Places to Grow: ‘Can’t’ Isn’t Good Enough

When we last looked at the Places to Grow saga, Innisfil’s Official Plan was in limbo along with the County’s, seeking provincial approval. (The County has now released a draft amended Plan for public comment). Lately it looks like progress is stymied by a case of ‘can’t’ and ‘won’t’.

Barrie can’t grow without …

The province had agreed that Barrie, as the primary growth centre, couldn’t grow without annexing more than 6 square kilometres of what had been part of Innisfil. Boundaries  were simply redrawn so that what might have been considered as greenfield sprawl in Innisfil was transformed into ‘needed’ space in Barrie. It begs the question of just how big a city should be. And, more specifically, how expansive will Barrie be before it is considered to be too big? According to a recent press article (Annexed lands still years from being developed, “Barrie is opting for a design that … adds high schools and recreation centres in residential areas to the far east and far southwest …” or a distance of about 10 to 12 kilometres from downtown Barrie by road. I’ve just been reading (Strap Hanger, Saving our cities and ourselves from the automobile, Taras Grescoe, 2012) that Phoenix, by comparison, extends for 30 miles in all directions, so I guess Barrie still has some growing to do.

Innisfil can’t grow without …

In the meantime, Innisfil sought approval of its Amendment 1, which would have expanded the Alcona settlement area to the north and south. The province closed that door by denying the proposed larger Alcona settlement area. (Expansion plans were always doomed to failure, Innisfil Scope) It’s not surprising considering that the aim of Places to Grow is to create more dense urban centres to reduce the rate of greenfield development. One of the plan’s criticisms is that only 40% of new development has to be within the urban core. Another criticism is that it has resulted in denser development on the fringes of urban centres, not the core, because developers simply increased the density of their current greenfield projects.

“Many of the growth targets set by the provincial government are unrealistic, according to Innisfil’s manager of land use planning … With what’s designated currently, we can’t reach anywhere near the provincial target, said mayor Barb Baguley.” (Town takes shot at provincial growth targets, Innisfil Scope)

The mayor may be right. Some new urban research made possible by massive amounts of data that are freely available from public sources like the United Nations suggest that all cities grow at roughly the same rate – regardless of size or location.  (The Laws of the City, The Economist)

It throws the whole notion of growth targets into some doubt. What’s clear is that “can’t” isn’t good enough. The political and administrative leadership have to be aggressively innovative. The planning tools need some adjustment at both ends. Places to Grow needs a review to address some of the short-comings that are now being recognized. And town planners may need new tools to redirect development proposals that fall short of planning objectives. Not least of all, developers have to get with the program and reorganize their priorities away from massive greenfield developments.

A disappointment at the core

While Innisfil Beach Road is undergoing a complete streetscape reconstruction in preparation for creating a commercial core, the first development proposal has come forward for a site adjacent to Scotts Towing (1124-1136 Innisfil Beach Road) east of Jans Blvd.. Sadly, it is a huge disappointment. The planning guidelines call for a continuous street-front orientation to create a ‘main street’ commercial district. It has been talked about for years. Instead, this development gives us two out-of-place, out-of-date commercial strips marooned in a sea of 72 parking spaces. The sidewalk will be cut by two driveways.  An 84 unit apartment at the rear of the property will be surrounded by another 48 surface parking spaces. Since this proposal came forward before Council could finalize new zoning, this particular developer thinks its OK to thumb his nose at the spirit and intent of Places to Grow and Inspiring Innisfil. If ‘can’t’ isn’t good enough, then ‘won’t’ is inexcusable. If we ever wanted to make a Black List of developers and architects who should be shown the door, we could start with this one.

Drive-thru development slips under council’s radar, Innisfil Scope