The ambition to service Innisfil Heights for industrial development has a long history. With the continuing efforts to find the means to finance a sewage servicing solution, it’s useful to look back at how this issue evolved. Fortunately, the digital archive of local news articles from the Innisfil Journal and Innisfil Examiner allows us to piece much of it together.
According to one document, ‘Innisfil Heights’ was first designated for Industrial & Commercial development in 1969. Ontario’s Greenbelt plan came into effect in December 2004, followed by Places to Grow legislation in June 2005. Ontario released the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe in June 2006, setting a deadline for affected municipalities’ Official Plan conformity by 2009.
In October 2007, Watersands Construction Ltd, a corporate division of Metrus Construction Ltd., made a presentation to Council proposing a zoning amendment to 2,284 hectares (5,643 acres) of which they owned 806 hectares (1,992 acres). Their proposal included Hewson’s Village, part of a large residential and commercial concept that would be built adjacent to the existing industrial lands. Metrus said at the time, it “continues to be supportive of finding a ‘made in Innisfil’ solution for the Innisfil Heights industrial area … We want to bring cost effective servicing to the Town thereby providing marketable lands which will be saleable and competitive in pricing.”
Metrus Construction is part of the Con-Drain Group of companies, “one of Ontario’s largest developers” whose activities include municipal servicing; road construction; precast concrete pipe; electrical servicing; land development; commercial and industrial development and home building.
As the proposal failed to get approval at the County level, Watersands returned to Council in August, 2008 to express concern about the draft County of Simcoe Official Plan. “Our most significant concern is the lack of Settlement designation for the existing Innisfil Heights area …”
By 2009 the province was appealing both the County’s and Innisfil’s Official Plans to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). Innisfil was appealing the County’s ‘non-decision’ on several aspects of its Official Plan and Watersands had registered several appeals related to its properties.
Meanwhile, by February 2009, the focus had shifted. Cortel Group was “proposing a different solution to servicing Innisfil’s Highway 400 economic district (enterprise zone).”
“Instead of negotiation with Barrie, or debate about extending servicing along Innisfil Beach Road from the Lakeshore water treatment and wastewater plants, Cortel is proposing a new focus of development along the 6th Line and promising a major announcement in the next few weeks.”
However, the article noted, “The 6th Line is currently outside of the settlement area boundaries for Innisfil … Cortel’s proposal includes a 105-acre campus node stretching from the 6th Line south to the 5th, just west of Yonge Street. It would house a health science facility with residence and a hospital. The proposed Centre of Excellence – focusing on water quality and environmental research related to creating sustainable development – would have a focus on Lake Simcoe.” The Lake Simcoe Protection Act came into force in 2009. “The campus node is part of a multi-piece project, including the enterprise zone, a heritage village near the 20th Sideroad and a larger municipal wastewater treatment plant.”
In March 2009, Cortel transferred “50 acres of land it owns west of Yonge Street, south of Line 6, to RVH for the potential development of a second hospital facility.” The newspaper quoted Cortel spokesman, Terry Geddes (former Mayor of Collingwood), “Today’s announcement is historic, and represents one of the largest gifts ever pledged to Royal Victoria Hospital.”
In June 2009, then Deputy-Mayor Wauchope “introduced a motion that would service the Cortel Group’s proposed 100-acre hospital and Centre of Excellence campus on the 6th Line… Wauchope’s motion stated “council reaffirms its intention to service the Innisfil Heights employment lands by extending the 6th Line infrastructure”.
By December 2009, Mayor Jackson was angrily telling critics of Innisfil Heights development to butt out. “The town has been trying to service the Innisfil Heights area since 1988 … The County has finally recognized our Enterprise Zone. We get calls almost weekly from people wanting to locate on the highway. We’ve got to provide that service.”
Later in 2010, Cortel’s 6th Line campus idea was faltering. Council was presented with “a new Land Contribution Agreement that will transfer ownership of the 105 acres to the Town to be subsequently transferred to institutions … The agreement confirms that the lands are to be developed by 2025, or ownership will revert to the Cortel Group… Cortel will receive a charitable donation tax receipt for the appraised value of the property when agreements transferring ownership are signed with various partner organizations.” RVH, McMaster University and LSRCA were mentioned a possible potential partners.
Appeals to the 2006 Official Plans at the OMB continued to be active from 2009 to 2011 and were eventually referred to a Provincial Development Facilitator, ending in an agreement that took effect in January 2012. It defined the boundaries and uses permitted in the Innisfil Heights Strategic Settlement Employment Area. Allowed uses are “manufacturing, warehousing, assembly, processing, research facilities and outdoor storage uses”.
Early in 2012 the capital cost of servicing the Innisfil Heights employment lands was estimated at $94 million. Cortel was back in the news in April 2012, “proposing to build a village with shops, restaurants and offices … it also plans to develop sections along the Highway 400 corridor for commercial and industrial use … The project will involve the upgrading of sewer systems and an expansion of a waste-water treatment plant.”
By August 2012, the County had agreed to “an expansion of employment lands (additional 65 hectares) between 5th and 7th lines” with “a proposed servicing route … along the 6th line.” The cost of infrastructure was estimated at $65 million. Then Mayor, Barb Baguley, said, “The larger area will make it possible to recoup those costs from employers …” Two months later, Smart Centres proposed a “mixed retail and service campus” consisting of a gas bar, related retail and a 40 room hotel. That proposal has been stalled by the lack of sanitary services.
Victor Doyle, an early architect of the Greenbelt Plan, speaking as a private citizen in 2009, predicted that “proposed developments on Highway 400 in Bradford and Innisfil could result in a “cumulative effect that will open up a new linear pattern of urban sprawl along Highway 400 running virtually from the Holland Marsh to north of Barrie”… a “pattern strikingly similar” to what occurred in York Region along the Yonge Street corridor, where sprawling residential and commercial developments overtook the landscape.”
So far, approvals are in place for the industrial and commercial versions of that scenario in Bradford, Innisfil and Barrie. Council was told in 2015 that we are “in a race” with our neighbours to land industrial clients:
InnServices CEO, Andy Campbell told Council that “the City of Barrie is also planning employment lands along Hwy. 400 on land annexed from Innisfil in 2010 and Bradford-West Gwillimbury is creating an industrial area at highways 400 and 88, with Toromont Caterpillar as a major tenant.”
Council has set 2018 as the target for servicing Innisfil Heights. The news article said, “Council transferred $160 million in assets to InnServices … to help the town-owned company secure $70-million in financing by March.” Economic Development Director, Marc Seguin, said. “We are on the short-list for businesses looking to locate in Ontario. It all piggy-backs on this plan.”
After the collapse of negotiations with Epcor, the tendering process has been postponed over disagreement on how best to finance the capital cost of sewers and wastewater treatment for Innisfl Heights. Attention has now turned to Simcoe County as a possible source of financing. BarrieToday.com reported that “The county’s economic development committee will discuss how to assist Innisfil in getting the strategic employment lands online,” quoting the County’s engineering, planning and environment general manager.
According to the BarrieToday.com article, Innisfil was “asking for either an interest-free loan (with terms payable based on the collection of development charges) or offering the county shares in its new InnServices Utilities Inc.” The cost for the ‘first phase’ was estimated to be $58 million. Total investment over 20 years could be $218 million.
“In the strategic employment lands just to the south in Bradford West Gwillimbury, developers are working with the town to get the lands online sooner …. Bradford is very lucky to have a very cohesive development group that’s willing to front-end the water and wastewater projects” according to Simcoe County’s engineering, planning and environment general manager.
“Warden Gerry Marshall said council is “wrestling” with the Innisfil issue and he expects there’ll be more thorough discussion of options to assist Innisfil at the [County] economic development subcommittee May 10.”