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Growth tops Vaughan agenda

Services aren’t keeping pace with development

By Leslie Ferenc
Toronto Star York Region Bureau Chief

When David Frattaroli moved to Maple 25 years ago, it was four corners at Keele St., and Major Mackenzie Dr. - a place where city folk came for a day in the country, the only jams were the homemade kind sold at roadside fruit stands and growth spurts were what kids had.

Those days are long gone in a community where new homes crop up like mushrooms, rush-hour seems to last all day and rampant development has changed the once pastoral landscape of Maple and the City of Vaughan forever.

The fast pace of growth and the wallop it packs on Vaughan’s new and old neighbourhoods are among the issues voters are talking about as they prepare to cast ballots in the Nov. 13 municipal election.

“The housing boom has been quite explosive and we were ill-prepared for the impact on traffic, which has put a real strain on roads. It’s chaotic,” says Frattaroli, past-president of the Maple Springs Ratepayers Association.

Better public transit would help move people more efficiently and reduce the number of cars clogging the roads, he contends.

Census statistics show 133,000 people lived in Vaughan in 1996. City planners forecast the population will hit 325,000 by 2026.

In the next five years, Maple is expected to grow to 36,000 - 20,000 more people than today. In the next 20 years an additional 150,000 people will live in the northern reaches of the “City Above Toronto.”

As thousands of families move into emerging subdivisions, school boards scramble to find space for new students.

For years, York Catholic trustees were under siege by parents demanding more schools be built to ease overcrowding. A recent increase in public school students in Maple has put pressure on the York Region District School Board. Although the board has the money to build new schools, the influx has thrown its construction schedule out of whack.

“There’s so much development going on that services aren’t keeping up,” says Brett Yerex, president of the Maple Landing Residents Association.

“There are no library books in the library, you can’t sign up for programs at the community centre because they’re all full and the transit system is so inept that people don’t bother taking it, so traffic is a major problem on local roads.

To help solve traffic problems, he’d like to see an expansion of the GO train system and a new station in Maple.

Mayor Lorna Jackson, seeking her seventh term says an unexpected upturn in the economy, coupled with a huge demand for housing in Vaughan, has fast-tracked development.

“No one anticipated this,” the mayor says, adding the city’s long-range plans provide needed services like community centres, parks and libraries often before neighbourhoods are fully built up.

And there’s no way to stop development, which was approved years ago in accordance with Vaughan’s official plan - a blueprint for how the city is to be shaped, she says.

To ease traffic congestion, York Region is already upgrading most of its major roads - Jane, Dufferin, Keele Sts., - north of Steeles Ave. The problem is persuading Toronto, south of Steeles Ave., to expand its streets and unclog bottlenecks, Jackson said.

In the meantime, Jackson and her council have been lobbying to extend Toronto’s Spadina Rd. and Yonge St. subway lines north to Vaughan and its proposed new corporate centre. Plans are also in the works for all-day GO train services for Maple.

Local transit services are being upgraded as well, says Ward 4 Councillor Mario Racco, the only acclamation on council. Seven-day bus service is expanding and an express bus service from the Promenade Mall to York University is expected in early December.

One of the hottest issues centres on sidewalks in new areas, according to Jackson, who cautions if they’re shown on a plan of subdivision at the time of purchase, they’ll be built whether or not homeowners want them.

There was a collective sigh of relief heard across Vaughan earlier this year when the province announced that Toronto’s Keele Valley landfill would close at the end of 2002. There’s public support for Vaughan’s plans to redevelop the dump and surrounding area into a park.

Among the key issues facing the new council will be amalgamation.

Yerex favours Vaughan’s proposal to redraw York Region into three cities: York North which would meld Aurora, Newmarket, King, Georgina, East Gwillimbury and Whitchurch Stouffville; York West, made up of Vaughan and all of Thornhill, which is now split between Markham and Vaughan and York East joining Richmond Hill and Markham.