Imagine a high density Wolfville

This is craziness. Wolfville’s “ Sustainable Community Planning Task Force” has determined that Wolfville should have a higher density. All the people leaving HRM and coming to Wolfville to get away from high density had better rethink. High density is good. High density is efficient. High density leaves a smaller ecological footprint they say- we disagree- and therefore everyone should get with the program because your environmental conscience demands it.

The Task Force looks askance at protective zoning. Businesses should be allowed to operate in residential areas. Because then people would walk instead of drive. Yes, really, they think that. And Wolfville needs more apartments, they say. So R1 zones should be transformed into R1A zones (at least!) to allow apartments where none are allowed now. Oh, and there should be infilling. So where there are 2 large lots with nice trees and gardens around them the Town should encourage severance to allow another house in between, so that where there were two houses there could be three because all this waste space is an environmental affront, a waste, an indulgence. One woman asked whether the Town could insist that people with large houses with “ high beams” and ecologically irresponsible open space in their second story not waste that space and fill it. A cathedral ceiling ban she was suggesting we have to guess.

We were reminded of that scene in Dr. Zhivago. You know where the neighbourhood committee requisitioned the good Dr’s house because really wasn’t it too much space for one family? The private life is dead.

Let’s back track a bit to give you a vision of this meeting, some would say straight out of SNL.

Everyone was crammed into the Council Chambers because the committee “didn’t expect a large turn out”. They didn’t count on their non-promotion of it to have that much impact? Hmm. Many people had to stand for almost 3 hours. It was hard to hear standing in the hall but luckily our hearing is extremely good. Someone opened the side door at one point which was a relief to those on that side of the room. There was a lot of steam in the room.

To dull the senses there was a long, painful -and laughable- blow by blow review of the survey by which the Task Force’s recommendations will be justified. This survey had 379 respondents from 2575 questionnaires produced (which we hear cost about $186,000 – i.e. about $490 per response). To get even this trifling return (which they termed “good” !) they explained that they went into the highways and by-ways to drum up respondents by going door to door (randomly they said at first but they then emphasized they chose various types of housing to hit in order to capture various economic categories of residents so not really random at all!) and by telephone- again randomly they said ( although the parameters of the calling were not delineated).

76% of respondents were women – but that was okay they said because they presumed that the woman had just filled it out FOR the household and they thought the woman’s response would be representative of the household [their households obviously operate differently than ours!!!]

We could go on at some length about this silly survey but perhaps a few figures will suffice to give you a feeling for its worth. Let’s just take a few figures we remember.

Only 35% thought crime was on the increase but 65% worried about children and property.

74% had university degrees.

Only 35% believed the economy of the town was growing, and 22% thought it was shrinking [ they skipped past that screen so fast we could hardly see the numbers]

81% supported higher spending on bicycle and walking paths, 78% for spending on low emission policies and only 57% for increased recreation facilities.

85 % believed that plants and animals should have as many rights as humans.

Later in the evening, when one of the framers of this idiocy stressed how he didn’t want anyone to tell him whether they had filled out the questionnaire so he could respect the anonymity of the responders, a lady asked how they expected any responder to remain anonymous in a small town when they asked for the specific make of car they were driving and their postal code !!!

And lastly – 40% thought recent housing developments had improved the town, but 38% thought the opposite. Only 50% thought higher density was a good thing and only 55% thought the town’s [high] taxes were justified. These figures, given the self-selection of this group, shows how contentious these issues will be.

Well so now you should have a sense for the group that filled out these questionnaires which most right minded people in town probably glanced at, chuckled at, and chucked into file 99.

Having bored everyone almost senseless with this drivel the meeting progressed to more substantive discussion, i.e what the task force had in mind for changes to the Land Use Bylaws. Are you sitting down?

The Task Force should be “empowered” to make changes.

1) There should be allowance for commercial activity in residential zones because not allowing it encourages “ a car culture”

2) The Town should encourage higher density everywhere– so allow apartments in zones which are now zoned R1 – because this increases the environmental efficiency of land use.

3) In-filling in residential neighbourhoods should be encouraged.

What was the response of the gallery? We did hear a few guffaws at the back of the room at one point. We saw one gentleman put his head in his hands, shaking it back and forth in a gesture of disbelief. And there were some questions and points raised quite civilly we thought given what was being proposed.

One guy rightly suggested that the idea that increased density would lead to a reduction in the number of cars was unrealistic. 6 houses with 6 families in a block – you might have 6 or 7 cars, 12 families in the same block you would likely have 12 or 14 cars. The reality is people in this area need a car. And having a corner convenience store around the corner from your house is not going to make most people give it up. In a related question one bright fellow pointed out that this density question was a matter of scale. Wasn’t Wolfville already the type of neighbourhood the task force envisioned within the larger commercial and residential jurisdiction. Would multiplying it on an even smaller scale in neighbourhoods within Wolfville be realistic?

The question of house values was raised. Would higher densities affect house values? An effort was made to dispel this notion but we are not sure it was convincing. Someone asked whether the Town expected more taxes from these plans, and a lady asked “ Who or what is this increased density for?” Good question.

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2 responses to “Imagine a high density Wolfville

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