The infrastructure to develop Sandwich South finally has a preliminary price tag: Nearly $1 billion. These expenses are not included in Windsor’s freshly adopted 2018 capital budget. Who’s going to pay for this? And who will profit?
Windsor’s new budget includes $40,000 for a consultant to study how the costs (not included in the capital budget) of developing the Sandwich South Planning District should be allocated.
Sandwich South is a 6,000 acre agricultural area south and east of Windsor Airport, and includes the proposed new mega-hospital site.
The budget wording misleadingly implies it has been green-lighted for development, though there is little population or economic growth on the horizon to support it. To date, only East Pelton (500 acres) has a completed Secondary Plan.
The development of this area is being promoted as a foregone conclusion, putting developers and their profits before public interest.
How much is $828 million?
The project’s scale is staggering. It’s about ten times Windsor city’s debt. It’s eight times Windsor’s mega-hospital tax levy.
It’s over and above our current $1 billion road infrastructure deficit.
“Growth Pays for Growth”
That’s how Windsor describes its by-law requiring new development to pay for infrastructure, ensuring fiscally responsible planning of new services without saddling future generations with unaffordable legacy costs. Not all costs can be passed on to developers though, so the city-appointed task force will have to identify how much Windsor’s residents will be responsible for paying.
Windsor’s population growth stalled after Sandwich South was acquired from Tecumseh in a 2003 land swap. As recently as 2015, planners expected an anaemic ten year growth of 1,900 people and 3,500 dwelling units. This is because the workforce didn’t diversify as anticipated after the 2008 recession, and Windsor attracted and retained fewer families of childbearing age.
According to the Ministry of Finance, those aged 75+ will make up 90% of our future population growth. There is nothing to indicate this trend will reverse any time soon.
Economists tell us we are in a late-cycle phase. Our local economy is undeniably robust today and unemployment is low, though household debt is high.
In the past ten years, 8,000 housing starts were reported in the Windsor Metro area. This suggests a level of prosperity and growth that could rapidly disappear if the economic climate deteriorates.
While climate change is seldom mentioned in Windsor-Essex, two major floods in twelve months highlighted the need for sustainable municipal development.
Sandwich South is upstream from the flood-prone, now almost built-out East Riverside. Currently, stormwater management comprises 31% of the expected infrastructure costs of the new development.
If this land is so flood-prone, can it realistically sustain the proposed urban development – the mega-hospital, doctors’ offices, a new residential community, etc. – that will presumably follow?
The fact that stormwater poses such a threat, reduces the land available for development. Piling more development charges on fewer acres makes it harder for developers to offload land to willing buyers.
Growth Ponzi Scheme
Urban sprawl is increasingly described as a Ponzi scheme – – an illusion of prosperity that pushes massive legacy costs onto future generations. The flawed Sandwich South plan makes it easy to see why.
There is little to suggest that now is a good time to embark on this costly development. Sluggish population growth and other trends strongly indicate it would be an irresponsible enterprise.
If Windsor proceeds as proposed, astronomical development charges will by necessity be passed onto home buyers and taxpayers, many of whose incomes will be fixed (especially if retirees continue to flood the Windsor market). Windsor’s budget will be stretched to the breaking point. The city’s ability to meet its municipal needs will be severely reduced. Older neighborhoods will suffer.
A more prudent approach is to support development in neighbourhoods where infrastructure already exists.
A well-placed hospital in an established neighbourhood is a wiser investment in community health. It can save $828 million that we don’t have. It can act as a catalyst to encourage developers to build affordable, right-sized homes in compact neighbourhoods, to better serve our growing senior population as well as millennials choosing walkability and accessibility over car-dependent lifestyles.
That is the public discussion we desperately need in Windsor, before jumping to foregone conclusions about greenfield development beyond the airport.
Philippa von Ziegenweidt,
Spokesperson, Citizens for an Accountable Mega-hospital Planning Process (CAMPP)
Citizens for an Accountable Mega-Hospital Planning Process is a citizens’ group that formed in 2014 in response to public statements by hospital administrators about a supposed Ministry of Health requirement for 60 acres of greenfield land for the region’s planned new mega-hospital.
The group stands firm in the knowledge that its position is supported by Ontario Planning Policy, Windsor’s Official Plan, and the provincial Climate Change Action Plan.