I’m just catching up to local news since being away from writing. At first glance, I’m impressed with the six story residential and commercial development being proposed for the 25th Sideroad and Innisfil Beach Road. It’s the first significant new construction that actually conforms to the Official Plan and the ‘Inspiring Innisfil’ urban design concept for Innisfil’s commercial core. It would add four or five new retail spaces to the street and add a mix of 55 living spaces (bachelor to 2 bedroom) to enliven the street. It might even inspire development, or redevelopment, of some other nearby commercial properties that need to be brought into the 21st century.
I have a hard time reconciling resident objections to the project since it has been clear for at least the last five years that Innisfil Beach Road will be developed as a retail area with zoning to allow street-front buildings up to six stories.
What I find more disappointing is Mayor Wauchope’s response as he tried to deflect responsibility to the county and provincial governments:
“The province is telling us this, the county is telling us this … we’re caught between a rock and a hard place.”
Are we? This seems a bit cowardly and misleading. A previous council designated Alcona as the ‘growth centre’ for Innisfil about 20 years ago. Another council fought to have Alcona officially designated by the province as an ‘urban growth node’ in Simcoe County. Millions were spent on the streetscape to help attract commercial developments and create a ‘commercial core’ for Innisfil.
The mayor’s equivocation suggests a lack of leadership and commitment to the vision for a fully developed urban centre. This may explain the haphazard progress so far in achieving this goal. We often hear the phrase, “live, work, play” as the ambitious goal for the creation of ‘complete’ communities. That should include the opportunity for easily accessible local shopping and affordable housing.
An economic study released in 2011 found that about 2/3 of residents’ retail spending occurred outside Innisfil. Frequent vacant lots create gaps on Innisfil Beach Road, which hinders existing businesses. But there is a lot of local economic potential:
“Expenditure potential generated from Innisfil residents in 2010 is estimated at $254.7 million. By 2021 expenditure potential is forecast to increase to $400.3 million. By 2031, expenditure potential is forecast to more than double the 2010 level increasing up to a level of $612.1 million.”
Council has approved a lot of single-family residential development in all of Innisfil’s settlement areas while retail and commercial development has been left behind. This only increases the imbalance of local services available to residents and entrenches the dependence on automobiles.
I would like to hear a mayor of Innisfil say something like, “We are committed to building a successful, accessible and walkable retail core that all Innisfil residents will enjoy and appreciate at all times and in all seasons. Mixed use proposals like this advance the steps that have been taken so far to make Innisfil a uniquely livable place.”
[Update Nov. 25, 2016] Innisfil’s Committee of Adjustment rejected 2 zoning variance requests from the applicant – for smaller setbacks and for fewer parking spaces.