Places to Grow? – That’s the Question

On January 10, the Town of Innisfil held an Open House to inform residents of the issues surrounding the Province’s Amendment 1 to the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe and the Town planner’s recommendations.

A Fact Sheet distributed at the Open House listed 5 items:

Urban Node Designation

  • The provincial amendment recognizes 6 communities in Simcoe County as “urban nodes” that are intended to be “the focus for growth and intensification to help curb sprawl.”  (page 2, Proposed Amendment 1).
  • There is no recognized node in Innisfil. The Town staff seek to have Alcona identified as an Urban Node.  It seems the Province considers Alcona to be too close in proximity to Barrie to be recognized as an ‘urban node’ but is applying the same rules for intensification to Innisfil to contain sprawl nevertheless.

Population & Employment Targets

  • The provincial amendment sets a population target of 56,000 for Innisfil which is lower than the 58,000 in the 2009 legislation and much less than the 65,000 proposed in the Simcoe County Official Plan.
  • Town staff seek to have the County’s target of 65,000 population restored. The Fact Sheet implies that this would also necessitate “potential settlement expansions”. Town planners view it as essential to build out Alcona North and Alcona South to finance the construction of municipal services to the Highway 400 Innisfil Heights industrial zone.

An initial proposal called for a new town of up to 50,000 on the west side of Highway 400 but the province has (so far) closed the door on residential and retail construction in the designated industrial zone (Watersands Development is appealing at the OMB).

Innisfil Heights Industrial Employment Area

  • The amendment now recognizes Innisfil Heights as an employment area extending on both sides of Highway 400 approximately from the 7th to the 9th line. The 5th Sideroad forms the boundary on the west side.
  • Town staff take the position that the industrial area will have to include a provision for expansion in order to reach the employment target of 13,100 by 2031. They propose an potential expansion extending south to the 5th line.

Combined Residential & Employment Density

  • The province’s amendment requires a combined density target of 50 persons/jobs per hectare for any ‘greenfield’. It also designates the whole Innisfil Heights industrial area as ‘greenfield’.
  • Town planners say a combined density of 50 persons/jobs per hectare may be feasible in residential greenfield areas by including townhouses and apartments in the mix. (There was no mention of mixed business and commercial development in established settlement areas). But the planners seek to have the density target lowered to 20 jobs per hectare in Innisfil Heights. Permitted uses are manufacturing, warehousing, assembly, processing and research facilities. These are unlikely to contribute much to the province’s desired target density.

Intensification Target

  • The amendment confirms a 40% intensification target by 2015. That is, 40% of new construction in Alcona, Cookstown and Lefory-Belle-Ewart needs to take place within existing settlement areas as infill or higher density redevelopment.
  • Town planners say that this is not possible and are seeking a maximum (note – not minimum) target of 23%.

Have the Town planners taken a reasonable approach? What’s your opinion? The Town planners’ recommendations essentially seek to largely unwind the Places to Grow strategy by

  • increasing the population target
  • lowering the residential intensification target
  • lowering the combined jobs/population target
  • focusing job creation in Innisfil Heights
  • seeking to enlarge the designated highway industrial area

Can the province realistically consider designating Alcona as an ‘urban node’ when our planners cast doubt on reaching even a minimal intensification target of 23%? How does building out Alcona North and Alcona South help create a node?

Some would think that the ‘downtown’ streetscape created on Innisfil Beach Road would be an appropriate setting to build mixed multi-storey developments (retail/commercial/residential) to help meet a higher combined total of jobs and residences. However, at the Open House, staff suggested that only about 2 or 3 sites on Innisfil Beach Road are suitable, and that, as yet, municipal services are not adequate to accommodate the number of multi-storey buildings required to address the intensification target.

There was some dark muttering about the possibility of a “Miami of the North”  – multi-storey developments – along the shore of Lake Simcoe. Hardly an option, in my opinion, considering that the Lake Simcoe Protection Act and Places to Grow are significant barriers. Seriously, would Town Council want to open another battleground after all the grief over the Big Bay Point development?

Town Council will consider the staff recommendations concerning Amendment 1 and reply to the province by the deadline, January 31. In the meantime, the Town’s draft strategic plan becomes available for comment next week. It will be interesting to see how the two mesh.

The County’s Official Plan is being appealed at the Ontario Municipal Board concerning several of the issues highlighted here. When that is settled and the direction is set for more – or less – intensification of development we can expect events to accelerate. The Amendment document serves notice that “The Minister will consider setting an alternate date of less than 3 years for the official plans of the County of Simcoe, City of Barrie, City of Orillia and the lower-tier municipalities within the County of Simcoe to be brought into conformity …