These residents love their small towns so much they work there, too
Frustrated by increasing densities and too much time spent in cars, families and even downsizers are moving to small towns where they can walk to stores and coffee shops. It’s a win-win situation, with people getting more exercise while decreasing harmful greenhouse gas emissions.
While an influx of new residents can rejuvenate downtown areas, town officials are watching the growth carefully, to maintain the small-town feel that brought people there in the first place.
Next month, Kevin and Sue Donnelly and their three children will move from their home in Brooklin to the development called the Estates of Wyndance in Uxbridge. It’s only a 15-minute drive between the two places but as far as the Donnellys are concerned, they are worlds apart.
“Brooklin has gotten very busy, with a dense population in a small area,” says Mr. Donnelly. “Uxbridge has grown gradually and has a distinct downtown area. Wyndance has two ponds in the centre of the community; it backs on to a golf course and has basketball and tennis courts. We’ll be walking as much as possible and I’ll be a bit closer to work.”
A town since 1885, Uxbridge sits on a northern slope of the Oak Ridges Moraine. A number of historical buildings downtown offer glimpses of what life was like for early settlers. There’s the Quaker Hall Meetinghouse, the Uxbridge Train Station, the musical hall. One of the most unusual features of Uxbridge’s downtown is the Roxy theatre, which still plays first-run movies.
Tony and Heather Lauria and their daughter moved into their Country Lane home a year ago. They love strolling along Brock Street , the town’s main street, taking in a show, rummaging through the book store or enjoying a meal out.
“We used to live in a rural area of Stouffville and had to do a lot of driving,” says Mrs. Lauria. “Our new home is on a large lot, backing on to a ravine but it’s only a 10-minute walk downtown — we don’t have to leave the town.”
While the old-fashioned downtown was a big attraction for both the Donnellys and the Laurias, it has also been the focus of a revitalization battle, with established residents pitted against newcomers.
Uxbridge Mayor Bob Shepherd says
the current angled parking is the issue of contention. If angled parking were replaced with parallel parking, 14 spots on the main street would be lost. But a parking utilization study found that 121 spots on side streets and in nearby public lots were not being used during peak times.
“With angled parking, we can’t widen sidewalks or provide enhanced landscaping, which new people want,” says Mayor Shepherd. “Council just voted to keep the angled parking, which was disappointing. But I don’t think we’ve lost the battle. If we made the downtown more beautiful, it would attract more business.”
As Uxbridge residents continue to debate parking, Milton residents fear they may lose their small-town identity with the tremendous growth they’re seeing. Construction of a long-awaited “big pipe” — taking water from Lake Ontario to Milton — set off this building boom. Currently, there are 13 builders in Milton , including Heathwood Homes, which designed homes with front porches in keeping with the older, downtown feel.
“The village-like atmosphere of Milton was the inspiration for Heathwood Traditions,” says Hugh Heron, principal of Heathwood Homes. Mr. Heron says the idea is to extend the downtown closer to the Niagara Escarpment with these homes, by complementing what’s already there.
“There will be close to 600 homes plus a seniors’ building when we’re finished, and residents will be able to walk downtown to do their banking, shop or attend church.”
Mel Iovio, director of planning for the Town of Milton , says, “It will be a challenge to maintain the downtown core with the expanded population, but we have made the downtown area a priority of the official plan.”
He explains that stringent urban de-
sign guidelines have been developed to maintain the historic feel of Milton , money has been invested to increase streetscaping and a new town hall addition will help maintain the core’s vitality.
Stouffville is getting the kind of cash infusion that places like Milton and Uxbridge would love to see. A one-time grant of $930,000 from a provincial infrastructure investment initiative will be used for the development of Nineteen on the Park, an arts and cultural centre in the downtown area.
Stouffville Mayor Wayne Emerson says this facility, scheduled to open by March, 2009, will feature “a big courtyard so that people will sit and talk … and there will be shows, dinners, performance arts and a farmers’ market.”
Stretching three blocks, Stouffville’s downtown is already a hub of activity with Memorial Park, the leisure centre and library. Mayor Emerson says bike trails downtown are also planned.
This vibrant downtown is one of the reasons well-heeled newcomers have been purchasing homes at the Estates of Emerald Hills. Jason Attard, vice-president, sales and marketing, for Aspen Ridge Homes, says 69 of the 74 large homes have been built for families looking to move up and empty nesters anxious to scale down.
Like the Estates of Wyndance, Emerald Hills backs on to a golf course, offering a country club atmosphere. And residents are just a few minutes by car from downtown.
As Uxbridge, Stouffville and Milton continue to draw new residents, two other communities are poised for growth, thanks to their convenient downtown cores.
Caledon East, recently hailed by Maclean’s magazine as the safest place in Canada to live, has a population of 2,500 people. Though the municipal area is quite spread out, there is a small centre at Airport Road and Old Church , with a grocery store, pharmacy, cafes, bank, library, community centre and town hall.
Having these amenities within walking distance is the reason Mary Anne Gadzala bought a 2,600-square-foot home at the Antrim Court for herself and her two teenage boys.
“The downtown definitely led to my decision,” says Ms. Gadzala. “I also like the fact that Caledon East is a small, quiet town and I’ll be closer to work.
“Both my boys play hockey and they’ll be able to roll their hockey equipment down the street to the arena.”
Waterdown, situated near Burlington and Hamilton , is also on the road to expansion, with a new YMCA and some new commercial buildings. And 6,500 new homes have been approved.
“My kids are into the green thing so it makes sense to be where everything is accessible,” says Deborah Baker, who has purchased a home at Waterdown Meadows from Aspen Ridge Homes. “I’ll be able to walk five minutes and be at two grocery stores, Tim Hortons, a pharmacy and the YMCA. I wanted to be able to access recreational facilities without a car. And I’ll be able to ride my bike to my daughter’s house in 10 minutes.”
But the delay in getting a water tower here means Ms. Baker won’t be moving to Waterdown any time soon. Her occupancy date has already been delayed to the spring of 2010.
“This is an issue developers face,” says Mr. Attard. “In York Region, the issue is allocation. Nonetheless, growth in Waterdown is inevitable and it will be a good thing.”
Though Waterdown and Caledon East may never see the growth that towns like Milton are experiencing, the addition of people near the downtown core will help keep these areas vibrant. And it just may improve people’s lifestyles as well.
“I see older people who need to do more walking, because I sell elevators, stair lifts and porch lifts,” says Ms. Baker. “My parents, who are 84, have to drive everywhere. They would be so much more active and healthier if they could walk to places from their home.”