Onrichmondhill.com is a great website to learn about the latest events going on in our community. The owner of this site, Marj Andre, has been committed to making our Town the best it can be. Consistent with this mission is her effort to engage residents in politics. She has asked all candidates in the upcoming Municipal Election in Richmond Hill to answer a number of questions. I am happy to participate in this exercise and the answers I submitted are outlined below.
If you already subscribe to the onrichmondhill.com newsletter you will have this material in your inbox, if you do not already subscribe you might want to visit the site and sign up for her weekly newsletter. It is a great resource to use if you want to know what is happening in our great community!
1) Are you in favour of having the Town Hall/Municipal Offices, relocated to Yonge and Major Mackenzie? If not why not; if so, what would you like to see this complex include?
The decision around what the Town should locate at the Yonge and Major Mackenzie site is really two decisions. Decision #1 is whether or not we should move the Town Hall/Municipal offices to this location and Decision #2 is what other facilities and services should be built here.
While I would be in favour, in principle, of moving the Town Hall to this more central location, I do not believe the Council can make an informed decision until we have a full assessment of both the capital costs to relocate Town Hall from its current location and the potential impact of on-going operating costs associated with a new facility.
With reference to Decision #2, ideas such as a skating rink like the one at Nathan Phillips Square, a band shell, a Civic Square and gathering place, and many other ideas have been suggested. I am wholeheartedly in favour of creating a “Civic Precinct” as this concept has become known. I do believe that we need to make the Civic Precinct a “People Place” and a place where the community can come together. We need the Civic Precinct to be a place that adds value to our community and a place that we can all be proud of. It is also important to consider that the Civic Precinct would be one more positive investment that we could make in the revitalization of our Historic Village Core and this is a project that has been, and continues to be, one that I am fully committed to supporting.
However, as with the decision to move the Town Hall, I believe it is critical that we have a fulsome understanding of both the capital and on-going operating costs for the Civic Precinct to ensure that we budget appropriately, and that we fully understand and are prepared for the impact these projects will have on our residential and business property tax rates.
I look forward to considering both of these decisions in the new Council term and ensuring that the decisions we make are based on a full understanding of both the costs and benefits.
2) What are your ideas, both short term and long term, for addressing traffic congestion in Richmond Hill?
There is no question that traffic volume, congestion and safety have been the top of mind issues for residents of many GTA communities, including Richmond Hill. As we have grown over the past two decades from a community of less than 100,000 to a community of over 200,0000, we have experienced higher traffic volumes within our subdivisions, on regional roads and on provincial highways.
I do not believe there is a single simple solution to this problem but it is clear to me that efficient transit, which takes us to our destinations, is a key part of any solution. Working with the other Town and Regional Councillors to lobby the province to fund needed transit projects in Richmond Hill will be a priority for me in the new term of council. Additionally, I will work with staff, and both the regional and local transit organizations, to continue to find ways to incent/convince people to get out of their cars and onto transit. Adding additional transit capacity to a transit system that has a high utilization rate is much easier than trying to lobby to add routes, etc. to a system that is under-utilized.
There are many other things that we are already doing to combat traffic congestion, such as planning a community that has the built in ability for people to walk, ride bikes or car pool to their destinations. Having trails, sidewalks, bike lanes, and a built urban form that is compact, will also help to facilitate active transport while replacing car centered modes of transportation. Within our Pedestrian and Cycling Master Plan we have principals that we have been implementing towards this goal and I will continue to work with staff and all interested groups to continue to implement these programs.
I would also add that giving our residents that ability to work close to home is also very important. We have limited Employment Land left in Richmond Hill, but it is important to have this land developed in such a way that jobs for our highly trained and educated work force are available close to home.
Finally, I would also like to touch on what I see is a related but slightly different issue. This is the problem of higher traffic volumes and overall safety within our residential areas. I have heard many concerns from residents over the past year about excess automobile speed and periodic unsafe driving practices within residential areas. Like the broader traffic problems discussed above, I do not think we have a single solution that will solve all of these problems, but I will be asking staff to undertake a comprehensive study of traffic patterns, as well as on-street parking, in selected residential areas, early in the new Council term.
3) What additional services would you provide for seniors?
It was reported on CBC the other day that we now have as many senior citizens in Canada as we have children. It has been clear for a long time that our senior population resulting from the post war baby boom would be a significant factor in determining the mix of services that we will be providing in the future, and it seems that the future has arrived.
We currently offer excellent seniors programs at the McConaghy Seniors Centre. This facility is one of the busiest recreation centres that we operate in Richmond Hill. We clearly need to continue providing excellent and affordable recreational facilities that promote an active and healthy lifestyle for our seniors. I will continue to support the funding of an extensive range of programs and services through the McConaghy Centre.
This past winter was a trying time for all of us but I was particularly struck by how difficult it made life for seniors. I believe that we need to improve our snow removal practices, especially on sidewalks. Ice and snow can make these routes treacherous, especially for seniors or people with mobility issues. I know that our staff has already begun this review and I will be following up to ensure that the changes proposed for the coming winter address this key area.
I will also be asking staff to undertake a review of the existing program that provides seniors/people with disabilities with free removal of the “windrow” (the snow pile at the end of the driveway created when the snowplows go through) to identify how we can make the program more effective and timely.
Finally I believe it is important to offer a wide range of housing for all of our residents in order to accommodate different housing budgets. This means that we need to offer affordable options for everyone. We need to improve this mix in Richmond Hill, and by partnering with the Region of York and private builders, we need to build our community so that all people can afford to live here, including seniors on fixed incomes. I will actively work with the Regional Councillors, and interested builders, to ensure that we increase the percentage of affordable housing available to both seniors, and others on fixed incomes, in the future.
4) What type of business and industries would you like to see be attracted to Richmond Hill?
As a past Chair of both the Government Affairs Committee, and a past chair of the Board of the Richmond Hill Chamber of Commerce, I have been actively involved in economic development in our Town. While I was on the Chamber of Commerce, we twice presented at the OMB to protect our employment lands from development that would not be consistent with our Official Plan and our Economic Development Plan. It is clear that providing new and existing places for businesses to grow in our Town will be crucial in our future.
We have one of the most highly educated work forces in Canada, and providing places for our residents to work in the town in which they live, will become more and more important over time. I will continue to advocate for increasing the mix of businesses, including quality high paying jobs, in sectors that will be important areas of growth for our local, provincial and national economy over the coming years.
Within our Economic Development Strategy, some of the industries that we are working to attract include Biomedical, High Tech, and Science and Engineering firms. We have had success in this area and our quality of businesses and workforce have been a key factor in recently being named one of the top six communities in Canada by the Conference Board of Canada (City Magnets Report, September, 2014). I will continue to work with the Chamber of Commerce and the Town’s Economic Development teams to support efforts to attract businesses in these key sectors.
While attracting new business is very important, nurturing and growing existing business is also critical. 80% of our future economic growth will come from existing businesses. Cosmo Music and LaRocca Cakes are two very different businesses that have their roots in our community and have grown to be leaders in their sectors. There are many other examples like this – businesses being successful and continuing this success right here in RH. I have been proud of the support that we have offered businesses through the Small Business Enterprise Centre, the Richmond Hill Chamber of Commerce, and the Markham Richmond Hill Chinese Business Association, for example. I will continue to work with and support the efforts of these groups to provide for, and support, economic growth from within our existing business community.
Finally, I recently put forth a motion at Council to have staff investigate the feasibility of starting a small business incubator in our town. This concept has had success in other municipalities and would help to get small businesses started and support them while they grow and contribute to our local economy. I believe that this idea may be one of many that will help to provide prosperity for our Town’s future and attract the mix of businesses that are key to our sustained growth.
5) What is your vision for Richmond Hill?
I envision a Richmond Hill that is culturally diverse and inclusive, and is environmentally responsible, with many great natural spaces to enjoy. I envision a Town that delivers to its residents, a range of important core municipal services in an efficient manner and that keeps the value to tax payers as a critical objective. I also see a community that offers a range of active and affordable recreational programs for all ages. I envision a Town that is home to a wide range of businesses that provide many jobs and a good living for people who call Richmond Hill home. We also need to be a clean, safe and inclusive community, and one that everyone who calls Richmond Hill home speaks of with pride.
Finally I also envision a place that allows each of its residents the opportunity to grow and become the best that we can be – I would apply the same vision and expectation to us as a community as a whole. We owe it to each other and to our future generations to be the best we can be. As our Strategic Plan motto says we are, and must continue to be, a “Place where people come together to build our community”.