I left off discussing Our Place, the official plan process, by quoting the Project for Pubic Spaces: “When you focus on place, you do everything differently”. That doesn’t mean that previous plans aren’t rolling right along. One of them is the long-standing plan to extend water and sewer utilities to Innisfil Heights, the area east and west of Highway 400, which is designated as ‘employment lands’. The rationale has always been that businesses attracted to this area will reduce the need for many residents to commute to jobs beyond Innisfil.
It becomes obvious from a map that relentless development from Barrie in the north and Bradford in the south is also a major factor driving this project. Since Barrie successfully annexed a portion of Innisfil on the pretext of ‘running out of land’, (in spite of Places to Grow policy) the fear of future annexations has only increased. It appears inevitable that lands running parallel to the highway will resemble the sprawl created in South Barrie although “major retail and residential uses are not permitted” according to the latest provincial planning amendment. I’ve heard that any agricultural land in the area has been sold and is currently only leased back.
Meanwhile, neighbouring development is drawing existing manufacturing businesses away from Innisfil. Lately, they include Streit Industries (armoured vehicles) and Munroe Furniture (household furnishings), which have both moved to Barrie. The Smart Centre proposal (adjacent to Hwy 400) for a gas bar, hotel and some retail is on hold because, at present, it would require construction of an enormous and uneconomic septic system.
Everyone Else is Doing It
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.” Few people question the ‘need’ for this development. One who did is Victor Doyle (an architect of the Greenbelt) who said in 2009 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.”
Big Cash Needed …
The stumbling block here has always been the huge investment required. The capital investment needed for Innisfil’s projected growth was estimated to be $183 million in 2012. Some of the cost is recovered through Development Charges (DC), which are eventually passed on to property buyers by developers. Legislation limits the amount that the Town can borrow for capital projects. Meanwhile, the province has announced a Working Group to review development charges legislation, probably driven by developers lobbying for lower charges.
… And a Way to Borrow It
Innisfil’s current CAO recently proposed a new approach to Council in a presentation titled, “Water and Wastewater – addressing our infrastructure needs”. He proposed forming a Municipal Services Corporation (MSC) owned by the Town. It would finance and build water utility infrastructure while providing:
- “additional leverage with access to capital”
- transparency (Council retains oversight and “rate setting responsibility”)
- financial self sufficiency (debt exists separately under a corporate umbrella)
- competitive advantage in attracting development
Council was sufficiently captivated by this presentation to want to move to the next step, the development of a Business Case for the MSC (coming back to Council on May 6). It raises some basic questions:
- Is Innisfil Heights the best option for ‘employment lands’?
- How many Innisfil residents might it employ?
- Do we have any options to “do things differently”?
- Would the MSC debt create pressure for more or faster growth?
- How does the Innisfil Heights concept impact the Our Place official plan consultations?
Powerpoint presentation to Council: Water & Wastewater