Grand Bend and Area Chamber supports proposed subdivision
The purpose of this letter is to declare the Grand Bend & Area Chamber of Commerce’s full support and endorsement of the proposed Huron Meadows development (formerly known as Oakwood Meadows).
It has been with some concern that we have read reports in the Times-Advance and social media posts that show the NIMBYs (not-in-my-back-yard objectors) are out in full force espousing uninformed and baseless opinions and perceptions as if they were fact. Incorrect statements such as these proposed homes are not needed, that there are no jobs in the area, that this area is only seasonal and only partially supplied with municipal services are not current with today’s reality of Grand Bend or the greater Grand Bend area.
Over the last 10 years, a gradually increasing rate of change has escalated into the rapid business expansion and development we’ve seen recently. The pace and extent of local business development was recently reported on by Brent Lale of CTV News London, who interviewed Chamber past-president Glen Baillie on March 22, 2021. Standing beside one of the new construction sites on Main Street West, Baillie highlighted the mixed retail and residential buildings under construction and the extensive renovations of older buildings. The dollar value of this investment is literally in the millions of dollars! Likewise, the gentrification of downtown cottages that began several years ago continues. Small, wooden cottages are being replaced by year-round homes or at least renovated to current building standards. According to the Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA), each house purchase transaction injects $73,000 into the local economy through associated expenditures, such as commissions, appraisals, lawyers’ fees, moving costs, and household product purchases (drapes, appliances, furniture etc.). OREA maintains the secondary spending associated with home purchases will help the economy recover from the impact of COVID-19 on commercial revenues and personal incomes.
We speak for the business community. Our businesses are having difficulty attracting and keeping workers. Some are operating at less than full capacity, forced to match hours of operation to their employee base. We have had consistent feedback from local businesses about the difficulty of finding enough workers. According to Indeed, on the day this letter was written, there were 242 jobs within 25 kilometres of Grand Bend: 163 full time, 84 part time, 77 permanent, 38 temporary/seasonal, 28 contract, four casual and one apprenticeship. Employers like General Coach Canada, Northlander Industries and Hensall Co-op are just a few always looking for staff.
Over the last several years, various economic development committees and taskforces have identified two major factors restricting business growth: public transit and affordable housing.
After four years of grassroots efforts by local and county business and social agencies, this area now has public transit. Huron Shores Area Transit launched Dec. 14, 2020 and serves Lambton Shores, Kettle & Stony Point, Bluewater, North Middlesex and South Huron. In fact, one of the main transit routes runs along the stretch of Highway 21 that borders Huron Meadows’ location.
Lack of housing inventory and choice is at crisis level, driving up the cost of every home that hits the market. Ask any of the area’s real estate agents and they’ll confirm they’ve never seen a market like this. While the impact of COVID-19 has caused urban workers and their bosses to realize they can work from anywhere, the urban worker exodus to rural Ontario is not a blip, it’s the continuation of a trend that began at least five years ago. In 2020, 50,375 people moved out of Toronto to rural Ontario. It would be wise for residential planners to keep in mind the Greater Golden Horseshoe is currently home to 25 per cent of Canada’s population and is only a two-and-a-half hour drive away from the Huron shoreline!
Our Chamber manager annually receives calls from area workers looking for long-term housing options. Demand has outstripped supply. There’s even a Facebook group called “For Rent–Huron–South Huron-Middlesex-Perth,” where desperate renters post their in-search-of rental needs. The vast majority of these people are working locally, are families and seek rental opportunities of between $1,200 and $2,000 per month.
Huron Meadows offers the perfect mix of housing types – detached, linked townhouses and stacked townhouses. This mix offers couples and young families starting on the homeownership ladder a step towards financial independence, while offering seniors a chance to downsize and stay in their beloved neighbourhood. The Ontario government’s housing action plan has identified, “Middle Housing” –defined as townhouses, stacked townhouses, semi-detached, duplexes and mid-rise – as missing from most new home developments. Large, luxury homes don’t work for everyone. We need a mix of housing types to meet diverse needs. We need housing for working families, not just retirees stepping off the property ladder after the lifelong accumulation of equity or the escapees from Toronto, Kitchener or London with large home-buying budgets because they’ve sold property in an even higher dollar value market.
We’ve read exaggerated concerns that the golf course is a floodplain, with almost panicked exclamations about storm water and drainage. There seems to be a lack of understanding about the planning and development process itself that addresses water management. We are confident the Environmental Impact Study conducted by Natural Resource Solutions Inc. fully addresses these and other environmental concerns. The study reports that “the design has been established to avoid development on lands within the 100-year floodline and the majority of the lands within the 250-year floodline (page 38).” In addition to the plans for water management and buffering lands, there are recommendations on how to protect the habitats of barn swallows, species at risk bats, bat maternity colonies, eastern wood-pewee and the common nighthawk. Stormwater management ponds will provide habitat for the midland painted turtle. Additionally, the network of walking trails will direct residents away from sensitive natural features while simultaneously providing outdoor leisure facilities.
Placing homes within existing communities preserves precious surrounding farmland and contributes to the walkability of communities. Agriculture is one of the area’s two economic driving factors (the other being tourism). Farmland must be protected not only from an economic stability perspective, but also to preserve our ability to feed ourselves. It cannot be viewed “as a background landscape upon which development is to be painted, or in other words, as tarmac-in-waiting” (ofa.on.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Farmland-at-risk-How-better-land-use-planning-could-help-ensure-a-healthy-future-for-agriculture-in-the-Greater-Golden-Horseshoe.pdf).
Within a 20- to 30-minute walk, Huron Meadows residents will have access to two grocery stores, two drug stores, two dollar stores, three convenience stores, two gas stations, a library, a public school, LCBO, Beer Store, general and specialty retail stores and of course the main beach and Port Blake Day Park.
The complaint about traffic is perennial and primarily a seasonal issue. For 12 weeks of the year the town’s traffic doubles and on summer weekends out-of-town vehicles could outstrip local vehicles five-to-one. In 2018, the Municipality of Lambton Shores completed a Class Environmental Assessment (Class EA) process to consider traffic congestion along Ontario Street through the main intersection in Grand Bend. The municipality decided to replace the bridge deck with a wider deck and bridge substructure to accommodate five lanes of traffic, including two southbound lanes, a left turn lane, a dedicated northbound through lane, and a combination through and right turn lane. The study also provides for additional pedestrian and cycling paths on both sides of the street. The cause of traffic congestion is the bridge and intersection. With these two factors addressed in the Municipality of Lambton Shores plans, we believe traffic will not be an issue.
As entrepreneurs, business owners and employers we appreciate not everyone may be as aware of the changes in this area that have been slowly taking root over a number of years and now manifest as new businesses and new homes, but it’s been a long time coming. Old perceptions of Grand Bend from the 1960s and 1970s as a seasonal, summer village no longer fit the Grand Bend of the new millennium. There will be greater business investment and corresponding greater need of more and varied housing options. We must accommodate young workers, couples and working families and therefore need a balance of housing options. Huron Meadows promises that balance.
We are excited about Huron Meadows and ask mayor and council to keep a firm grip on the facts and statistics that support this much-needed housing development, and not be swayed by those with questionable ulterior motives or ill-informed opinions.
Manager, Grand Bend & Area Chamber of Commerce
For 2021 board of directors: Glen Baillie, past-president, Jeff Pacheco, president, Doug Pedlar, vice-president, John Choma, treasurer, Veronica Brennan, Grog’s & MacPherson’s, Matt DeJong, director, Darren Boyle, director, Don Windsor, director, Mark Perrin, director.