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LETTER: Kelowna's Official Community Plan and suburban sprawl

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March 06, 2019 - 12:00 PM

 


OPINION


Editor,

RE: Kelowna council being asked to pick winners and losers in residential development

The March 1 article by Rob Munro about Kelowna's growth scenarios made no attempt at balance, and only presented one side of the issue - that of the landowners who are concerned about future profits and finishing the build-out of their suburban sprawl. This is understandably a major economic issue for them.

The problem is that the other side of the issue falls within the realm of the oft-discussed "tragedy of the commons". It will take 10-20 years for the increased traffic to gradually arrive. The higher taxes to replace unproductive and financially unsustainable sprawl infrastructure will also be gradually rolled out over the course of decades. The climate impacts of business-as-usual growth will not really hit hard until 2100, when today's decision makers and voters are all long gone.

The long term economic, social and environmental impacts of allowing sprawl development are far greater than any short term costs of winding down a few developments. Unfortunately, the high costs of sprawl will be dispersed over Kelowna's future citizens - hundreds of thousands of voiceless people who are not here today to plead their case. The beneficiaries of sprawl are influential people who are able to make eloquent arguments on their own behalf. There are no immediate consequences to allowing sprawl to continue, so there is immense pressure on politicians to kick the ball down the road, leaving an even bigger problem for future generations to solve.

Allowing these developments to finish their full build out will trap 17,000 new residents into car-dependent distant suburbs by 2040. The city's 2013 travel study showed that homes in outer Kelowna had 3.34 trips per person per day. Most of those 56,000 trips will be by car for the foreseeable future, and the majority will be long drives into our urban centres. Kelowna's major commuting routes face failure with another 10,000 vehicles added to the morning rush hour.

Roadway expansions are very costly, and the added automobile traffic is disruptive and unfair to those living in our core urban areas. This years 2% property tax increase for the infrastructure gap only scratched the surface of the problem - further increases of another 20% could be necessary. The only way to minimize future property tax increases is to focus on making the most of our existing infrastructure through densification in our urban core, and changing how we move around this city.

Engineers and planners such as Charles Marohn have spent decades warning of the unproductive nature of sprawl development. The taxes collected from suburbs simply do not cover the long term operating and replacement costs of the infrastructure and services provided to these areas. Marohn's strongtowns.org website is well worth a visit for those who want to better understand this issue.

Finally, and most importantly, humanity has been ignoring warnings for 30 years about our changing climate. More than half of the CO2 emissions since the end of the industrial revolution have taken place since 1988, within our lifetimes. We are already seeing a foretaste of climate change such as unstable weather patterns, fires and floods.

The IPCC report from October 2018 was issued as a final wake-up call. Unless carbon pollution is cut in half by 2030, we will completely miss the chance to limit warming to 1.5 celsius. Success will require that we do many things differently - build better insulated homes, drive much less, and take a much more thoughtful and cautious approach to our consumption. Without dramatic change by 2030, we will next lose the opportunity to keep warming to 2 degrees.

Many major sectors of our economy will need to adapt by 2030 - there is no room in our provincial carbon budget for as many automobile dealers or gas stations as we have today, or for any major new roads. We also have no room in the budget for additional suburban sprawl. Changing how we manage growth is but one of many disruptive changes we will need to face. We cannot afford to protect or guarantee the future profits of oil companies or coal mines. Industries ranging from cement manufacturing to automobile production will need to shrink or completely change how they do business, just as typewriter manufacturers and  horse carriage makers had to change focus or disappear back in the 20th century.

The growth scenario approved by council in December 2018 was preferred by 71% of those who participated in the consultation process, and is a difficult, but necessary choice. It will have short term impacts on a small number of corporations and people - impacts which are worthy of discussion, and possibly mitigation. However, it is a disservice to the citizens of Kelowna to not fully consider the long term tax impacts of added sprawl, or the folly of putting new residents in places which are difficult and expensive to service with high quality transit, and which are too far away from jobs, shopping, and amenities to reach on foot or by bike. Kelowna has made no real progress on reducing emissions over the past decade, and we have run out of time for further delay. Only this growth scenario  offers us any hope of meeting our provincial, national, and global targets for reducing carbon pollution, and of fulfilling the moral obligation to leave our planet in as good of condition as we can for our children and grandchildren.

Darren Schlamp
Kelowna

Editor's note: On March 4, city council backed off its plan to limit suburban growth in Kelowna.


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