Sometimes those disputes turn heated and nasty; sometimes the courts have to get involved to settle them. But, more often than not, feuding fence-mates find common ground on their own. And sometimes, in finding that common ground, fighting neighbours actually emerge stronger, as friends capable of working toward a common purpose.
Will those on the two sides of the Second Avenue debate emerge stronger? Time will tell.
For our part, Northern Life supports the widening of Second Avenue. With more than 20,000 vehicles a day passing through the intersection of Bancroft and Second, the road is approaching its capacity. With more houses going into the neighbourhood, traffic loads will only climb.
The city has a responsibility not to plan just for today's needs, but tomorrow's, as well. Just as in Aesop's fable about the grasshopper and the ant, if we don't plan today for what we need tomorrow, we will suffer the consequences.
Although the nature of their opposition has changed several times since consultation on Second Avenue began months ago, if it's the Minnow Lake Community Action Network's contention now that the road-widening project may be the straw that broke the camel's back when it comes to protecting Ramsey Lake, our drinking water source, then we accept that as their position.
No one wants to see the lake destroyed, not the CAN, not the city and certainly not residents. It gives us clean water to drink, provides a place of recreation and, equally importantly, is a place of beauty.
The thing is, the city is conducting a watershed study — which groups like the Minnow Lake CAN applauded less than a year ago — to plan how to proceed with future development in a way that minimizes damage to the lake. Thousands of humans living in a confined area will damage the environment; only sound science and good planning will keep damage to a minimum.
But the study costs money and putting in place new infrastructure to protect the watershed will cost even more. Residents also want to keep their taxes as low as possible, so development — through development charges, more taxable properties and materials spending — is one of the few ways to generate the capital to pay to protect the lake.
It is, in our opinion, an unavoidable Catch-22. To fund the work to protect Ramsey Lake from damage caused by development, development must continue.
Here, we have two competing priorities. Second Avenue must be widened to accommodate neighbourhood growth and increased traffic. The people who live there deserve roads infrastructure that functions, that isn't a source of frustration. And Ramsey Lake must be protected not only to ensure clean drinking water, but also to protect the natural environment that we, as northerners, all value.
Ontario's environmental assessment process also needs another look. That a project that has jumped through all the development hoops (including Ministry of the Environment approvals) can be brought low by a single letter is ridiculous.
As is detailed in the piece "Flawed environmental process costing millions: lawyer," the current approvals process lacks clear definitions and is too easily sidelined by vexatious complaints (although we're not suggesting the CAN's motives are vexatious) that cost time and money. The environment deserves better, and so do taxpayers.
But that is an argument for another day, because the process won't change before shovels hit the ground on Second Avenue. What can change is the relationship between the municipality and residents when it comes to arguing over development.
Imagine if community groups like the Minnow Lake CAN and the Coalition for a Livable Sudbury really tried to work with the city, instead of reflexively opposing every move the municipality makes. And imagine if the city actually took the concerns of these groups seriously, instead of grudgingly — and sometimes dismissively — letting them have their say because legislation demands it.
Both sides are made up of intelligent, passionate people who believe in their points of view, but they've fallen into a relationship where each sees the other as the enemy, which leads to repeated clashes and ongoing distrust that slows down development, costs gobs of cash and hampers the community from growing into what could be the best city in Northern Ontario, a model for all others.
Consultation must be a conversation between equally valid perspectives. It is not a dictatorial process. It does not mean getting your way. It means finding common ground that both sides can live with, and that accommodates as much as possible everyone's concerns.
No one gets exactly what they want, but everyone gets a little something of what they need.
That's what being good neighbours is all about.
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