A public meeting on January 29 reviewed draft plans for an addition of 1,761 new residences on about 92 hectares extending Alcona south to the Sixth Line, and east from the railway tracks. It would increase Innisfil’s population by about 4,500 and create an estimated 250 to 300 jobs. Construction would take place in three stages from east to west.
The project density would be comprised of about 50% low and medium density housing (700 units + 200 units) and 50% high density (900 units) made up of townhouses and apartments. Overall, it is calculated to average 53 jobs and persons per hectare. Retail, commercial and office space is also included in “mixed-use” areas.
My primary reasons for starting this blog was to give Innisfil residents more of an early notice of pending developments and also to educate them (and myself) about the protracted planning and approval process that leads to this point. So it’s somewhat depressing to attend yet another meeting where people want Council to flatly reject a project or don’t understand the trade-offs in intensification and higher density. As much as we might want to limit greenfield sprawl, development projects seem to creep forward incrementally each year like a glacier. Proposed expansion plans for municipal water, changes to settlement boundary and rezoning applications would be the flagged opportunities to intervene. But they occur years before a secondary plan like this.
One exasperated attendee exclaimed, “You’re telling me this is a done deal?!” The polite reply, was, “No, no decision has been made.” But the answer is yes, if you’re talking about the rezoning from “Rural” to “Alcona South Urban Policy Area” approved by the Ontario Municipal Board in 2011. Development in some shape or form will undoubtedly take place on the site – eventually. Also in 2011, the province reduced the population target of Innisfil and the project has been scaled back to reflect the lower growth target. Sleeping Lion is a portion of the original Alcona South Plan area. An option exists to expand west at some time in the future. The Mayor asked staff to explain what would happen if the project was rejected outright. It was pointed out that the developer would have recourse to an appeal at the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).
When I started this blog, my assumption was that some projects are too far ‘down the pipe’ to stop or substantially alter them, so I have tried to point out some of the short-comings, and demonstrate how existing or new technologies could make a difference for more sustainable and environmentally beneficial design. It’s encouraging to see some positive ideas reflected in this proposal. The typical winding, “go-nowhere” subdivision street layout is replaced here by a regular street grid. This makes walking and cycling more practical and is more transit supportive. More lots are oriented north-south to take advantage of passive and active solar energy capability. Planted and natural buffers occur on the north and east side of the development. A mixed-use zoning area provides some opportunity to walk or cycle to basic retail services. Modest parks are a start although I think neighbourhood green space could be more prominent. Local bike paths and lanes will connect to a more substantial connecting trail across the 6th Line.
A resident made some appallingly prejudicial remarks about multi-unit types of housing and the supposed type of people who live in them. But realistically, people at different stages in their lives prefer different types of housing. Young singles, new couples, and seniors might prefer more variety in available accommodations in Innisfil. The housing in Innisfil is about 93% single-detached (Statistics Canada, Census 2011). Creating a larger swath of the same is not working. Surely, it’s not unreasonable to aim for a better balance. And if you bought your new Alcona home in the past 5 or 6 years, its probable that someone objected 10 years ago to the construction of your home.
A complaint was also made that the proposed density of 53 person/jobs per hectare was almost twice the minimum target of 32 person/jobs per hectare and “that’s a lot of people”. The Town’s planner missed the opportunity to point out that this is not an arbitrary figure. A certain density is needed to support public transit, a service that more residents would like to have as the Town grows.
Overall, I’d like to see Innisfil residents take a more pro-active role in supporting intensification and higher density around the major commercial areas where it makes most sense. Many of us want to retain a sense of ‘rural’ living. If so, it’s essential to look for more innovative solutions to bring the ‘country’ into our new urban landscape. I suggest advocating for more connected urban green space in a variety of forms. It can be a forested area or other natural environmental feature, a garden/urban farm, or neighbourhood public gathering place as well as conventional parkland. We’ll never get new development entirely right, but if we’re original and creative, Innisfil can still be the “place to be in 2020”.
Update: Dec 12, 2014: Council amended zoning to allow for construction of up to 9 model homes, rather than a maximum of 6 at the Sleeping Lion site consisting of 92 hectares.
Previously: Lefroy Begins Preparing for 1,175 New Households