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Town supporting residential, but not business growth

The citizens who created the Cochrane Sustainability Plan identified 13 Pathways to Sustainability for this community. So far, I have written about the first nine. Pathway 10 reads: “there is enough room for everything a community should have.

The citizens who created the Cochrane Sustainability Plan identified 13 Pathways to Sustainability for this community. So far, I have written about the first nine.

Pathway 10 reads: “there is enough room for everything a community should have.” What did they mean? Were they concerned that there was not enough land available within town boundaries to enable growth?

Apparently, the amount of land available for industrial growth was limited in 2009, and this was a primary driver for this path forward. In 2008, the baseline year, 23.4 per cent of all lands in Cochrane were zoned for residential development; 11.8 per cent were zoned industrial; 8.2 per cent commercial; 19.6 per cent public service and a whopping 37.09 per cent were zoned urban reserve.

Urban reserve lands are lands within the boundaries that have not yet been zoned at all. Urban reserve lands will ultimately be zoned for land uses along similar percentages as indicated above because of our choice of growth patterns and the steep river valley topography. But, we could create policy that limits residential growth without an accompanying non-residential component.

Former mayor Caroline Godfrey always explained that the secret to a well-managed community was creating a balance between places to live and places to work.

Commercial and industrial lands added together provide 20 per cent of total zoned land in this community-close in quantity to residential at 23.4 per cent. There is no great disparity with respect to zoning between these two land use types. But, the tax base is heavily slanted to residential, at about 85 per cent residential to 15 per cent non-residential. This trend has existed for years within a few percentage points. As less industry locates here, and commercial enterprises shut down, residential lands must be taxed more to fund the facilities, services and programs that support Cochrane’s high quality of life, like fire departments, police, water treatment and waste disposal, pools and rec centres, etc.

The target for achieving Pathway 10 in the Plan is that by 2039 municipal tax revenues will be “60 per cent residential and 40 per cent non-residential with 100 per cent environmentally sensitive areas protected.”

This is a lofty goal statement. Unless we change our collective behaviour with respect to land use, it will certainly be unachievable. Residential development costs us money-it never pays for itself.

Growth for the sake of growth is a money-losing proposition as is demonstrated yearly at budget time. People who have lived here long term have subsidized new residential developments year after year-contributing to reserves to ensure that new incoming citizens will have water, sewers, roads, infrastructure, facilities, etc., etc.

The tax revenue generated by industry and commerce pales compared to the residential tax base, simply because we do not attract or sustain non-residential land uses.

The development industry may pay to put “servicing” in the ground, but after three years when they complete their development projects, taxpayers pick up the growing tab to maintain, fix and upgrade long-term. Servicing is expensive, and the current system is like being in a bar where someone buys you one beer, but then you have pick up the tab for the drinks for everyone he brings to your table for the rest of the evening. Thanks, but . . .

At the rate of stripping and grading of environmentally sensitive lands that has occurred over the past six years, by 2039 there may be very little environmental infrastructure remaining to protect.

What environmentally significant land is left is highly fragmented and over utilized by servicing corridors, pathways and human activity.

No matter what lofty policies the town may have in place, at the end of the day stripping and grading before servicing of entire subdivisions is still going on. Why does phased development not require phased development of infrastructure? Phased residential development might be respectful to landscape and the ecological infrastructure provided by ravines, wetlands, riparian vegetation, floodplains and steep slopes.

In Cochrane, those are the very places where we strip the land down to the lacustrine clay and build our expensive homes, sometimes with unintended consequences.

Apparently, the authors of the plan thought that Cochrane’s land was “expensive and underutilized.” This expression makes me shudder. I look out my window to see house upon house sprawled all over the hillsides for as far as the eye can see. Perhaps we need to look at our landscape and determine how much residential development is proportionate to the actual amount of industry and commerce we can attract and accommodate in this community.

Why live here if we cannot also work here?

I don’t think we have a problem with quantity of land zoned non-residential, but we do have a significant issue with how local government fails to properly support and promote growth in the business community providing us with facilities and services we need to live locally and employment to work locally.

Pathway 10 might be rewritten to address the real problem which is our highly subsidized promotion of residential growth, at all costs.