A silo is all that remains of Stroud’s “last operating farm”. The farmhouse and agricultural buildings were demolished several years ago by a developer. The 5.2 hectare site is now the subject of a development proposal (Centreville by Daycore Venture Group Inc.) which consists of residential homes, commercial buildings and a gas station.
Residents were presented with a draft plan in December 2016. The first phase proposed 107 townhomes with communal septic. A second phase, contingent on provision of municipal services, would have added 86 more townhouses and a six story apartment/retail complex fronting on Yonge Street.
This proposal was heavily criticized, at the time, by local residents as inappropriate for their “quiet and peaceful” village. “We moved here for a rural urban feel”, said one. “You’re putting a city in a village. It’s just dumb. That’s the very reason a lot of people are getting out of Barrie and Alcona and into Stroud”, said another. Stroud consists mostly of single-family homes and has little growth because of the absence of municipal sewers. The developer’s proposal relies on sophisticated modular septic systems from BioNest based in Quebec.
In December, Innisfil councilors showed little enthusiasm too. Councilor Richard Simpson criticized the province for forcing higher-density on villages such as Cookstown and Stroud. “There are places to put townhouses and this doesn’t seem to be the right spot,” he said. “We need to send a message to the province. We need to let the province know what we are looking for in Innisfil … Mayor Gord Wauchope agreed, but said so far such concerns have “fallen on deaf ears” at Queen’s Park.” (Innisfil Journal, Dec 10, 2016)
The developer convened a second public consultation on March 7 with a new proposal. The mixed-use residential/retail building on Yonge St. was replaced by a single-story retail strip-plaza mostly surrounded by parking. Additionally, one option provided for either 10 or 13 single-family houses to form a transition from existing houses to the west. Alternatively, an open buffer zone could be left between existing residences and the proposed townhouses. A third design designates communal septic as open space with opportunity for a second commercial building. (Press reports suggested that information would be posted at the town website, innisfil.ca, but nothing is available yet. The planners can be contacted by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org)
The developer will convene a third public meeting later in the year after considering public reaction to the latest proposals. As yet, none of the proposals are approved although the developer would like to make the addition of the gas station a priority. The site has been zoned solely as “commercial” for many years and excludes residential uses. The Comprehensive Zoning Bylaw (July 2013) created a “Village Commercial” zoning category with limited retail and commercial uses. In 2014, Town planning staff recommended rezoning Stroud commercial lands:
“the subject lands are zoned as “Commercial Village (CV)”. The “Commercial Village (CV)” zone does not permit a grocery store or a shopping centre and the application of the CV zoning to these lands effectively down-zones the sites in question, which was not the intent of the zoning by-law.” General Commercial zoning was restored in May 2014 because “subject properties contain or have the potential to contain uses appropriate to larger sites on a major road (i.e. shopping centres, service station, accessory patios, etc.) that serve Stroud.”
The strident opinions expressed about the future of Stroud raises a few questions, such as:
- What is a ‘rural urban feel’?
- What constitutes a village?
- Can we / should we allow smaller rural neighbourhoods like Stroud to exclude intensification and urbanization altogether?
- If so, should the growth and population of villages be ‘frozen’?
- If not, how can a ‘village feel’ be preserved?
- Where should future growth and population be directed otherwise?
As it stands, more development is unavoidable. The fields directly north of the Foodland shopping plaza, at the edge of the village, are currently zoned for industrial development. A draft concept proposes about a dozen industrial buildings.
According to Smart Growth Ontario, “A complete community is like what we used to think as being your local village — only updated to a modern context. A village is a place where you can find most everything you need, and you can walk to get there. An urban village is a vibrant neighbourhood within a city or town, and a great city is made up of many urban villages.” [emphasis added]
Innisfil is indeed made up, through amalgamation, of several historic villages scattered around one of the largest rural municipal territories in Ontario. While Alcona was designated as the primary urban growth centre for the municipality, it hasn’t prevented Cookstown, Churchill, Lefroy, and Stroud from hosting substantial new subdivisions on their edges.
Innisfil Council challenged the County of Simcoe at the OMB in 2009 for a larger allocation of population and industry but claimed that a target of more than 23% intensification would be unachievable. In 2013, Council approved Innisfil Executive Estates, a development of 38 housing units on 10.17 hectares. (The whole site is 17.5 hectares)
The planning Staff Report (DSR-128-13, July 2013) on this plan states:
“The proposed redline revision to this Draft Plan of Subdivision maintains lot sizes and character that is consistent with the neighbourhood character of Stroud. The importance of maintaining the distinctiveness of each neighbourhood in the Town, as well as the importance of providing linkages to connect residents and neighbours, are important elements both of this Plan and Inspiring Innisfil 2020.”
“The original Plan of Subdivision Application predates the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) 2005 and earlier Provincial Policy Statements, therefore these documents do not apply. However, in general, the proposed plan conforms to the planning principles of the PPS in that it is located within the existing settlement area boundary of Stroud and employs an appropriate development standard that facilitates intensification and makes for efficient use of land …”
“The original Plan of Subdivision Application predates the Places to Grow Provincial Growth Plan and therefore the Provincial Growth Plan does not apply.”
The Neptis Foundation claims that provincial policy is actually intensifying urban sprawl. “Simcoe County, which has planned for 40 per cent of its growth to be in intensification, has approved 65 per cent of that intensified housing for rural settlement areas. Eighty-three per cent of those new homes are single-family, detached houses rather than denser forms such as townhouses and apartments.” (Is Ontario’s growth plan intensifying urban sprawl?, Andrew Lahodynsky, Toronto Star, March 9, 2017)
Would it make sense to require higher density development such as townhouses, mid-rise and apartments in built-up settlement areas that exceed a set amount of space? Would this have spared a city like Barrie from sprawling over thousands of acres? (1982 – annexed 8, 623 acres; 1987 – annexed 737 acres; 2010 – annexed 2,293 acres)
Could we mandate the reverse for extremely dense neighbourhoods in places like Toronto where some districts are over-run with high-rises and entire urban ‘villages’ have all but been obliterated?
Isn’t a variety of residential styles mixed with retail uses appropriate for the ‘village’ crossroads of Stroud? Can Council, the developer and residents decide on a harmonious balance of residential, retail, commercial and public space that best meets their needs, now and for a reasonable future? To be successful, they will have to address some of the questions posed here. The issues we’re struggling with in Stroud affect all of Ontario.