Commercial at the Core

A new building under construction on the south side of Innisfil Beach Road is the first development to follow the design guidelines set out under the Inspiring Innisfil 2020 Official Plan. It is a multi-story, mixed-use building that fronts the sidewalk.

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The original signage on the property indicated it would be a medical building. The current signage only indicates leasing availability. It remains to be seen what final form this development will take and whether it is the start of a new approach to Alcona development or whether it will be an anomaly on the street.

Meanwhile, the development proposal for the Abendel property on the north side of Innisfil Beach Road seems to have stalled or collapsed. Old signage has been left to deteriorate. Nothing further has occurred since the additional purchase of Scotty’s Towing, which is boarded up. This was originally proposed to be yet another strip mall with the addition of a bank building and a fast-food franchise. Local resident opposition blocked earlier proposals for a residential tower and townhouses on part of the property.

Over at the 25th Sideroad and Innisfil Beach Road, the corner property has also been idle for the summer in spite of reported OMB approval for a proposed multi-story seniors condo with ground-floor retail and a banner proclaiming, “great things are happening”.

After the departure of Lakeside Treasures this summer, 1041 Innisfil Beach Road also sits idle. This property has a history of frequent tenant turnover. A rezoning notice appeared briefly this summer for a “one story commercial” building before being taken down.

At the western end of Alcona, a new housing tract is advancing toward the northern edge of the No Frills parking lot and a new building is taking shape near the supermarket, expected to be another fast-food franchise.

The Centreville plan in Stroud is advancing. Land severance has been approved for single detached housing on the north side of the property. Townhouses, a gas station, convenience store and strip mall form the rest of the project.  A ‘hold’ designation remains on actual construction until final design plans are approved.

In late 2011, the Retail Demand Study found that 2/3 of all resident expenditures were made outside of Innisfil. It suggested that with further residential growth, it would present an “expenditure potential” of over $400 million by 2021. More than 5 years later, it appears that potential for local shopping will be difficult to realize for many more years to come. For the uninitiated, it’s difficult to understand what hurdles are preventing an obvious opportunity from being realized.

Passive Design, Active Results

We are slowly learning that we have the knowledge and technology to eliminate a lot of today’s conventional home energy use. The latest example is a passive solar home built in Innisfil. The outstanding feature is that it is built without the need for a conventional furnace. The south facing home is very highly insulated, sealed and uses passive solar gain. It’s no surprise that the builder and owner formerly worked with the Kortwright Centre for Conservation.

I first wrote about passive solar and net-zero energy construction a few years ago so it’s encouraging to know that the concept is finally attracting wider practical application and real world experience under our local conditions. Importantly, municipal authorities are learning to recognize this certification standard.

We’re able to learn about some of the technical details from a recent news article at Simcoe.com (Home builder lives without furnace in passive house, July 13, 2017). The home’s ‘raft’ foundation has a styrofoam base below concrete and the walls are “double stud” allowing for an R65 insulation factor. Notably, the owner says they have “come up with a wall [insulation] system just as efficient without adding significant cost.” Certainly the budgeted cost of ducting and furnace could be applied instead to this use.

An energy recovery ventilation (EVR) unit runs continuously to ensure a proper air circulation and stable temperature within the airtight building envelope. Surprisingly, energy-efficient windows came from Ireland. The article didn’t indicate what distinguished them from so many possible local window suppliers. Solar panels are being added to the home as well.

This type of approach continues to be a ‘pay now or pay later’ proposition. The builder suggests it could be offered as a “luxury option” in subdivisions with a pay-back over 20 years. Otherwise, potential home-buyers could just opt for conventional construction and take a chance with future energy prices or ‘move up’ later when energy efficient techniques become more widely adopted. Passive solar design and ‘net zero’ energy technology makes even more sense for multi-unit construction where the benefits are likely to be more easily achieved.

There is another option. Builders could consider a better trade-off between home size and efficiency. I walked through a builder’s ‘luxury’ model home recently out of curiosity. My wife remarked, “I could be happy with half of this house!” to which another couple immediately responded, “Great! I’ll buy the other half!” Maybe an enterprising builder can recognize an opportunity to make ‘less’ equal ‘more’.

Celebrate and Contemplate

Next week (July 22) Innisfil Beach Park will be the site for Celebrate Lake Simcoe. It will be in recognition of its importance to our lives and an opportunity to learn about efforts to restore and maintain a clean lake and watershed for this region. Indigenous people will participate this year with a traditional pow wow and displays of their own.

Recent events make it all the more important to celebrate clean water and motivate us to ensure clean water for everyone. The mercury poisoning scandal at Grassy Narrows caused by industrial contamination of the Wabigoon River (up to 50 years ago and continuing today) may be one of the most neglected environmental disasters in history. At the end of June the Ontario government committed $85 million toward clean-up of this “gross neglect”. But a resolution will require more years of effort while almost all members of the Grassy Narrows First Nation exhibit symptoms of some neurological damage.

I’m reminding my readers of this because of an alarming report published in the American Chemical Society Journal and recently described in Science Daily and Clean Technica. One headline reads, “Waste Water from Fracking Pollutes Pennsylvania Watershed”.  Continue reading

Climate Change Survival

It’s another season of local flooding, see-saw temperatures, western wild fires and severe storms to the south. Locally, we are hearing some farmers around Simcoe County lament the losses that they are, and will be, suffering this year.

Now, a new study published in the journal, Science, predicts that “unmitigated climate change will damage the poorest-third of US counties to the tune of 20% of total income. The regions that will be hit the hardest in the US over the coming years economically will be primarily in the South and in the lower Midwest. In other words, economic centers will be likely to move northwards, leaving the hotter, southern parts of the US impoverished …”.

(Perhaps not wanting to wait, Missouri just voted to lower the minimum wage in St. Louis by 23% from $10/hour to $7.70/hour, but that’s another story.)  Continue reading

A Few Centuries, and 150 Years

Most of us will soon be participating in celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. Overall we can be mostly proud of the society that has evolved from our European and colonial past. Some First Nations are reminding us, though, that Indigenous people have no reason to cheer about an imposed system that continues to have devastating social and economic consequences for their communities.

I took a look at some maps in the Economic Atlas of Ontario from the Ontario Archives, which dramatically illustrates how “Indians” systematically vanished from our consciousness in the century prior to Confederation. The following slides contain four maps spanning 1792 to 1882.

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We can hope that in this 150th year of Canada that history is finally starting to bend in the direction of a more just future. In symbolic recognition, the summer solstice, June 21, is celebrated as National Aboriginal Day, and will be renamed National Indigenous People’s Day. More importantly, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has presented a full catalogue of recommendations to address numerous injustices affecting Indigenous people. (visit Reconciliation Canada)

I think it is both startling and shameful that, over my lifetime in the 20th century, I have had virtually no meaningful contact with Indigenous people. So in that context, it is particularly important and meaningful that Innisfil’s annual event, Celebrate Lake Simcoe, is partnered this year with the Barrie Native Friendship Centre to hold a traditional Pow wow at Innisfil Beach Park in conjunction with other activities later in July.

Travel Ontario website describes a pow wow as a “sacred gathering of Indigenous peoples to honour the past, renew friendships and celebrate with music, song, food, dance and storytelling.” According to Wikipedia, “The word is derived from the Narragansett word powwaw, meaning “spiritual leader“.

The 2017 Celebrate Lake Simcoe event takes place on Saturday, July 22. Admission is free with a Food Bank donation. At 5:30 a.m. First Nations participants will conduct a sunrise ceremony, Blessing of the Water. A traditional Pow Wow begins at noon with a Grand Entry.

Celebrate Lake Simcoe also includes art, culture and environmental booths and a lake swims of 1, 3 and 5 km. Swim registrants are invited. Visit the website at Celebrate Lake Simcoe 2017

Stroud Centreville Gets Another Look

After two public meetings, a proposed development for the main street of Stroud gets another look on Wednesday, June 14 at Town Hall. In this revised plan:

  • the number of townhouses is reduced from 107 to 94 on a slightly smaller space
  • 12 single detached homes are proposed for the western boundary
  • the size of the commercial blocks is reduced slightly
  • the site includes a gas bar and convenience store

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A proposal to include several floors of apartments over the commercial units was rejected by local residents at previous public meetings. The single detached homes (instead of townhouses) are intended to buffer the transition from existing residential homes to the new development.

I think this revised plan continues to miss the mark for good planning. Completely removing apartments above the commercial space is a mistake. It would have been wiser to include this mixed-use option to offer more housing options for all age groups. Younger and older Innisfil residents don’t necessarily want, or can afford, a single family home. A retired individual that I know who is planning to move from their home is forced to look in Barrie, Alliston and Midland because there are no suitable apartment options in Innisfil. The objections from Stroud residents to more housing options is unreasonable and puzzling. Including these residents in the development would also make Stroud livelier and more economically viable.

The site plan itself is sadly disappointing in offering yet another parking-lot laden strip mall. I hardly think that a tired and outdated approach to make Stroud look like 1960s Mississauga or contemporary Brampton should get any serious consideration at all. It flies in the face of all the urban planning discussions that have taken place in Innisfil in the last 10 years.

The Implementation Plan for Inspiring Innisfil 2020 (Feb. 2011) stated the following objectives:  Continue reading