Welcoming Employers to Innisfil

Even a brief look at studies and reports discussing employment lands confirms that the same principles of Smart Growth apply to commercial and industrial development just as much as to residential construction.

Planning for Employment in the Golden Horseshoe, a Background Paper published in May 2008 states, “in planning for employment, municipalities will facilitate the development of transit-supportive compact built form and minimize surface parking.” 

Blending Commerce into the Urban Fabric, a paper published by the Sustainable Urban Development Association (SUDA) says, “Hallmarks of suburban city-building are the ‘business park, the ‘employment area, and retail centres – areas given exclusively to commerce and distinctly separated from residential areas of the city. Typically, these areas consume relatively large amounts of land, and are too distant to access by means other than motorized transport, usually the personal automobile.”

As I noted in my last article, the trend of migration of businesses to suburban locations has been contributing to greater congestion and longer average commute times across Canada.

The SUDA article goes on to say, “From a financial perspective, sprawling employment areas and commercial areas require extensive road, water, sewer and electronic infrastructure that must be funded through development charges and property taxes.  For business property owners, the land required to accommodate vehicle parking is an expense that can’t be used for business expansion.”

SUDA recommends that municipalities “abolish most industrial and business park designations, except for activities that:

  • produce excessive noise,
  • noxious emissions,
  • intensive trucking activities, or
  • involve disruptive round-the-clock applications”

The provincial plan currently recognizes “employment lands” adjacent to highway 400 in Bradford and Innisfil Heights for this type of industrial development. About 17% of residents are employed by manufacturers, but only 7% have jobs related to manufacturing, processing or utilities and 3% related to primary industry. These statistics illustrate how ndustrial activity creates employment in a wide range of occupations such as finance, sales, marketing, communications and so on.

Planning for Employment in the Golden Horseshoe discusses strategies for specific types of employment – institutional, office, retail, industrial, warehousing and logistics. It suggests: “offices that are not directly related to manufacturing, industrial uses or warehousing should be directed to areas where they can take advantage of the benefits of clustering … Doing so will help to minimize the fragmentation of large contiguous employment lands that are better suited to manufacturing, industrial or warehousing uses.”

The provincial background report identifies education and health care as some of the significant employers over the next 25 years. “Traditionally planned institutional uses can result in public sector sprawl – as exemplified by large, land intensive, hospital, university or school developments on the urban fringe of communities – that needs to be addressed and minimized.”

Innisfil has designated a tract of land in Lefroy (6th line near Yonge St.) as the future site of a medical/educational ‘campus’.  The town assumed ownership of the 105 acres from the Cortel Group for a nominal sum. However, if the municipality does not identify buyers for the property (hospital, post-secondary education and medical) within the next 15 years, ownership can revert back to the developer. The town assumed the challenge of marketing the property for its preferred uses and surrendered the ability to collect property tax in the interim.  [Cortel campus lands now in town hands, Innisfil Scope, Sep. 15, 2010] Additional proposals to build new residential subdivisions and possibly a GO train station in Lefroy are uncertain until the Innisfil Official Plan gains final provincial approval.

Existing settlements in Innisfil such as Stroud, Cookstown and Alcona are capable of supporting office developments, large and small, that could accommodate the type of work that most Innisfil residents currently perform. The intention is to intensify development with mixed-use buildings that combine commercial office, residential and retail uses. Potential business occupants would provide business services, health care and social services, finance and real estate services and retailing.

Thanks to electronic communication and conferencing, many businesses can service clients nationally. (My mortgage broker, for instance, consults with clients and arranges mortgage transactions across Canada from his location in Barrie.) In deciding where to locate similar types of service businesses, the deciding factor may be the personal quality of life that Innisfil can offer. In that respect, a unique combination of urban amenities, rural atmosphere, and proximity to the natural and recreational features of Lake Simcoe may be our winning formula.

The last census reported 1,000 individuals in Innisfil who worked from home, an employment option that is gaining attention. Recently, the job-search website, Workopolis, promoted a National Work-from-Home Day and had no trouble recruiting 5,000 supporters online.

Encouraging and supporting work-from-home, shared workspace, or combined live/work space may help grow employment in innumerable ways.