The Luxury of Green Space

Even in somewhat rural Innisfil – that collection of small communities scattered around our agricultural surroundings – people are dissatisfied with the access to some of our green spaces. Resident parking and weekend crowding at Innisfil Beach Park are perennial sore points. Some people even suggest the park should be closed to outside visitors. A few current members-only neighbourhood beaches are the descendants of early cottage associations.

Lake Simcoe shoreline was taken up long ago by private seasonal cottages, which have evolved into much more substantial permanent lakefront residences. So it’s hard to imagine how to achieve more waterfront public space.

The town has recently developed plans to create more “place-making” public spaces with playgrounds, splash pads and skating areas expanding on the rinks, arenas and libraries already in place.

With all of this in mind, I was interested to read an article by the CEO of BILD (Building Industry and Land Development Association) titled, “Where did the money go? Parkland dedication fees should be used to build parks in the GTA”, (David Wilkes, Toronto Star, August 31, 2018).

“Ontario’s Planning Act allows municipalities to require that each new development contribute land for a park, or pay a fee to be used to purchase parkland, or to pay for buildings and machinery for parks or other recreational purposes.”

According to the BILD article, the City of Toronto collected $482 million “cash- in-lieu-of-parkland payments from residential and industrial development” over 10 years (2006 to 2016). In September 2016, $196.4 million (40%) remained unspent in reserves. BILD is upset that there are proposals to increase the parkland fee in “many [Toronto] areas where significant development is happening …”. I’d guess that’s because high-rise development increases surrounding land values and depresses the purchasing potential of accumulated parkland funds.

Do you see a problem here? The whole ‘cash-in-lieu-of’ concept is self-defeating. It is nothing more than a license to fill up urban areas with towers, make potential park sites all the more scarce and impossible to find and shift the burden onto the city. The need for open public space can only be met by a ‘land-for-land’ requirement. A developer should be required to provide the legislated amount of parkland (0.4 hectares per 300 units, in Toronto) either on the proposed building site or at another site acceptable to the city.

The lesson here is that ‘cash now, plan later’ is no substitute for proper planning and zoning up front. And developers have to accept that realistic provisions for parks are an essential part of any development plan. As Mr. Wilkes himself wrote, “When you pay for a park, you should get one …” So far, Innisfil’s plans for ‘place-making’ are a step in the right direction.


Friday Harbour: Bigger. Better?

Friday Harbor is pregnant – with possibilities. The Town of Innisfil and the County of Simcoe have received planning applications to amend the Official Plans of the County and Town and the Zoning By-law of the Town of Innisfil for the following purposes related to the development of Friday Harbour:  Continue reading

Our Place Plan Nearing Approval

Innisfil Council will consider a staff recommendation to adopt the ‘Our Place’ Official Plan at a Council meeting this Wednesday, January 17 and to take effect subject to approval by the County of Simcoe.

I have previously written about Our Place Plan proposals to create various public gathering and event spaces throughout our town. The Official Plan also covers all of the planning aspects related to development, density, zoning, transportation and so on.

Some of the objectives are:

  • direct the majority of growth to the primary settlement area of Alcona; to direct limited growth to Village settlement areas through intensification and on vacant greenfield lands; to limit growth in Hamlets to infill development.
  • Retail is expected to develop “at an appropriate scale in every primary, urban and village settlement.”
  • Direct higher density residential and mixed uses to the major transit station area surrounding the GO station on the 6th Line …
  • Provide a range of lot sizes and densities, housing types and tenures, provided the scale and massing of development is in keeping with the character of the adjacent neighbourhood.
  • Plan to achieve a minimum intensification target of 33% of all new residential units occurring annually within the delineated built-up areas, or as an alternative target as specified by the County of Simcoe.
  • Protect and maintain stable residential neighbourhoods from infill, intensification and built form which is out of keeping with the physical and heritage character of those neighbourhoods.
  • The progression of development within a settlement area “will be based on a sustainable and logical progression of development in accordance with Provincial County of Simcoe and Town policies.”
  • Neighbourhoods are to be designed with a modified grid street pattern that provides for a high degree of permeability and connectivity …
  • Building design shall incorporate principles of sustainable development and, energy and resource efficiency and may be subject to a sustainable checklist prior to site plan approval …

The full Our Place Official Plan document (429 pages) is available from the Town of Innisfil website.

Place Making in – Lefroy / Belle Ewart

My last article introduced the Draft Official Plan for Innisfil and the concept of ‘place making’ in each of the Town’s neighbourhoods. Last week I wrote about concepts proposed for Cookstown. This week, we’ll take a look at proposals for enlivening the core of Lefroy and Belle Ewart:

  • The plan recommends creating a “compact mixed use and retail core along Killarney Beach Road. As one approaches the Church Street intersection, ground floor retail, small restaurants and shops could welcome visitors and strengthen the section of the street leading to the lakefront. The area to the east of Church Street could allow a wide variety of commercial uses with residential above to improve the approach to the water, while west of Church Street, limited commercial uses and offices could be allowed on the ground floor of residential buildings to maintain the residential character. Gaps should be filled with new buildings that recreate the scale, spacing, setbacks, height and character of the existing houses, on both sides of the street.”
  • The recreation centre would be “a vibrant community centre with more programming for residents of all ages, additional opportunities for play, indoors and out, and ice skating in the winter.”
  • “Enhance lake access and the public space at the end of Killarney Beach Road with water related attractions such as boating, boat rental, fishing, beach shops, play areas and restaurants or pop-up food kiosks.”
  • “Maximize opportunities for a mix of uses at the Marina (as the zoning allows for), including restaurants, cafes, information kiosks and small scale shops and a convenience store.”

As the primary settlement area of Innisfil, Alcona has the widest variety of proposed place making sites, focused on Innisfil Beach Road and Innisfil Beach Park. Those will be reviewed in a future article.

The staff report on Our Place is being presented to Council on November 8. It is expected to be received as information with a recommendation that staff report back to Council no later than January 2018 with a Final Draft for consideration.

The staff report says the Our Place Official Plan is “structured around the Connect, Grow, Sustain focus areas of the Inspiring Innisfil community strategic plan … the overall focus of the Our Place Official Plan is to embed place making and to create places and destinations that we can all use and enjoy throughout the year.”

Interested residents can learn more by attending the staff presentation at Town Hall or by accessing documents online at Our Place Innisfil Official Plan.

Place Making in – Cookstown

The latest Official Plan, Our Place, discusses in exhaustive detail all the aspects of urban planning for Innisfil. It discusses strategies for being socially, culturally, physically and digitally connected. Residential and commercial growth policies, employment areas, and sustainability are also examined in relation to the built environment. There is also a focus on Place Making for each of Innisfil’s constituent ‘settlement’ areas as way to bring this built environment to life:

“Place making is a collaborative process where we feel engaged in creating and sustaining public destinations. These are the places where we recreate, shop, eat, gather, interact, and most of all build the social and emotional ties that hold our community together. The principal goal of place making is to create places that a wide variety of people will use and enjoy throughout the year.”

This aspect seems to me to be the most inspiring and potentially the most important in determining the appeal and enjoyment of our urban spaces in the next decades. The Appendices discuss recommendations for each of our specific place making areas. I thought I would start by sharing some of the ideas for Cookstown, site of our designated Heritage Conservation District (Appendices, p 55):

  • “Additional commercial uses on the ground floors would extend the commercial district and also provide opportunities for entrepreneurship …
  • A small plaza at the main intersection of the village, in the vacant space next to Hambly Insurance, could host small-scale events, and offer seating options and table games.
  • The Library is an important community anchor and the spaces surrounding it have the potential to become very active gathering places … Concerts, farmers markets, arts and crafts and food festivals could occur here during all seasons and create a destination for locals and visitors… On a daily basis, a small library café or daily food trucks would invite people to stay for lunch … Recreational activities such as a skate park or fitness amenities would draw youth …
  • The area around the trailhead for the TransCanada Trail on Queens Street, west of the commercial district, could become a welcoming place for bike riders … An outdoor café with bike racks and an interactive playground, art and a playful seating area would invite bicyclists and pedestrians …”

This gives you a flavour of the types of Place Making suggestions made for several sites including the Town campus, Innisfil Beach Road and Park, Innisfil Heights, Lefroy-Belle Ewart and Sandy Cove.

The report itself cautions that, “The achievement of the strategies outlined in this Plan cannot be achieved by the Town on its own. We all have a part to play in creating Our Place. It will require a mix of empowered individuals, community groups, volunteers and stakeholders to implement them. For example, strong partnerships between the Town and local businesses are needed to help achieve these strategies in commercial areas.

Likewise, neighbourhood groups, and other environmental organizations will need to work with the Town to find innovative, fun and educational opportunities for activities in neighborhood parks, the waterfront and natural areas. Other groups that can also play an active role in programming and animating public spaces throughout the Town include local cultural organizations, the historical society, the library, and students.”

Plan to attend the Our Place Open House at the Town Hall on Wednesday, November 1, (5:00 to 7:00 pm) to learn more about the future direction of our Town – Our Place. A public meeting takes place the following week, November 8 at 6:30 pm.

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