In hindsight, that the question of whether to build the community trail was the issue in Chelsea’s last municipal election seems puzzling, given the trail’s obvious and lasting public benefits.
We really did collectively miss the mark on that one. The real issue back then, and even more so today, is the nature, pace, and scale of future development in the municipality.
Over the past five to ten years we have seen first-hand the adverse impacts of explosive growth, particularly in the centre village: new suburban developments and businesses have replaced farmland, habitats, and open spaces; levels of traffic congestion and noise are now at levels never seen before; and the rural character of the municipality is being eroded and giving way to a suburban landscape.
Going forward, as residents we must confront the question of what we want Chelsea to be. Below are two contrasting scenarios to consider.
One scenario sees growth and intensification continue and accelerate.
A new “growth-friendly” council would support further expansion of public water and wastewater infrastructure and ease bylaws seen as impediments to growth. Businesses and high-density residential developments would move south from the village and further up into the valley as land and public water supply and wastewater treatment become available.
This vision of ongoing growth benefits developers, businesses, new arrivals to Chelsea, and tourists.
Losers are Chelsea’s biodiversity and those residents who value the municipality for its rural character and as a refuge from “big-city” issues and suburban landscapes.
In an alternative scenario, a new “conservation-minded” council would be guided by conservation and preservation principles, and actively work to restrict and manage growth.
Measures could include, among others, a ban on expansion of public water and wastewater infrastructure and on further intensive (high-density) development, height restrictions on buildings, two-acre minimum lot sizes, and new zoning designations for land and buildings of, respectively, significant ecological and heritage value.
Winners in this scenario are Chelsea residents, who value its rural character and wish to enjoy ongoing ecological and cultural benefits in their place of residence. Losers are developers and businesses, whose economic opportunities are less then they would otherwise have been.
Ongoing growth is the more likely outcome, as the socio-economic forces favouring it are extremely powerful.
A more conservation-oriented vision is attainable, but only through concerted and sustained efforts by a committed majority of citizens, supported by an effective council.
The top issue for Chelsea in the forthcoming election on Nov. 7 should be about what type of community citizens want and the management of growth and development pressures.
All residents should reflect on this and challenge those running for office to be clear about where they stand.
As residents, we want to elect a council that reflects our collective wishes for the municipality’s future, which may be quite different from the wishes of developers.
The election is the time to make your voice heard. Reflect, ask questions, and vote wisely.