Mixed Use Developments Rise in Alcona

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Illustration (MHBC Planning): Janis Ramsey – Metroland

While a seniors residence with ground floor retail is currently under way at the corner of Innisfil Beach Road and the 25th Sideroad, Innisfil residents had the opportunity on March 6 to examine plans for a multi-use development at Jans Blvd. and Innisfil Beach Rd. and adjoining lots (1124 – 1154 Innisfil Beach Rd., illustrated above)

This plan includes a seven-storey building with retail and 147 condo units. The proposal also includes retail and office buildings, two restaurants and three blocks of townhouses.

The Open House was called to review plan amendments concerning “minimum front yard setback, minimum building height, and rear yard setback for accessory structure.” Subdivision of the lands would create “new property lines between the residential townhouse, multi-tenant commercial, restaurant and mixed-use commercial/residential uses. Five accesses are planned – two from Innisfil Beach Rd., two from Jans Blvd., and one from Goshen Rd.”

A Public Meeting to further examine this plan is scheduled for Wednesday, March 21 at 6:00 pm at Town Hall. There will be a formal presentation followed by questions and comments. The proposal then returns to Staff to consider comments and submissions in order to prepare a final recommendation to Council at a future date.

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Commercial at the Core

A new building under construction on the south side of Innisfil Beach Road is the first development to follow the design guidelines set out under the Inspiring Innisfil 2020 Official Plan. It is a multi-story, mixed-use building that fronts the sidewalk.

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The original signage on the property indicated it would be a medical building. The current signage only indicates leasing availability. It remains to be seen what final form this development will take and whether it is the start of a new approach to Alcona development or whether it will be an anomaly on the street.

Meanwhile, the development proposal for the Abendel property on the north side of Innisfil Beach Road seems to have stalled or collapsed. Old signage has been left to deteriorate. Nothing further has occurred since the additional purchase of Scotty’s Towing, which is boarded up. This was originally proposed to be yet another strip mall with the addition of a bank building and a fast-food franchise. Local resident opposition blocked earlier proposals for a residential tower and townhouses on part of the property.

Over at the 25th Sideroad and Innisfil Beach Road, the corner property has also been idle for the summer in spite of reported OMB approval for a proposed multi-story seniors condo with ground-floor retail and a banner proclaiming, “great things are happening”.

After the departure of Lakeside Treasures this summer, 1041 Innisfil Beach Road also sits idle. This property has a history of frequent tenant turnover. A rezoning notice appeared briefly this summer for a “one story commercial” building before being taken down.

At the western end of Alcona, a new housing tract is advancing toward the northern edge of the No Frills parking lot and a new building is taking shape near the supermarket, expected to be another fast-food franchise.

The Centreville plan in Stroud is advancing. Land severance has been approved for single detached housing on the north side of the property. Townhouses, a gas station, convenience store and strip mall form the rest of the project.  A ‘hold’ designation remains on actual construction until final design plans are approved.

In late 2011, the Retail Demand Study found that 2/3 of all resident expenditures were made outside of Innisfil. It suggested that with further residential growth, it would present an “expenditure potential” of over $400 million by 2021. More than 5 years later, it appears that potential for local shopping will be difficult to realize for many more years to come. For the uninitiated, it’s difficult to understand what hurdles are preventing an obvious opportunity from being realized.

Live, Work and Play

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.”  Continue reading

Planning Streets for Everyone

Seniors at Lakeside Retirement Residence in Alcona have petitioned for a crosswalk that would allow them to cross safely to businesses on the north side of Innisfil Beach Rd. (full disclosure: a family member is a resident there) A quick internet search shows that seniors across the country petition for this amenity so regularly it makes you wonder why it isn’t mandatory.

Town Council had a reasonable solution in their lap when they were planning the Innisfil Beach Rd urbanization project. This would have been the ideal location for a raised median with a cross-over ramp through the center allowing seniors with walkers to safely navigate their way across the street at their own pace. The median would serve as a pedestrian safety island.

Considering that Council wasted $100,000 to rip up significant portions of the completed project, undoing years of planning, public consultation and consensus, and marring the streetscape in the process, spending about $50,000 to accommodate our seniors seems like money well spent. (Note to business owners: the seniors want to cross to spend money at your shops and services).  Continue reading

Innisfil – Just Not Ready

As I write this, Innisfil is making good on its promise to demolish the streetscape median east of St. John’s Rd. Let me share the result with you:

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It only took a couple of whiners and an ignorant, weak-kneed council.

Continue reading

Better ‘Guidance’ Needed

The Cookstown HCD meeting (see my previous post) stressed the need to “guide” change to “preserve the essence of a community”, and underlined that people, not land, define the value of a place. I think a lot of the challenges Cookstown faces are also shared by Alcona. And I’ve come to the conclusion that we need more municipal tools to help create the kind of change we’d like to see.

Here in Alcona the Town invested millions of dollars to create the kind of attractive streetscape that would, according to planners, inspire commercial development in a designated shopping core. That work was substantially complete in 2012, and fully complete in 2013, yet 3 years later few desired results are evident. The air of frustration is evident among some Town staff as well as residents.

My own peeve is with some retail spaces that sit empty for prolonged periods, or transition briefly from one struggling business to another before falling empty again. I was startled to discover that the province requires municipalities to provide a 30% discount on property tax for most empty commercial space. This, to me, is an absurd subsidy that encourages speculators and unrealistic rents that are out of touch with market conditions. I’d say this Ontario tax policy is misguided and harmful to local economies.

Some news articles illustrate how ridiculous this tax provision is. The City of Toronto, for instance, paid out $367 million in property tax rebates between 2001 and 2013. That’s $30.5 million a year returned to landlords of idle Toronto commercial properties. Yet, this year, Toronto has a long list of “unfunded” budget priorities like $13.7 million for community housing repairs, $9.6 million for a poverty reduction program and $1.6 million to enlarge a school breakfast program in low-income areas. Does this make any sense? Shouldn’t tax policy act as an incentive to keep as many commercial spaces as possible occupied, instead of empty? Why should taxpayers subsidize the poor marketing decisions of landlords?

A speaker in Cookstown mentioned that potential developers pay close attention to the appearance of a neighbourhood, noting whether area properties look shabby, neglected, or run down. Several property owners along Alcona’s commercial core aren’t doing us any favours with their littered, overgrown frontages, and empty derelict buildings. Owners of other commercial buildings in Alcona are in no hurry, either, to find tenants.

Wasting the potential of these idle assets is stunting local grass-roots economic activity in Innisfil and all over Ontario. And, it can only be directly fixed by the Ontario government. Shouldn’t we use tax policy to discourage commercial space from sitting idle for a prolonged period? The legislature needs to remove this property tax rebate that rewards idle, wasted commercial assets. Towns all over Ontario need tax policy to guide change toward local, grassroots economic activity and revival.