Innisfil Heights – Innisfil’s Next Development Frontier

Innisfil Heights is the area east and west of Highway 400 mostly above Innisfil Beach Road. It has been flagged for industrial and commercial development as far back as 1965. Efforts to install municipal services date back to 1988. In more recent years an effort was made to officially designate Innisfil Heights as a “settlement area” to permit construction of a whole new residential community on the west side of Highway 400.

When that proposal encountered resistance at the provincial level, Innisfil Heights morphed into an “Enterprise Zone” and is currently referred to as a “Strategic Settlement Employment Area”.  This year, County Council voted to support an expansion of Innisfil Heights by another 65 hectares, extending it south from the 7th Line to the 5th Line. Municipal services would be routed along the 6th Line. Mayor Baguley described the move as “incredibly important to us” because the larger area would accommodate more businesses, which would better help to recover the estimated $65 million cost of bringing water and sewage infrastructure to the area.

The Town’s strategic plan, Inspiring Innisfil, suggested the Town needed to “provide the rationale required to enlarge the amount of industrial land in Innisfil” but also recommended the Town “work to ensure Innisfil Heights can continue to grow as an employment area”. Beyond that, Inspiring Innisfil’s economic strategy was virtually silent on the topic of attracting industry but advocated:

  • support for entrepreneurship and small business
  • expansion of existing businesses
  • development of an agricultural economy
  • development of tourism and culture

In 2009 the concept got a 15 page review from Victor Doyle who happened to also be an architect of the Greenbelt. In a letter addressed to the Ontario Growth Secretariat,

“Doyle said the proposed developments on Highway 400 in Bradford and Innisfil could result in a “cumulative effect, which will open up a new linear pattern of urban sprawl along Highway 400 running virtually from the Holland Marsh to north of Barrie.”

Doyle also alleges Ontario’s Simcoe County Strategy repeats a “pattern strikingly similar” to what occurred in York Region along the Yonge Street corridor, where sprawling residential and commercial developments overtook the landscape.”

Indeed, County Council heard this year that “The expansion is based on a vision of Highway 400 as Simcoe County’s “main street”, lined with development.”

Simcoe County Council also heard some doubts about the wisdom of expanding Innisfil Heights to the south:

  • loss of farmland
  • removing farmland without a concrete alternative
  • “presupposing this is the best expansion area”
  • undermining the complete communities concept, and increasing commuting
  • Innisfil’s ability to borrow the funds needed for infrastructure

Nevertheless, most property in the area is firmly in the grip of developers who are probably driving the approval process. And the Town appears anxious to cater to businesses that want highway frontage. Former Mayor Jackson was quoted in 2009 saying, “We get calls almost weekly from people wanting to locate on the highway. We’ve got to provide that service.”

Artist’s concept rendering – Innisfil Heights SmartCentre

While expansion of Innisfil Heights has not been decided, the bulldozers are standing by further north. The beginning for “strategic employment” does not look very consistent with the intended uses. A SmartCentres project covering 86 acres is the first development to be announced. It will be located at Innisfil Beach Road and 5th Sideroad. The SmartCentre proposal “calls for the development of a mixed retail and ‘service campus’, including a roughly 28,000-square-foot, 40-room two-storey hotel.”  No ‘big box’ store is planned and Mayor Baguley said, “the SmartCentres development is not intended to detract from other commercial areas in the town. We don’t want to see it as a retail corridor. We’d like to make it an attractive place for businesses to relocate …” Up to 100 jobs are expected to be created in the ‘first phase’.

According to Innisfil’s Director of Development, Don Eastwood, “we are very mindful of trying to avoid a situation of over-developing the IBR/400 areas because it is the major entrance to our town and we need to preserve the efficiency of transportation movement in the area. It is, and will be in the future, a major location for business and industrial uses.”

Speaking about long range plans to 2031 to a business audience, Mayor Baguley said,

“We need to plan complete communities of different housing types and ones that encourage walking and cycling. A good part of Innisfil’s projected 56,000 residents and 13,100 jobs will be concentrated in Alcona.”

Innisfil currently has no transit service. Plans are in the works at the County to enlarge Innisfil Beach Road to four lanes between Highway 400 and Alcona probably beginning in 2014. Mayor Baguley spoke to the Chamber of Commerce recently, saying:

“We have a water and wastewater master plan prepared up to 2031 and a business plan for the Innisfil Heights area underway … Areas identified for large capital expenditures include the Hwy. 89/Hwy. 400 district ($16 million), Innisfil South ($31 million) and the employment lands at Innisfil Beach Road and Hwy. 400 ($94 million).”

The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing announced earlier in October that plans for the Innisfil Heights ‘Strategic Settlement Employment Area’ are still being finalized. Town staff maintain that the Innisfil Heights zone would need to be expanded to meet the employment projection of 13,100 jobs by 2031. According to Mayor Baguley,

“This is probably one of the most important planning items in the history of this council, and possibility of this municipality, with regards to economic stability. It’s important this becomes Priority One, from now until completed.”