Seven Years Later

After writing this blog for more than seven years, I was a little disappointed to read a recent article in the Innisfil Journal with the headline, “Realtors see future at opening of Barrie association’s headquarters”.

It really indicates how little has changed regardless of any advocacy for more moderate expansion, preservation of agricultural land and greater emphasis on sustainable development. The designation of Barrie as an ‘Urban Growth Centre’ under the provincial Places to Grow Act seems like little more than a license for sprawl. The province allowed Barrie to annex 2,300 hectares from Innisfil in 2010. At the time there was an hysterical campaign claiming that Barrie had “run out” of industrial land, implying some sort of economic crisis without annexation. Now, the justification has been reversed, saying it is to accommodate a population growth from 147,000 to 210,000 in 2031 within a pattern of development that is already familiar to Barrie residents.

So, from their new headquarters at 676 Veterans Dr., Barrie realtors were admiring the view of their future profits:

“You couldn’t find a more appropriate place … where realtors gather — right on the edge of Barrie’s future growth in the city’s south end. The location didn’t escape [Barrie] Mayor Jeff Lehman at the official opening … Pointing south to a fence and an open field you can see from the headquarters conference room, Lehman said the future lies just beyond the state-of-the art headquarters… “It’s symbolic. That fence was the south boundary of Barrie before annexation,” he said. “It’s awesome. You are literally looking at the future.”

Here’s what the future looks like: “The city [Barrie] is currently (January 2018) processing 18 applications and site plans in the Hewitt’s area. If built as planned, those developments will contain a total of about 5,000 lots.
 In Salem, three applications have been submitted, totalling more than 1,500 lots.
“On the Salem side, we also have employment lands,” Barrie’s building services director said. “That’s a really important balance to the residential.”

An 86 acre parcel at the northwest corner of the intersection of McKay Road West and Veterans Drive will be developed into 839 residential units. It was rezoned from “agricultural to neighbourhood residential and mixed use, institutional education and open space”.

“… the Salem and Hewitt secondary plans are now complete and staff are currently working through 11 active development applications for the area, [Barrie’s] growth planning manager said. … Those applications cover more than 440 hectares and include about 7,560 residential units, as well as employment lands, mixed-use, natural and open space… [This] is how we’re going to manage growth applications and infrastructure planning for 30,000 people over the next 20 years,” Mayor Jeff Lehman said. “It’s basically how you’re planning … development for a small town.”

“Beginning in 2019, [Barrie’s] building department expects to process about 800 to 1,200 permits for new units annually for the next few years”

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Preserving a Viable Agricultural System

The agricultural sector reportedly contributes more than 37 billion dollars to Ontario’s GDP. As population continues to grow, the Ontario government has released a draft document, Implementation Procedures for the Agricultural System in Ontario’s Greater Golden Horseshoe. It is intended to provide greater clarity and guidance to municipal planners for the preservation of prime agricultural lands.

Especially closer to Toronto, the fear is that remaining farming enterprises are becoming more scattered and isolated from the necessary agricultural support services that would help them remain viable. Farmers have told the government that they need assurance that agricultural lands will have long-term protection in order to plan for new investments in farming assets.

“At this time, protection of agricultural land varies across the GGH. Similar land may be designated prime agricultural area in one municipality and designated rural lands across the municipal boundary, even when soils and other land use characteristics are comparable. While all planning decisions must be consistent with the PPS [Provincial Policy Statement] and conform with other applicable provincial land use plans, there may be differences in policy interpretation and application due to differing study methodologies and growth pressures from one municipality to another.”  Continue reading

Finding A Place to Call Home

It’s increasingly difficult for younger people and new families to find an affordable place to call home. We have Places to Grow legislation, which is intended to rein in urban sprawl and preserve a ‘greenbelt’ around Southern Ontario’s built-up urban area. At the same time, provincial growth projections mandate all municipalities to actively plan for more growth with specific population targets. One estimate suggests 3.5 million people will move to the Greater Toronto and Hamilton region in the next 25 years. But so far, this has only led to more suburban developments starved of employment opportunities; a choice of either lower paid local employment or more costly and lengthy commutes, road congestion, and poorer quality of life. Meanwhile in major cities the size of an average high-rise condo continues to shrink. Neither housing option serves existing needs well. (In New York, ‘micro apartments’ are about 275 to 300 square feet).  Continue reading

A History of the Heights

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.

2007

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.

2008

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 …”  Continue reading

Fallen Forests, 2

My last article illustrated the loophole that developers exploit to clear forested land long before any rezoning or development approvals are granted. The particular example was of a tract in New Tecumseth where 30 acres of trees are being removed by Tecumseth Estates under the guise of “agricultural expansion”.

In case readers think this is an isolated incident, it’s not difficult to find other examples. In fact, the same developer pulled a similar stunt in Innisfil, although on a much smaller scale. In 2011, under the name Alriz Development Ltd., an application was made for a Special Permit to clear approximately 3 acres “to expand an existing agricultural area”. This was a small portion of 135 acres on the 7th Line, 100 acres of which was agricultural.  Continue reading

Here They Sprawl Again

By “they”, I mean Barrie. I happened to notice that InnPower is preparing to begin preliminary electrical work for pending development of Barrie’s ‘Salem’ project. It illustrates the futility of trying to definitively control urban sprawl. It seems the larger the municipality, the less possible it is. This new urban expansion includes residential tracts about 11 km. from Barrie city hall and provision for a new Hwy 400 interchange at McKay Road:

SalemPlan

It puts into context Innisfil’s push to service and develop “employment lands” in the vicinity to the south. The map gives you an idea of what Innisfil’s commercial / industrial developments will eventually be bordering.