendy, kitschy place now,” said Shannon Vinish, a former business owner who was instrumental in the area’s first attempt at forming a BID back in 2004.

BIDs operate in more than 1,400 business areas across North America. The organizations are funded primarily by a levy on business owner’s property taxes and work on lobbying different levels of government for things such as increased policing, street level improvements and zoning bylaws.

“It’s just a natural progression of an area turning in on itself and saying, ‘What happened, how did this happen and how do we fix it,’ ” said Randy Pshebylo, the executive director of the Riversdale BID, which has been active since 1990.

Pshebylo said BIDs can be an effective way of giving business members a voice in shaping the landscape of their community. His BID, for example, lobbied successfully for a limit on the number of pawn shops on 20th Street.

I am actually excited about this.  The Hudson Bay Park/Mayfair/Kelsey Woodlawn Community Association is revitalized, the Local Area Plan starts Thursday, and now a BID for 33rd Street?  These are all really good things happening in the area.