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Developers want in on Innisfil's future growth

The Town of Innisfil held a special meeting on Wednesday night – not a formal meeting of Council but a Workshop, to review the growth allocated to Innisfil through Simcoe County’s Municipal Comprehensive Review, and to gather public input
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Innisfil Town Hall. Natasha Philpott/InnisfilToday

The Town of Innisfil held a special meeting on Wednesday night to review the growth allocated to Innisfil through Simcoe County’s Municipal Comprehensive Review, and to gather public input in a workshop. 

But eight of the 10 “public” speakers were developer representatives, requesting that properties – all of them outside of existing settlement boundaries - be included for a share of the planned growth.

Paul Lowes of SGL Planning and Design led the workshop. Lowes explained that the province, through its growth plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, has increased both population and employment allocations for the County.

Simcoe County is now expected to accommodate a population of 555,000 people and 198,000 jobs by 2051 – a 55 percent increase in population, and 69 percent increase in jobs.

To determine where that growth should be allocated among the County’s 16 member municipalities, the upper tier government has carried out preliminary mapping of both natural heritage and agricultural systems, developed climate change and watershed management strategies, and conducted a Lands Needs Assessment – comparing the land currently designated for development with what is needed to accommodate the revised growth targets.

The conclusion: there are more requests from developers for inclusion and expansions of settlement area boundaries than there is a need for additional land.

Lowes noted that Alcona is Innisfil’s only Primary Settlement Area within the Provincial Growth Plan and County Official Plan, and a majority of the growth will be directed to serviced primary settlement areas.

The County has increased the intensification target from 33 to 35 percent for urban settlement areas – requiring redevelopment and higher-density housing - and a density target of 55 residents/jobs per hectare in designated greenfield areas, up from 32 residents/jobs per hectare.

Designated greenfield areas include the 6th Line site of the Orbit transit-oriented community.

“Any new expansion that is proposed will have to meet this target, as well as existing lands,” Lowes said.

The County is looking at an increase in Innisfil’s population to 84,570 by the year 2051 – adding over 40,000 people, or 18,180 new residential units.

Current supply, including registered plans, draft approved plans and apartments, can provide about 8,300 of those new units, although Lowes noted that the numbers are being reviewed.

Another 5,400 units must be provided through “intensification” – building within the current urban settlement area boundaries, in Alcona and Cookstown.

That leaves about 4,900 units for the designated greenfields area, including any lands beyond the existing settlement boundaries.

The County has determined there is a surplus of land within Churchill, Fennel’s Corners, and Gilford, and a surplus of employment lands in Innisfil Heights – so none of those areas are likely to be approved for any boundary expansions, Lowes said.

In fact, the additional area needed to accommodate the extra growth in Innisfil totals only 178 hectares, based on market demand – but the County received 25 requests for settlement area boundary expansions totaling almost 1,400 hectares.

Lowes noted, “There is a discrepancy between the requests, and what the current Land Needs Assessment is identifying to be allocated.”

Once the County has finalized the allocation, it will be up to the town to determine where that growth should go “and where it shouldn’t go,” he said, based on a number of criteria.

Innisfil’s Official Plan calls for growth to be directed to Alcona north and south, and requires future development to contribute to “compact, walkable, sustainable and healthy communities,” that support the Town's various Master Plans and fit current or planned servicing infrastructure.

Any expansion should be “contiguous to existing settlement area boundaries,” he said, avoiding agricultural areas “where possible” and any negative impact on Natural Heritage features – although “refinements” are permitted in the mapping of both agricultural and natural heritage areas, through the MCR process. That could be key for the Orbit proposal, which lies on lands shown as part of a Natural Heritage corridor.

At the end of the presentation, Deputy Mayor Dan Davidson summed up, “Okay, we may have to expand (settlement boundaries), but we’re going to do it where we see best for our town, and best for our communities.”

Coun. Rob Nicol had a question about the Orbit.

“Realistically, could the Orbit not easily accommodate the intensification we require? As well as the shortage we have, without impacting the natural heritage or the agricultural area, and without growth into limited service areas, as suggested by some of the developers?” Nicol asked. “We need to have the Orbit included in this to accommodate almost all of the intensification.”

“Orbit is definitely able to accommodate the greenfield area, although it’s not part of the built-up area and the built boundary,” Lowes said, explaining that because the Orbit lies outside of Alcona’s settlement area boundary, by definition it can’t be used to meet intensification targets. However, it could accommodate the allocation assigned to designated greenfield.

Bottom line, Lowes said, there should be no approvals of boundary expansions except in areas adjacent to the existing boundaries. “Some scattered requests… in the middle of the rural area, would not meet our criteria, and we would not be able to accept that.”

Coun. Donna Orsatti asked about Stroud, noting that Barrie has plans to develop and extend servicing to annexed lands immediately adjacent to the village.

Lowes replied that although the Master Plan proposes future servicing for Stroud, expansion of the boundary would be premature. “Does (servicing) come through Barrie? Does it come from elsewhere in Innisfil?... That’s the long-term vision,” he said. “We can’t grow it until we have the services.”

A number of developer representatives spoke, attempting to persuade councillors that their proposals merited an expansion of the boundaries.

Mark Jacobs, speaking for DelRay Development, urged the Town to add a 40-hectare property at the southeast corner of Yonge Street and Killarney Beach Road, in Churchill – an area with municipal water, but no sewers.

Setting aside  the 18.3 hectares that is Environmental Protection and Natural Heritage, and 6.9 hectares already part of the settlement area, it leaves only 14.8 hectares to be added for future development, he noted.

“We feel there are opportunities for growth that will round out some of the Town’s other settlement areas,” Jacobs told councillors, especially if the village is eventually serviced from Lefroy.

Peter Maddalena, PM Planning, pitched a proposed retirement community at 1590 and 1702 Innisfil Beach Road, just west of the Alcona Settlement Boundary at Sideroad 20. Maddalena called it an “orderly and natural expansion of the settlement boundary,” especially relevant in light of the announced nearby location of the Royal Victoria Hospital South Campus, on Yonge Street.

Other speakers advocated for additional development on Lockhart Road, asking for extension of the Sandycove boundaries and promising additional facilities for seniors.

Katarzyna Sliwa, partner at Dentons, spoke on behalf of Sugar Meadows Inc., which holds 20.8 hectares to the west of Sandycove (1159-1265 Lockhart), and Innisfil Mapleview Developments Ltd., owner of 35.3 hectares of land located south and east.

She described a history of challenges to the County and Town Official Plans by the developers, at the Ontario Municipal Board and later the LPAT (Local Planning Appeal Tribunal), that were partially settled by referral to the County’s Municipal Comprehensive View process.

“These lands have been tied up for the better part of two decades in red tape and appeals,” Sliwa said. “We simply ask tonight, Madame Mayor and Council, that the lands be considered for inclusion in the Sandycove Settlement area.”

She suggested the Town could “avoid significant time and expense of a hearing” by agreeing to an expansion of the boundary. “We respectfully ask that the lands be included.”

Others advocated for the addition of properties on Yonge Street; near Cookstown; or outside the Stroud settlement area. 

Jerry Martinovic, Housing Services Manager with CONTACT community services, urged the Town and County to include affordable housing in the Municipal Comprehensive Review.

“We are very disappointed to see that affordable housing was not only not prioritized, but not mentioned at all in your growth plan,” Martinovic said, describing a “crisis” in housing, as more than 10 percent of Innisfil residents live below the poverty line.

“We all know that if something is not included in the growth plan, it doesn’t get the attention and the resources it deserves,” he said, and since the Plan has a 30-year planning horizon, “It is absolutely necessary that we do everything we can to not only address the current need, but the future need.”

Claire Malcolmson, executive director of the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition, spoke against expanding urban boundaries.

“We need to protect the Natural Heritage features. You can’t get it back once it’s gone.” Malcolmson said, pointing out that the Orbit, on greenfield lands, will wipe out “a significant portion of the Natural Heritage System” identified by the County.

“Innisfil really needs to work first on identifying and protecting the Natural Heritage we have,” she said, calling for “no new development in wetlands and forests of any size.”

She noted that a year ago, the public was assured that the Orbit would result in intensification, minimizing disruption to agricultural or natural heritage lands.

“Now we’re told (The Orbit)  is not part of this process,” and is excluded from Intensification targets and population totals. “It is really incumbent upon Council to make sure that the Orbit is included in this target.”

The Town also received four written submissions, two from developers, one from the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition, and one from resident Megan Varga, calling on the Town to protect Lake Simcoe, forests and wetlands.

The presentation was received and comments were referred to staff for consideration. Comments can still be provided to the Deputy Clerk, at clerksoffice@innisfil.ca or by calling 705-436-3740 ext. 2402.

County deadline for public input is Nov. 12; the Town’s deadline is Dec. 3.

A draft Simcoe County Official Plan Amendment (OPA) is expected in Jan. 2022, with the final OPA to be presented and adopted next July.

Innisfil will have until July 2023 to amend its OP, and bring it “in line with the County.”