Webster Blvd Extension

The Town of Innisfil is conducting an Environmental Assessment concerning the extension of Webster Blvd. to the 20th Sideroad.

“The Study will evaluate alternatives for alignment, cross sections, intersections and active transportation to develop a preferred plan”. A virtual Public Open House #2 to discuss a preferred design option will be held in the following weeks. Exhibits will be posted online March 26. Residents can review and comment until April 9.

Previously, the Town’s Transportation Master Plan Update (2018) recommended the extension of Webster Blvd. Innisfil’s 2018 Official Plan designated the Webster Blvd extension as a “Future Major Collector Road”.

The Transportation Master Plan Update also recommended a 20th Sideroad Bypass grade separation to address safety concerns at the GO Rail crossings and active transportation improvements, including: the provision of cycling lanes on Webster Boulevard, and a secondary trail from Webster Boulevard to a future Leslie Drive extension. Innisfil residents can obtain and review detailed documentation on this project at Get Involved Innisfil including design options that are being considered. Comments on the “preferred design option” can be shared from March 26 to April 9, 2021.

The Quest for ‘Affordable’

I want to share an article with my readers published in the American newsletter, Shelterforce. Under the title, Do We Need Affordable Housing’ Is the Wrong Question to Ask, the author argues that we should change the discussion to “mixed income housing” in place of “affordable”.

The article presents 10 ways “to talk about affordable housing in the context of building community” that I believe are relevant to our Canadian context. Housing has been a critical issue in the midst of the covid-19 pandemic for several reasons:

  • Large numbers of people working from home instead of commuting has prompted a search for more living space in communities more distant from major metropolitan areas
  • This has fueled a significant movement of people to smaller communities and a corresponding large increase in house selling prices
  • The pandemic has not deterred some landlords from seeking higher rents and evictions.
  • The pandemic imposes the greatest burdens on the economically weakest

The bottom line is that the article challenges the core morality of the existing system(s). If we can imagine a better world we should try to achieve it.

A Reckoning on the 413

Some years ago, environmentalists all over southern Ontario banded together to oppose a “mega” limestone quarry project proposed for the Township of Melancthon in Dufferin County. A company backed by a US based hedge fund assembled 8,000 acres and had already demolished some valuable farming infrastructure before a massive public campaign stopped the whole thing in its tracks.

I can foresee a similar day of reckoning with the current Ontario government over its foolish insistence in pressing ahead with a Highway 413 project. It is about as wrong-headed as the doomed Spadina Expressway was the 1960s. That project ground to a halt almost a decade after it was first conceived, and after it had consumed tens of millions of dollars.  Today there is even more at stake.

The 413 project would wind through 55 kilometres of farms, conservation areas and other protected lands through Halton, Caledon and Vaughn townships at an ‘estimated’ cost of 10 billion dollars. About 2,000 hectares of land would be paved over. In some respects, the damage is already occurring as farmers are selling their land. Some preliminary bridge work is apparently underway. Opposition groups have formed in Halton, King, and Vaughn.  Realtors are salivating. Although the government says the Greenbelt Act specifically allows for “infrastructure” in protected areas, developers are already envisioning access to a lot of “available” land, purportedly for industrial expansion (“there’s a huge demand for retail distribution centres”). But we already know, here in Innisfil, that that doesn’t happen without corresponding massive residential development to cover the cost of extending municipal services. The new residential/industrial sprawl is termed a “complete” community, consistent with provincial planning policy.

This is the Ontario government that is still spending millions to fight federal carbon pricing policy, spent more than $230 million to cancel 750 green energy projects, cancelled funding to flood management projects, recently gutted the powers of Conservation Authorities and gave developers seats on their Boards, witnessed the resignation of its Greenbelt Advisory Council and expanded the use of Ministerial Zoning Orders (MZO) that waive environmental assessment requirements. In the midst of growing opposition to highway 413, the Ontario government now wants to ‘consult’ on expanding the Greenbelt. The government specifically mentions the Paris Galt Morraine, areas of the Don River valley, and land around Duffins Creek in Ajax and Pickering. Skeptics say this is a diversion tactic. And, true enough, if the government was serious, it would have expanded the Greenbelt before aggressively pursuing the highway project. The timing is very suspect.

But is there more to the Greenbelt expansion proposal? Remember, the Ontario government is in a hurry to build the Ontario Line, a transit line that would cross the Don River. A Don Valley Greenbelt designation, which also permits “infrastructure”, combined with an MZO could bring some new surprises.

Doug Ford’s planned superhighway is a ‘slam dunk’ for developers, Paul Webster, Toronto Star, Feb. 13, 2021

Stop the 413

Ontario Farmland Trust

Innisfil InnTerprises

Some residents may not be aware that the Town of Innisfil formed a company in 2014 to hold debt related to the conversion of street lights to LED.  Held in a corporation, the debt did not appear on Town accounts and the company operated outside the regulation of the Energy Board or the IESO.  It is a sister company to InnPower, and both are solely owned by the Town of Innisfil.

The corporate entity, Innisfil Energy Services Ltd., has since evolved into InnTerprises Inc. as a corporate vehicle to pursue new revenue opportunities related to a range of community services.  InnTerprises presently manages streetlight conversion to LEDs, builds cell towers and rents tower usage. The 2020 company AGM described tower projects in various stages of development for Belle Ewart, Stroud, and Churchill.  Additional rental users were being sought for the Cookstown tower.

Although InnTerprises recorded an initial loss in 2019, the company has $1.5 million in assets. It services 5,000 acres of annexed land in Barrie and projects that the customer base will grow by as much as 50,000 through 2034 (excluding Innisfil Heights and the Mobility Orbit). Resulting economies of scale are expected to help reduce InnPower electricity rates by double digits at the next rate application in 2022.

A previous update from June 2018 at the company’s annual general meeting outlined a series of future opportunities made possible after regulatory changes by the Ontario Energy Board. These include: heating & cooling; telecommunications; 
electricity generation & storage; electrical services; business services; economic development; real estate & other investments.

Of those, some are particularly interesting opportunities:

Telecommunication is important because the big telecoms are currently fighting, tooth and nail, a decision by the CRTC which would have forced them to lower wholesale rates for independent’s access to their telecom networks’ bandwidth.  The confrontation is before the courts. If the principles of justice and fairness prevail in this epic battle, it would open the way for InnTerprises to create an accessible and affordable utility that is more essential than ever.  The summary listed ‘dark’ fibre (fibre network through Town); internet service provider (ISP); IPTV service provider;  Town wi-fi hotspots as future opportunities.

Electricity generation and storage stand out as possibilities. Electric storage is now economically feasible and rewarding. In January, NRStor and the Six Nations of the Grand River Development Corporation announced a 250 MW storage project outside Hamilton that will store electricity during low demand and release it as needed. One estimate put the project’s lifetime energy savings to consumers at $750 million.

Real estate investments could dramatically transform the process of planning and development in Innisfil. Investment in key properties could disrupt the practice of land speculation and exploitation in important commercial areas and future planning areas of Innisfil.

Blue Going Green

Our latest Waste Guide Calendar arrived in Simcoe County mail boxes recently. Residents may have noticed that it only extends to September of this year. That’s because Simcoe County is switching waste collection to an “automated cart collection” system. A new 15 month Waste Calendar is scheduled for release later this year with more information about the service changes.

To eliminate more of the jobs that increasingly fewer people want to do, collection trucks will be equipped with mechanical lifts, and this fall all households will be supplied with three new, wheeled bins to replace blue boxes and existing garbage cans.

According to the Simcoe County Warden, “We’ve worked hard to correct some of the labour challenges we have experienced with our collections this past year, and this is an exciting step in enhancing our services to meet the needs and expectations of our residents. We join other larger municipalities in offering a cart system that will provide added convenience for residents and create extra space to grow our green bin and recycling programs and ultimately divert more materials from disposal.”

Unfortunately, machines can’t adapt to humans, so humans will have to adapt to the machine. I’ve been using a convenient enclosed space under the porch to store blue bins and the green bin between pick-ups. I’m pretty sure that won’t work with the new bulkier bins. I expect I’ll be building some sort of enclosure closer to the road for them since I have no suitable storage area and no intention of dragging them back and forth either.

We’ve had biweekly collection of garbage and recyclables that our (not typical) 2 person household easily accommodates. With larger bins, I expect I could even put it out for collection once a month. The biweekly collection has had a dramatic effect:

Simcoe County’s Director of Solid Waste Management notes, “Since starting bi-weekly garbage collection in February, our green bin [compost] tonnage collection has increased by as much as 50 per cent resulting in a decrease in garbage tonnage even though so many of us are staying home to manage the pandemic and generating and disposing all our wastes at home.”

Distribution of new carts is scheduled to begin this summer and continue into the fall. Cart sizes are: Garbage 240 L; Organics 120 L; Recycling 360 L. Each cart will have a distinctive coloured lid with a black body. According the County’s FAQ web page, “The cost of automated cart collection is estimated at $315 annually for the average County home, including the cost of carts, collection service, net waste processing fees for the various materials collected, waste export costs and related administrative costs. The $315 per year ($26.25 per month average) for full curbside collection service compares very favourably with other common services such as cell phone, cable TV, internet and streaming services.”

Housing Like No Other

Space age technologies are converging here at ground level. Imagine if you could settle into a new zero-carbon emission house, fully equipped and self-sustaining, delivered by truck fully assembled , and set down, without a foundation, on a flat space anywhere. (A two-story design requires a foundation) It sounds like science fiction but 3D ‘printing’ technology is making it a reality – now. A demo model is open for viewing in Seattle, Washington.

One of several new innovators, a company called Haus.me began with European design and opened an assembly plant in Reno, Nevada earlier in 2020.  It intends to start deliveries of homes to customers in Nevada, California and Arizona. Three home models are capable of operating off-grid with their own power, water and septic systems. If preferred, they can be connected to municipal services instead. They include some fancy ‘smart-home’ electronic bells and whistles.

Haus.me claims some exceptional performance measures:

  • designed for a climate conditions from -20F to +140F. [ –28 to +48 C]
  • wall insulation in haus.me is 6x higher than US Dept. of Energy recommendations for northern states and Canada.
  • windows save 14x more energy than a regular double-pane window.
  • energy efficiency is so effective that haus.me unit can be heated and cooled with solar power only, even in foggy and overcast climates.

According to promotional material, the homes have a lifetime guarantee (house frame & windows). They are made with “Carbon fibre, durable polymers, and 6-panes of guarded glass comprise the exterior surface, while comfortable natural wood is used for the interior.”

This is only one of several 3D printed housing companies offering factory built homes. Naturally, the biggest hurdles to this technology are man-made too. That is, there are no appropriate building codes, construction standards or zoning regulations to open the way for these innovative housing solutions.

Discussion about cost of this type of housing solution has been in relation to conventional housing in urban settings but maybe the real opportunity might be with First Nations in remote communities. Housing in these settlements is chronically deficient, over-crowded and needing repair or replacement. The Canadian government spends more than $200 million a year addressing the problem but continues to fall behind the needs of a growing indigenous population. Add to that, millions more spent trying to provide adequate utility services. Is it time to think beyond boards and pipes? I can imagine three or four of these self-sufficient units arranged together, not as a ‘street’ but clustered as a family compound to properly house multiple generations.

Closer to home, what would this high-tech approach mean for urban landscapes? Could an owner relocate a house and sell an empty lot? Would connection to municipal services still be required? Would we dispense with municipal services for new single-family developments? Would fewer pipes in the ground mean more trees? Would it make smaller communities more attractive, or more accessible, for new home buyers?  How would wider adoption of manufactured self-sufficient homes affect municipal services, revenues and expenses?

Skeptical? Besides Haus Me there are some other 3D printing builders such as Apis Cor and Mighty Buildings. Are we ready for the future?