Wolfville 2020

Here’s the plan. One plan anyway. Presented this afternoon at a Committee of Council meeting by some Dalhousie students who had this as a course project.

The town has asked for a physical plan that would “look at opportunities for locating new development or redevelopment within the downtown to provide new commercial space, increased parking, active  transportation, parks, open space, connectivity of vehicle and pedestrian circulation and programmed spaces”. [emph. ours]

We’ll offer some screen shots but readers  should look at all the visuals in PDF in the ToW agenda and info packet for today’s meeting. [They don’t separate these presentations out- you have to download the whole thing !] Of course these are only the images – missing is the verbal explanation of them but this should be available on tape at Town Hall.

Heading shot is of Railtown. Mired in controversy but [on second thought] not inappropriate.

They looked at “Infill development” opportunities, “transportation” and “Open space” in the “Town Centre” area of Wolfville. The “Subway lot” ,  “Clock park”  and undeveloped areas along Front Street between Elm Ave and Harbourside Dr. were targeted for attention.

Here’s the before and proposed:

Front St. and Central Ave.

North of Central Ave.

Clock Park from the N.

Nice drawings.

Highlights:

In the implementation section which followed the proposals  there is the suggestion that they talked about economic realities, the need for investment and for public support and input – all those good and necessary things  – and even left room at the end of the presentation for discussion,  debate and questions [they must have been disappointed in the paucity of that!]

There is a lot we could ask, but these are mostly questions the students could not have answered. For example, what businesses will fill the 1,500 sq. metres of new commercial space? Who will be able to afford to live in Wolfville to use the improved walkways?  Do we really have to lose 67 more parking spaces?

These sincere and hard working students did their job well and we don’t want to discourage them; they obviously put a lot of work and time into this project. We have said enough and will shut up for once.

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24 responses to “Wolfville 2020

  1. I like many of their ideas, and the drawings are a fantastic way to clearly communicate the proposed changes, I thought they did a great job! However, I expected a downtown plan to recognize some of the potential to increase building heights of existing structures.
    The building between the Coffee Merchant and Paddy’s pub for example is only one level along a street face that is generally two or 3 levels. The Pharmasave, and MacKay real estate are other examples of these opportunities which could offer similar amounts of new space, keep sun on the street, fill the visual gaps in the facades while maintaining the existing parking.
    I’d say Wolfville has far too much parking, and I don’t think the Front St. parking needs to be kept, but this is a benefit of building on top of existing buildings. The amount of parking spaces downtown could be reduced now that there’s a lot with over 70 spots next to Railtown. I think the students recognized the importance of this parking lot and saw how to make it more inviting by doing something with the space at the end of Central Ave. If the town expects people to park at Railtown and walk into Front/Main St then I agree, we need to do something better than a crumby path tucked between a dead building face and 7 or so parking spots. As discussed at the presentation, this is a great place to form a type of gateway or entry place into the downtown as it lines up perfectly to the pedestrian oriented Central Ave. The pedestrian environment of Central Ave. should be continued down to the Railtown parking lot to encourage people to park there, and walk around downtown rather than drive and complain when they can’t find a parking stall directly in front of the store they’re going to. I thought that was the best idea in this plan, it makes a lot of sense, and could bring more action to Front St. This might then spark interest in property owners along Front St to begin infilling some of the sites this plan suggests. I think that’s the best idea and the most appropriate first step.
    I think their project had every aspect right, but was lacking completeness. I believe there’s much more potential downtown that wasn’t explored. They hit on some of the big and obvious infill sites and did a really good job of it. I feel like this plan should be explored further to identify some of those missed opportunities if we’re to use it to guide future downtown development.

  2. This plan does not get beyond a shallow street-scape focus.

    So how would I characterize the existing street scape of Wolfville? Well, some of the older properties outside of the “downtown” are majestic. The university frontage is impressive and the K.C. Irving Environmental Science Centre and
    Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens are almost too much to be true. Sadly, some of the more recent housing developments, and downtown itself, are a real let-down by comparison.

    Improving the “downtown” street-scape is necessary but not, in my view, sufficient. Indeed, just adding a few street-scape frills could do more harm than good because it may actually limit our options for exploiting our real natural advantages. Let me explain.

    The combination of the old estates and Acadia U represents a natural advantage for Wolfville when it comes to the restaurant, hotel, and professional-service industries. The existing restaurant businesses are doing a pretty good job of building on that (in my opinion). Restaurants, hotels, and professional-services seem to work here — retail just can’t foot it with the place down the road. A bit of quaint retail is good for tourism but that’s about all. (The other business that works in Wolfville is Municipal Nonsense — but I don’t advocate expanding that).

    Wolfville has another natural advantage that is not exploited, however. If Wolfville was in Australia (or just about anywhere else that I’ve lived) then one would expect businesses to build upon “the view over the dykes”.

    As a historical fact, Wolfville was separated from it’s view by the railway and prior to that by dockyards (I believe). So, historically, the Town was turned away from it’s view and opted to look upon the street. And that’s where it has been looking ever since…

    Strangely, with the railway closed, some people decided to erect the Railtown curtain. In so doing, they wasted our best opportunity — but not totally.

    The real planning challenge is: How do you turn the Town around to exploit it’s natural advantages? My vision would be to see people driving from all over to go shopping at New Minas and then driving here for the hospitality and professional services. To achieve such an outcome will require a shift in attitudes before getting down to planning specifics.

    Of course, if you want people to come here and spend their money then you better make sure that you have parking for them! In this regard, some people in Wolfville seem to lack the imagination to understand that parking lots don’t have to look like those found in New Minas. A parking lot can double as a very beautiful garden.

    Finally, let me say that I get totally peeved at a certain attitude that is hardly welcoming to those of us who prefer to drive into the downtown. I can’t help but wonder if Marky Mark knows what it is like to have challenged mobility — as happens to many of us as we age. Go ahead Marky, take away the parking. I’ll get a Post Office box in New Minas and won’t bother with downtown Wolfville at all.

  3. If we want to expand the commercial footprint in Wolfville the solution is no different here than for any small town within rural Nova Scotia. We must afford those who are willing to invest their time, their money and, by no means least, their entrepreneurial skills, at the very least a “chance” to be both competitive and profitable. To be sustainable, a business must be both. The commercial tax burden and bureaucratic tomfoolery within our small university town effectively kills business before it can possibly succeed. Most politicians are not businessmen or businesswomen and couldn’t run a business successfully if their life depended on it. There are few exceptions but not many. It’s all too easy to blame the big box stores but raising the commercial tax rates to pay for expensive advertisements to shop “local” simply won’t work. Our local Save Easy grocery store is not a local business, it’s owned by Loblaw’s. If we’re to call this business “local” then so is Wal-Mart and Winners because local residents may own shares in either. No, none of these stores are local by strict definition but even our Save Easy franchise isn’t sustainable if it can’t be competitive or profitable in the long run. It must be understood that “wasting money” is exactly the same as increasing taxation which in turn only serves to harm our commercial development rather than encourage it. High commercial taxation is not sustainable if we want our town to grow. The plans that these young students have suggested may appear wonderful but someone has to pay the piper and this can only happen if commercial development is both profitable and competitive. If we create such an environment, our stores will be filled and new ones will be built.

  4. George is wise. The focus needs to be more on giving business a chance and less on political whimsy. This probably requires that we first permanently park a few pointy-headed political egos.

  5. I agree with you Brian, Wolfville should recognize the natural landscape it’s surrounded by with more meaningful and better connected public spaces. I think this idea comes back to the planning principal, where if we design a beautiful town that successfully meets the needs of local residents, then commercial and residential growth can be expected to occur. When a community is a great place to live for the people who live in it, this begins to attract tourists, new business and new residents etc. It also just makes the place better for everyone!

    You’re right about good parking lot design. Small lots that are well landscaped and tucked into the right places can be great additions to a downtown. However I’m suggesting that we don’t have many of those types of lots in Wolfville. If you have mobility issues, that’s a fine reason to drive downtown. I’d make the argument though, that when we have too much parking, the majority of people who drive and park downtown are most often capable of walking/biking instead. If it was harder to find parking and easier to bike/walk, this might encourage more people to find alternative ways of getting around. Walking and biking are realistic for nearly the entire town – it’s not a very big area. These methods are free and healthy methods that don’t pollute. I’m not suggesting, nor were these students that ALL parking be removed from the downtown.

    I don’t know what mobility issues you’re affected with and I’m not suggesting you’re obese, but many people feel they have to drive because they’re out of shape. Finding urban design strategies to encourage more active forms of transportation have spin off benefits like creating a more fit and healthy population. Reducing parking isn’t just a way of screwing people over; there are many factors on either side of the issue to consider.

    George, I wonder if a slightly decreased commercial tax rate for truly local businesses would encourage/allow for some smaller operations to make a go of it, or open a store front in Wolfville. This is an idea that just occurred to me, and other franchised businesses would probably find it to be unfair, but I wonder what effect that change would have. I suspect it might result in the re-use of some of the vacant commercial spaces and maybe create the need for some of these proposed infill sites to be developed. What do you think?

  6. Twin Engine

    Marky Mark has no idea what he is talking about. Where did Wolfville Watch find this guy.

    If it is not man-made carbon dioxide that warms our planet, what could it be? Surely it couldn’t be the sun! After all, how could a huge flaming ball affect our climate more than a gas that is four hundredths of one percent of our atmosphere?

    In recent years climate science has been one of the “in” places for the scientific community. Why? Because it’s where the money is. You see, scientists, just like the rest of us, have to make money. In some ways this has been bad, because the Left has embraced man-made global warming as it’s cause celebre and the leftist contributors have been throwing money to support this view and to provide a fulcrum to leverage it to gain more political power. But it has also had the blessing of bringing in money from other sources and thereby inspiring genuine scientific research that has resulted in massive amounts of data being collected. It is that data that is now pointing to the sun as the source for global warming. It’s a pity for the alarmists Such as Marky Mark because they can’t tie increased solar heat to driving an SUV. Come on Marky Mark Let’s look at the science.

    Dont start on Tax, if those poor people can’t afford the rent then open a new business in New Minas

  7. Marky Mark . . . if the solutions were simple, we wouldn’t have so many small towns in Nova Scotia on the verge of becoming commercial ghost towns. If you want to cry, visit Bridgetown or Oxford as good examples but only two of many. Yes, it’s true, the town of Wolfville has been spoiled by bad planning and the fanciful ideas of seemingly witless people who spend more time concerning the preservation of our airspace ( they don’t want military aircraft flying over our town ), a town that’s nuclear free, a ban on uranium mining, slow food as opposed to fast food, not to mention “peace in our time” and peculiar concepts regarding “fair trade” etc. Whose toes have I failed to step on here? But let’s get serious for just a moment. All of these things, both theoretical and real, the pretty plans, the parks, cement planters etc., must all be paid for by someone. Should they be paid for through residential or commercial taxation? Perhaps they can be paid for by the provincial or federal governments. Where does that money come from? Take a guess! It comes from us. As I’ve said, the solutions aren’t simple. If we want to develop commercial growth in Wolfville, we need to be imaginative and do what needs to be done to attract investors both large and small. The bottom line is clear. If they can’t operate competitively and profitably, their existence will never be sustainable. To achieve this end will require a sea change of attitude within our local governance. Our council must stop wasting money with whimsical appearances and start dealing with the practical meat and potatoes of reality.

  8. Wolfville is a small town, and its population has been increasing. I’d suggest that this is a sign of good planning! I think the municipality must be doing something right to prevent the population declines in small towns that you’re talking about. Wolfville is growing, not declining.

    While a population decline is not always reflective of poor planning, I think a population increase is generally connected to a better, more attractive community. The place must offer some benefit to the new comers for them to move and settle here.

    When you say “we need to be imaginative and do what needs to be done to attract investors both large and small.” you’re making an argument for this type of planning! Investors, developers, and residents are attracted to beautiful human scaled streets. I think this is the unique quality that Wolfville offers and that which keeps it alive. I’m glad my tax dollars are spent making the public spaces in town looking nice and functional for people, rather than setting priority for cars. Again, I’m confident that this type of spending is what attracts new business/people and makes life better for you and I who get to live in such a lovely community!

    All you’re saying is that it’s complicated. What do you suggest the town does differently?

  9. With due respect, Marky Mark, my observations suggest that you’re wrong. Your confusion is based on a misinterpretation of the numbers. To play on the new popular buzzword “sustainability” the population of Wolfville has not been increasing nor has it even been treading water. In order for any community to be sustainable it must maintain a critical balance of population maintenance let alone growth. Perhaps the most critical component within this balance is the influx of young families. Without young families a community loses its foundation and its raison d’être. Without young families we lose the reason to provide schooling and all of the services, both socially and financially, which form the lifeblood of a small town such as Wolfville. Unless your “plan” is to provide a retirement community or something other than the historic mix we call Wolfville, our community is experiencing a slow death. Without Acadia University our town would be little different than those towns I’ve mentioned.

    You might well ask why it is young families have not, by and large, been attracted to Wolfville. The blame, I respectfully suggest, is due to the financial largess of our local governance. A good case in point is the ill-conceived deed transfer tax which penalizes new home buyers. Within the past decade our town council has allegedly operated in collusion with provincial assessment services to raise revenue by means of artificially raising assessments. They pretend to control taxation by maintaining the tax rate whilst factually the rate has been raised due to what they refer to as “assessment growth” which, in many cases, is a clear misrepresentation. It’s all smoke an’ mirrors and those who perpetrate this scam, as I have suggested many times in the past, are either witless or crooked. A well-known mayor in New Brunswick recently claimed that the reason for high property taxes was due to high assessments. On the face of it, I find it difficult to understand how anyone, let alone a mayor, could be so misinformed. Property assessment does not determine the level of revenue ( i.e. high taxation ) within a town or municipality. The level of revenue is determined solely by the tax rate. Property assessment ONLY determines the distribution of the tax burden. As many times as that can be said, many people simply can’t grasp the difference between property assessment and the tax rate ( sometimes referred to as the mill rate ) and so the confusion continues.

    Allow me to make another VERY important point. No community can be sustainable if its residents cannot afford the level of taxation. Some would call this living within your means. It’s wonderful to have plans and studies, not to forget surveys and highly paid consultants, which may cost tens of thousands of dollars, but if a community can’t afford the cost of the plan let alone its implementation, what is its purpose? We’ve been paying thousands of dollars for useless surveys, completed by only a fraction of the population, having results bordering nonsense. Whether they be childlike or childish, we need to concentrate on meat and potato issues and practical realities. Most intelligent residents in Wolfville will acknowledge that there was more politics in “Railtown” than planning. That story has yet to be unravelled but we’ll all pay its price for years to come.

    Waste and bad planning go hand in hand. Cut one and you’ll begin to solve the other. Politicians of every stripe, municipal, provincial and federal, have lost the confidence of their respective electorates. The problem, in my opinion, is not with the politicians but with the electorate. Until we decide, as a whole, that integrity, character, trustworthiness ( what about intelligence? ) really matter, we’re going to get the politicians we elect. If they’re elected by means of smoke an’ mirrors, why should we be surprised if they fail to practice transparency and honesty in their actions? What goes ‘round comes ‘round. The concept of FOIPOP was intended to provide freedom of information and transparency in governance and not a mask for our politicians and bureaucrats to hide behind. We don’t need rules to know the difference between right and wrong and that the property of the people is not the property of those elected, including bureaucrats, to give and take away! Is responsible government too much to ask?

  10. Bill Zimmerman

    For what it’s worth:
    The student population from Kings County has declined from 9069 in 1988 to 7749 in 2008 while the student population from Wolfville increased from 465 to 498 in the same period. The student population from Kentville declined from 952 to 814 in the same period.
    What does this say about where “young families” choose to live?

  11. Bill Zimmerman

    P.S. For what it’s worth the WBDC seems satisfied with the current business climate in Wolfville.

    • We would have to hear that said in exactly those words by the WBDC in a press release. They would be laughed at.
      The business community here is spineless and intimidated. So are residents. Only a few have the courage to stand up and say “enough”. But one has to ask – why are they afraid?

  12. What does this say about where “young families” choose to live? Unfortunately, it says absolutely nothing!

    Bill, with all due respect, your statement is based entirely on false logic. This is indicative of the general confusion faced within all of the issues I’ve raised. It’s not my wish to offend the understanding of your good self or anyone else within the Wolfville Town Council or administration. This is why I have used, in an example, the New Brunswick mayor of Rexton who appears incapable of understanding the difference between the mill rate and property assessment values as the determination of high/low taxes. His logic is either witless or deceptive.

    Wolfville’s employment of the ill-conceived “Deed Transfer Tax” and similar misconceptions with respect to property tax has caused great harm to our town in more ways than one. This has made the town unaffordable for many people to live and raise their families in our community. This is an irrefutable fact.

    As my grandmother often said, “Those who understand require no explanation and those who require an explanation will never understand!” The situation is now so drastic in Wolfville that it’s virtually impossible to sell a property either at or above the assessed value. The town council was warned about this by one of our reputable realtors, a former councillor himself, but the mayor chose to malign his integrity and motives as being based on self-interest. If there was an apology, I didn’t hear it. Wolfville is now paying the price and the cost will surely escalate.

  13. Bill Zimmerman

    Currently, the assessed value is based on the market prices of two years ago. Needless to say the last year saw a decline in market value for most if not all of Canada.

    Frankly, it would be better for the town’s finances if property values (and thus assessments) in the town declined as our uniform assessment values are used by the province and our funding partners in joint services as a measure of the towns ability to pay. But individual homeowners certainly wouldn’t be happy with a decline in the value of their property!

    But what does that have to do with the trend of student #s? Are you suggesting that the increase in the number of students from Wolfville compared to our surrounding communities just means that the “dwindling” “young families” just have more kids per family?

    By the way, these student # trends were also clear in the statistical work done by Paul Callaghan around the question of school closures.

    It is the surrounding feeder schools in the county that are seeing a decline in student #s, not the Wolfville Elementary School. This obviously results in fewer students in the junior high which is the real problem.

  14. Hear, hear…aptly put George. As far as student numbers are concerned Bill..it’s a well known secret that Wolfville school’s numbers have always been boosted by the”out of towners” who have managed to manipulate the system and sit in the Wolfville classrooms while their parents reside at non Wolfville addresses outside of our catchment area…how sustainable is that?

  15. Bill Z. presents some interesting statistics regarding school children. In the big scheme of things those statistics seem to indicate that Wolfville is little more than a blip on The Valley map when it comes to student numbers. By far the greater number of students are to be found in the neighboring Kings County district.

    Frankly, I think that any honest statistician would balk at the comparisons that Bill invites us to make because of the inhomogeneity in the distribution of students within the various communities that comprise Kings County. It might be more reasonable to compare Port Williams or New Minas with Wolfville… although I suspect that such statistical comparisons may also prove to be foolish unless one takes into account all of the deviants behind the statistics!

    I think George has presented a sound line of reasoning because it identifies a clear mechanism that relates cause to effect — regardless of statistical deviants…

    I would add a corollary. The “Deed Transfer Tax” adds friction to the mobility of people and that adversely impacts economic activity. Economies do better when we ensure the free flow of people, knowledge, skills, services, and resources.

    The “Deed Transfer Tax” is an economic break and should be renamed the “Dead End Tax” because that’s exactly where it will take us.

    Speaking of “Dead Ends”, I was looking at a map of Wolfville the other day and it gave me pause to wonder… Is there any town anywhere else on the planet that has more dead end streets?

  16. Bill Zimmerman

    Even if the effect isn’t what your cause predicts.
    Not much point in this discussion because you already know the answers – your model tells you so.
    The student numbers, by the way, are only the students who LIVE in Wolfville, no matter what public school they go to (they come from the information needed to assess the “school tax” due from Wolfville to the province via the funding agreement which the court just held was valid – based only on student #s, not uniform assessment – be thankful for that!).
    By the way, the revenue from the deed transfer tax was up over the past year, so the “friction” seems manageable and may be just enough to dampen speculation and flipping.

    • “you already know the answers -your model tells you so”

      George could say the same about your model. This is a debate ender but does not further the conversation or the understanding between two sides. Therein lies the problem.

    • “Not much point in this discussion because you already know the answers – your model tells you so.” What is this about? Is it an answer or a question? I’m at a loss to understand what you’re talking about. This sounds like jabberwocky to me.

      Bill, you appear to have no understanding that the so-called “Deed Transfer Tax” is an unfair tax, a predator in fact. It is not only a deterrent to sales, welcomed by neighboring municipalities who have rejected it, but it also aids and abets increased assessments from which you illegitimately take even more tax. It creates a feeding frenzy on the defenseless ratepayer. Have you no conscience at all? It’s little wonder that families are choosing to live elsewhere. To call this unfair is an understatement. Those of you who choose to perpetrate this sort of scam are morally and ethically bankrupt.

      There is no correlation involving the current student enrolment within our local school and those families we are losing due to high property taxation and the negative consequences of the deed transfer tax. I’ve discovered, to my dismay, that the student numbers currently claimed have apparently been subjected to political manipulation and fudging. Truth is obviously not the strong card within our local municipal administration. One local councilor recently explained to me that there are “winners and losers” — the losers are those who are taxed unfairly whilst the winners are those of us who pay lower taxes because of the losers who pay more! That rationale could also apply to the deed transfer tax. The fault, this councilor claimed, is with the losers who haven’t complained.

      In my opinion there should be no winners and losers. When taxation is fair, transparent and frugal, we’re all winners!

  17. Bill Zimmerman

    model? just data apparently proved wrong by a theory

    but you are correct, there seems no point in continuing this discussion because the information I attempt to provide is dismissed with non sequiturs

  18. Bill gloats that he sucked more Deed Transfer Tax this year than previously. Sort of reminds me of what the Fishing Industry was saying when I lived in Newfoundland. They argued that the quota shouldn’t be cut because they caught more fish this year than the previous year. And then the fishery collapsed. I’ve seen it all before Bill.

    What next Bill? Take away all the parking spaces and charge a tax to drive through town?

    The “Welcome to Wolfville Tax” is no different from the schoolyard thuggery when they “turn out the pockets of the new kid”.

    I understand your model Bill. It’s called “tax the other guy, he owes me a living”.

  19. Bill Zimmerman

    Not gloating – just reporting – property is moving was my point. If the revenue was down you would complain that we killed the town. A no win situation as long as there are any taxes to pay I guess.

    Oh, and I live on a dead end street – like it that way – the kids (5 in public school, 2 in university, on a street with 7 houses not bad for a town with no young families) can play on the street and we don’t need sidewalks.

    The revenue currently coming from the deed transfer tax (analogous to the HST) could be raised by property taxes which are even less fair in my opinion. Just an opinion.

    What is the “fairest” tax? (that is legal for a municipality to use)

    By the way, I pay taxes too, including the deed transfer tax when we bought our house. Nobody owes me a living.

  20. Call me an old duffer! I just made the mistake of dropping by Tim’s for a hot chocolate. Closed. But I wasn’t the only one left thirsty in the cold.

    The other guy sighed and, with a hint of desperation, he said: “I’ve just driven round the block three times to get parking.”

    I didn’t have the heart to tell him what the geniuses at Town Hall are planning.

  21. I know very well about the bureaucratic semantic that proves that the “Deed Transfer Tax” is not a property tax… Ho hum. I just don’t “buy” it.

    A more fair way of taxing you ask?

    Try pay for service. We could do with more people who pay their own way, like Bill Z and me!

    Pay for service might get rid of some of the more silly stuff Council does — and reduce the burden of supporting a horde of self-serving bureaucrats. Which one wrote that patronizing piffle about “level of service” in Paragraph 2 of the Introduction to the budget? First volunteer to go!

    Privatize all that bus nonsense or just jack up the fare so that the burden on ratepayers slows its upwards spiral.

    If you need ideas, I’ve got plenty more.

    I agree, “dead end streets” have a certain charm… and a poetic fit with the point I was making. With The Town so keen to take away parking space — they may as well make all the roads impassable while they’re at it, eh wot. I’ll get myself a horse and ride into Town. OK, that’s illegal, but you’d have to get on your own horse to catch me!