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It is time to stop subsidizing urban sprawl

Calgary’s new mayor, Naheed Nenshi, has put property developers on notice. In doing this, he offers hope to inner-city dwellers sick of subsidizing ever-more expanding suburbs.

Calgary’s new mayor, Naheed Nenshi, has put property developers on notice. In doing this, he offers hope to inner-city dwellers sick of subsidizing ever-more expanding suburbs.

He told a business-suit heavy lunch crowd: “Growth must be paid for by those who are the primary beneficiaries of that growth. We can no longer subsidize growth on the backs of citizens in existing neighbourhoods.”

This isn’t the first time such notice has been given. Last summer, months before the recent municipal election, Calgary’s then city council agreed developers should be paying a greater share of infrastructure costs.

Personally, I’d be voting to have the developers and, by extension, the home buyers, pay for all the costs of installing water and sewage lines, roads and utilities. Maybe then this city would be able to slow down the ongoing attempt to pave a way to the horizon or the border of Saskatchewan, whichever is farther.

The developers are understandably cheesed off, citing an up to $10,000 levy on new suburban house prices. Those of us who have been subsiding their business to the tune of $1.5 billion - the amount of Calgary’s city debt attributed to such largesse - have been unhappy for years, so there’s little sympathy from this quarter.

Every year when I write out a monster cheque for property taxes, thanks to market value assessment, I remember I chose to live in the inner city with its aging infrastructure. I don’t complain, even as I write even more cheques to pay for having the eavestroughs cleaned twice a year thanks to 60-year-old spruce and ash trees shedding copiously.

Neither is there a whisper of complaint about having to have the sewer lines roto-routed regularly, thanks to overgrown tree roots. But I do think nasty thoughts about the people who want twice the house for half the price and then have the gall to complain vociferously that they need police stations and fire halls and schools and all of the other urban niceties.

At the top of their list are complaints about traffic and isn’t the Deerfoot Trail one giant parking lot every morning and evening? I have only four words for the whiners: It was your choice.

While the development industry does help pay for roads and fire halls, the time has come, as former mayor Dave Bronconnier said, for city residents to stop subsidizing urban sprawl.

Maybe, as the city negotiates with developers, it could include discussion about the tax breaks given developers - and the subsequent homeowners - who ‘enhance’ the living experience in the suburbs by building a lake around clustered expensive houses.

Those man-made lakes - Bonavista, Bonaventure, Midnapore, Sundance, McKenzie, Coral Springs, Arbour and Chapparal - are all exempt from tax and have been through legislation enacted in the 1970s. While the experience of Lake Bonavista hasn’t been repeated - this 52-acre ‘lake’ was carved out and filled with water siphoned off Fish Creek - all of the man-made lakes are kept filled with water bought cheaply from the city. The residents’ lake fees go to the various homeowners’ associations for upkeep of their private amenities and to keep out the rest of us.

Living in a construction zone, as I have for the past uncountable number of years, has given me a jaded but accurate perspective on city life and middle-class pretensions.

The rich want one of two kinds of houses - both large: The middle-of-the-city pied-a-terre or the humongous house on a few acres in the suburbs.

Within walking distance of my modest back-split are single-family houses that resemble nothing so much as boutique hotels - ludicrously large for the reported number of people living there.

Obviously, developers should be bearing more of the costs of building brand-new subdivisions. But the city needs to take a closer look at the other privileges claimed by developers.

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