Association of Citizens for Summerland

Sunday, June 25, 2006

A thought provoking letter re: Summerland Hills

Dear Mayor Gregory,

I am a Summerland resident who has no vested interest in whether or not the new town proposal for Summerland Hills proceeds as an investment initiative. I have carefully considered the implications of the proposal and I feel strongly that the proposed new town should not be incorporated into our Official Community Plan.

In the short term there will be a handful of people who will strongly benefit from the proposed new town. The developers and some contractors will earn millions of dollars, but there will be no immediate benefit for the average Summerland resident. There will be moderate short term and heavy long term costs to the Summerland community. If we proceed, it will be too late to turn back when we are all affected by the long term costs.

We will have immediate bragging rights about the project. It will be flashy. There will be construction jobs. There will be tax revenues. Unfortunately, residential tax revenues typically do not offset the service costs. Unless the developer is levied with a huge initial cost, the eventual infrastructure costs will have to be borne by an overall increase in property and business taxes for Summerland. CMHC has estimated the infrastucture cost per housing unit to be approximately $40,000 per household, even in a large, efficiently operated development such as their Ottawa Carlton study.

Golf courses typically require the financial support of development profits from the community which surrounds the course. User revenue is usually inadequate to cover either long term capital development costs or short term operating costs. This means that in the long term, after the developers have taken their profits and gone, the community will have to provide hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to maintain and operate a golf course in the new town.

We are presently (June 2006) in Summerland Stage one water restrictions at the end of an unusually wet spring season. The recent Thirsk Dam project contains no excess capacity for expanded water use in Summerland. It is barely adequate for present water use.

Climate change is no longer a hypothesis. It is reality. The Trout Creek water resource has been carefully studied and has been projected to decline in volume and to peak earlier in the spring. Water demand is projected to increase for both agricultural and domestic consumption. Summerland’s present requirement is barely being met by the Trout Creek system, therefore future expansion of water supply must be drawn from Okanagan Lake.

We will all be affected in the event of a water shortage, not just the new town. The lake as a water source is limited. In the event of a water deficit, it is the most recently allocated licences such as a new Summerland application that would be withdrawn to provide priority supply to older licences, such as Oliver and Kelowna. If Summerland were to expand their water supply by acquiring a new licence to pump from the lake, it would not only be the new town, but all of Summerland who would be rationed for water when the pumping licence is withdrawn. The declining Trout Creek resource will be the only water source for Summerland, when the Okanagan Lake licence is cancelled.. With climate change and population expansion in the Okanagan, valley wide water deficits are projected to occur within the proposed development duration of the new town. It will likely be impossible to complete the new town, even if it is approved.

The Summerland Hills developers have cleverly and successfully divided Summerland residents by proposing a controversial, attractive, modern, new town for the area. Their studies have not addressed the complete costs and eventual consequences of their actions. On examination, a new town centre for Summerland will create more problems than benefits.

I have only a vested interest as a resident of the community in which I live. I am not a NIMBY.

The developers have a vested interest in earning millions of dollars at our expense. If there is such a high priority to be placed on a new town, it should also be viable if placed into an undeveloped region with no infrastucture. In that event, the developer would be forced to pay the complete cost of establishing and operating the town, rather than paying for part of the cost and then transferring the long range costs and consequences to an existing community.


Gary Strachan, BSA, SM

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Costs of Community Services

A Canadian Study

There has been a lot of research on Costs of Community Services in the United States in an attempt to better understand the implications of land use decisions. Here in Summerland, with regard to the Summerland Hills Golf Course and HOUSING DEVELOPMENT, it has been repeatedly said that municipal tax revenues will be bolstered by this project. Now a Canadian Study has just been completed revealing that, in Canada as well, Residential Developments do not pay for themselves. The city of Red Deer Alberta conducted this study and found that for every dollar of tax revenue collected, between $1.66 and $1.81 was spent on servicing that residential unit. The citizens of Summerland need to think long and hard about this figure, considering the substantial infrastructure implications association with the Summerland Hills Development Proposal. Do you like this proposal enough to subsidize it well into the future with your tax dollars?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Smart Growth and Regional Carrying Capacity

What follows is a precis of an article called "Smart Growth: The Role of Carrying Capacity in Regional Planning" by Stuart M. Flashman, Ph.D., J.D.

Over the past several years, a new catch phrase has sprung up in the environmental community: “smart growth”. It arose as environmentalists struggled to find an attractive alternative to the low-density auto-oriented development that has become endemic to North American suburban areas. The latter is often popularly referred to as “suburban sprawl”.

What is smart growth? It is an attempt to direct growth into less environmentally damaging avenues. Thus, smart growth favors “infill” development (i.e., development within already urbanized areas) instead of development of previously undeveloped areas (Prairie Valley? - ed). Smart growth tries to minimize the increase in demand for limited resources, such as water, by promoting development that uses less of those resources.

Environmental groups, most notably the Sierra Club, have launched a major campaign in support of smart growth. The basic idea is that North America has been foolishly squandering its environmental resources on an inefficient form of development. The campaign appears to be paying off. Governmental agencies have begun to discuss smart growth as a better way to accommodate expected increases in population.
However, the success of the smart growth movement only serves to highlight what it fails to address – the long-term question of how much growth a region can reasonably accommodate. This issue has often been referred to as regional carrying capacity.

While regional carrying capacity has many components, the single most important is infrastructure – the various components needed to keep a human population supplied and functional. Among the major modern infrastructure components are water supply, treatment and distribution, wastewater collection, treatment, and disposal, solid waste disposal, energy supply and distribution, roadways, and public mass transit. Other components that tend to be less limiting, at least in terms of physical facilities, include education, public safety, and recreational facilities.

Most of the current discussion of smart growth takes the projected amount of future growth as a given. There is little discussion of what can or should be done to limit the amount of future population growth in a region. Yet, the amount of growth that will occur in a region is certainly affected by a variety of factors, including employment growth, the local economy, cost of living, availability of trained workforce, and availability of necessary infrastructure. Sadly, infrastructure limits have often failed to control growth

Part of the reason infrastructure limits have failed to control growth may be that such limits are often hidden. Thus, for example, water agencies are usually required to issue “will serve” letters before a development project is built. These letters are supposed to ensure that the water agency has sufficient supply and facilities to serve the new development. However, water agencies routinely issue will serve letters based on supplies and facilities that are only projected. The same often holds true for wastewater treatment and disposal. Other infrastructure components, such as roads and public transit, do not require any kind of review and approval prior to development approval, other than the general discussion that occurs during the environmental review process. More often than not, this process is seen as just one more hoop to be jumped through to get to development approval. Thus, Environmental Impact Reports all too often contain flawed or cursory analyses of traffic (and other) impacts.

As a result, development often ends up straining the capacity of the agencies responsible for infrastructure. Thus, development in the Santa Rosa area north of San Francisco has repeatedly outstripped sewage treatment capacity, resulting in overflows of raw sewage into the Russian River. Similarly, the inability of water supplies to keep pace with urban and suburban growth has contributed to California’s more and more frequent “water shortage emergencies”.
Recently, and for the first time, the California legislature has acknowledged the folly of cities and counties approving development projects while closing their collective eyes to the inadequacy of infrastructure to support those projects.

It should be obvious from the above discussion that without consideration of carrying capacity, such “smart growth” plans are little more than an exercise in Pollyanna planning, with little connection to what really will happen over the next twenty years. Indeed, if San Fransisco Bay Area planning efforts continue as currently envisaged, the most likely result is that far before their build-out is complete, Bay Area development will grind to a halt, stymied by the inadequacy of available infrastructure. The economic cost of such an unplanned economic “train wreck” will be colossal -- far greater than if carrying capacity had been taken into account and a gradual transition to a steady-state regional population and economy took place

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Perfect Project for Summerland – 14 Tests.

The document that follows was delivered to the Mayor and every Councillor, as part of a package from the Association.

The Perfect Project for Summerland – 14 Tests.

The following questions could be used to determine the net benefit (or otherwise!) of a project to Summerland and Summerlanders.

1. Design and Financing: Does the project have an excellent design and is it well financed?
2. Compliance: Does the project comply with the letter and the spirit of the OCP?
3. Highest and Best Use: Does the proposal represent the highest and best use for the location and piece of property in question?
4. Smart Growth: How well does the proposed project comply with Smart Growth principles? Does the project reflect Smart Growth principles for Summerland?
5. Growth Rate: Does the project meet the wish of citizens to limit the population growth rate to a maximum of 2% per annum?
6. Quality of Life: What will the impact of the project be on the quality of life of most citizens?
7. Future Capital Expenditures: Will all consequent long-term capital project expenditures be financed directly by the project or by DCCs, and not by future property tax surcharges or increases?
8. Municipal Operating Costs: Will the project result in substantially increased operating costs for the municipality, and if so will the property taxes received from the project fully cover those costs?
9. Existing Infrastructure: Will the project make best use of existing infrastructure? Is it located within the sewer specified area?
10. Employment Ratio Impact: Will the project have a net positive impact on Summerland’s employment ratio, and will the jobs be skilled, well paid positions?
11. Downtown Benefits: How much will the project benefit the downtown business district, when compared to alternative but similar projects?
12. Affordable housing: If it is a residential development, does the project have an affordable housing component suitable for low-income households?
13. Parks: Will the project improve (or at a minimum maintain) the population to parks acreage ratio?
14. Adherence to Proposal: What likelihood or guarantees are there that the project will be completed as proposed, and by the proponents?

Planning and Summerland Hills

Dear Mayor Gregory and Councillors,

Re: Planning and Growth Concerns, and the Proposal to Incorporate the Summerland Hills Plan into the New OCP

We are concerned that the evaluation of proposed projects for Summerland has not in the past been done on a sufficiently comprehensive basis, and so we have developed a suggested set of Planning Criteria. We have applied these criteria to the Summerland Hills proposal. A copy of the suggested criteria plus the application of them to the Summerland Hills development is included in the attached document. We ask you to give this work due consideration.

We are very concerned about the proposal to incorporate the Summerland Hills design into the New OCP for Summerland. In our view this plan does not represent progress for Summerland. Rather, we see it as a retrograde step that will steer the community away from steady, efficient and compact growth, and towards rapid and expensive sprawl. Further, we believe that the long-term consequential costs of this development will impose a severe financial burden on Summerlanders in the future. We ask you not to incorporate the SH plan into the new OCP.

We would ask you to also consider the following points before approving any major planning change or development for Summerland.

Summerland desperately requires that a fund to be established to finance future infrastructure when population growth demands it. This should come from DCCs. Current residents should not have to raise money on demand, when the need for infrastructure was created by developers who will have taken their profits and departed. Increased DCCs would be an incentive for quality development, and may also assist the municipality to maintain control of the growth rate.

We have a problem of declining air quality. During the spring and fall burning seasons, the air clearance index must be consulted on a daily basis for any major burns, and there are many times when there are temperature inversions or quiescent air. Any pollutants such as wood smoke or vehicle exhaust remain trapped. The increased population will not limit pollutants to burning season and cannot be expected to shut down when the clearance index is low. We can expect to have higher incidence of respiratory illness and asthma throughout the valley, directly related to population growth. We are not on a flat plain or in a maritime zone. We are in a deep mountain valley that is protected by inversions through many months of the year. It is the inversions and cloud cover that protect our fruit industry from winter low temperature injury but they also trap pollutants and particulates.

Our water supply is also a major concern. Climate change studies are shifting into high gear and Summerland would be foolish to grow quickly when making promises on water licenses and allocation. Runoff will decline and will occur earlier in the season, and the demand will increase both for agricultural and domestic consumption. Extrapolated conclusions are always risky, but the trend is very real and if we commit to serve an expanded population with inadequate assurance of a water supply, it will be a very costly mistake. We must have a drought management plan that deals with new development. If we go into a drought situation the insurance companies which sell to home owners and the agricultural community need to be assured of adequate water available during peak irrigation periods and fire season. The two go hand in hand

We are willing to meet with you at a time of your convenience to discuss these thoughts further.

Yours Sincerely - Board Members