It was with some disappointment that I had to bow out of the Official Community Plan process this summer. Having recently taken full employment working 6 day weeks, I have had little time for my normal portfolio of community clubs and boards. But now that the general gist of what is being developed has been made public, I feel both excited and worried. I hope that everyone can get engaged in the process respectfully and thoughtfully.
To start with, I would like to frame a paradox. Valemount has a lot of space. And not just a lot, but potentially more than any other incorporated municipality per citizen I have ever seen. Anywhere else with this size of a footprint is likely an incorporated district. This has given us the unique opportunity to lay out the village with giant lots. Seriously, 70 by 110 feet is insanely huge for any square grid layout. Now, there should always be the option of larger lots for those willing to pay for it, but such developments should occur out and in a no-through road manner. Luckily this is now occurring in a market-oriented way in the south of the village. So while having space makes it enticing to spread out, I ask, why not have the best of both worlds?
Large lots and village sprawl are great for a certain way of life where you store everything you ever buy on one parcel and never sell anything because it is taking up space. But there are costs to this sprawl. For one, everyone agrees that our utilities are high. There is a justifiable reason for this, utilities construction and maintenance is paid for by the linear foot.
So how do we ‘fix’ this peculiar Valemount problem? By having density zones. Why not? Those who want density lifestyles can buy in at our development cores, those who do not can buy 500 metres out. The density core pays for our infrastructure, and we keep the sprawl for those who can truly afford the costs.
But I want to warn the Village, this vision of more density, more residential units and more Main Street infill will NOT happen if they try to use a stick. They MUST use a carrot. In case you have not noticed, small municipalities do not get the ear of Provincial or Federal governments anymore. All of the votes are in one or two cities. This is the ‘pile on’ effect of free capitalism. Voters concentrate in the city, politicians pander to the city, and developers and investors follow these opportunities and securities. So if the village thinks there is a long line of investors from which they can be picky and choose the best suitors, they are delusional.
Instead let us be open minded. I ask that we give our Councilors room to discern and compromise. If somebody comes with a small development that does not impact others in big way, let them experiment. Do not just throw the zoning book them, tell them to conform then ask for $500 dollars as an application fee to gamble on approvals. Yes, to some extent if somebody is proposing to build an apartment building, $500 is modest “administrative test” of their legitimacy. But if somebody wants to put on a modest addition to gain a little bit of income with an Air BnB, why would we discourage this kind of petty entrepreneurship?
In the past decade, the Village has tended to adopt administrative target fixation. Something was always “the problem.” Speculators were driving up the price of real estate. Vacation rentals were bumping out long term renters. Luxury developments were using up valuable land for economy developments. But the problem with this is, if somebody follows the sub-division guidelines our village now has, luxury developments are the only thing that will ever happen. If anybody thinks that long term rentals will pay for a mortgage in this town, they are delusional. The point is, the Village is not in a position to resort to using a stick. There are not that many suitors lining up for their speed date interview.
And so I hope to empower our elected Councilors to use more discernment and discretion. Is the person proposing the small change or development obviously looking to make quick cash and skip town? Or is this person trying to build a small family here? Is this small proposal a stay-at-home spouse’s attempt to find meaningful self-employment while the other spouse got transferred here? Or is this proposal an attempt to offload onto the village then cash out? I have a high level of trust in our elected leaders to make these decisions. I also know that we need to take a few risks once in a while or nothing will ever happen. And so before we come up with new application forms, calculate new administration fees and envision more sticks. Let’s think about the carrot as well. People are naturally entrepreneurial. We cannot create a system where you need a million dollars to even consider starting a development. And frankly, I know that at the end of the day, our beautiful dense core of the future will not be built by one ‘dream developer’ who comes in overnight and swoops us off our feet. It will be built by locals who are in it for the long haul who for whatever reason go the extra mile. Style, taste and character can only come when people have a deep-seated sense of investment and home. Administrative blocks and rigid bureaucratic power trips will not encourage this, they will actually inspire the opposite.