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Almost a decade since annexation, homes starting to pop up in the south end

In a sit-down interview with BarrieToday, the city's general manager of infrastructure and growth talks about how the south end will be laid out while development also occurs in other areas of Barrie

When talk of growth over the next several years comes up in conversation among Barrie residents, the first thought is that it's all happening in the south end, where the city annexed thousands of acres of land from Innisfil a decade ago. 

Barrie is expected to be home to 210,000 people by 2031, a jump of some 60,000 residents from present-day figures of around 150,000 people. By 2041, it's expected that the city will have 253,000 residents. To make way for the influx of people, some of the residential growth will take place in what are known municipally as the Hewitt's and Salem secondary plan areas. 

However, Andrea Miller, the city's general manager of infrastructure and growth, tells BarrieToday that less than half of the growth projection targets will happen down south. Rather, most of the new growth coming to town will take place in established areas of the city, through in-fill projects and mid- to highrise developments. 

"People talk about the growth in the secondary plan areas, but only about 40 or 45 per cent of full growth that we're expecting in Barrie is happening in the south end," Miller said during a sit-down interview this week with BarrieToday to discuss growth in the city.

"The majority of growth is actually happening in (established parts of the city), not in the secondary plan areas," she added. "It's greenfield and you can maybe see a little bit clearer, but if we're expecting about 110,000 people, less than 50,000 people are coming (into the secondary plan areas)."

Many people are surprised to hear that not all of the incoming growth will be in the south end.

"Growth management takes into account the whole city," Miller said. 

Barrie's downtown will also see a lot of that growth. That includes several plans for highrise developments in the city's core, including the theatre block and the Five Points, as well as the former Lakeview Dairy and Barrie Central Collegiate sites. 

"All of those are towers that are all happening in this area," said Miller.

But work is still well underway in the south end, as more and more plans of subdivision are filed by developers at city hall. 

As part of the province's Barrie-Innisfil Boundary Adjustment Act, which came into effect on the first day of 2010, the City of Barrie annexed more than 5,000 acres of land from the Town of Innisfil to make way for growth in the south end by expanding the city's borders. Much of that area remains farmers' fields today as development begins to ramp up.  

"It was probably the 15th or 16th annexation that Barrie has been through in its history," Miller said. "The Holly area was also annexed, but now it's just part of Barrie."

So, all eyes are still on how the city plans to grow in the south end, which will still account for a large portion of where residential expansion is expected to occur. 

The city has created blueprints for how that area will be built out, through planning documents known as the Hewitt's and Salem secondary plans, which were approved in 2016. Those plans show everything from potential elementary and secondary school sites to mixed-use commercial and residential, as well as recreation centres, parks and natural greenspace. 

Miller said the construction of servicing, such as pipes in the ground to connect new neighbourhoods, is proceeding "consistently with the infrastructure plan, but not totally on the path that we thought it would be."

The initial plan outlined a certain pace and timing for development, but Miller said it hasn't progressed at the rate as envisioned in 2009. Each quarter, city officials ask landowner groups for their projections.

"I'd say we're probably two years behind things coming on stream," said Miller, who has been working with the city for two years since coming over from the private sector. "The first subdivisions have been registered and the first subdivisions are starting to develop."

Pratt Homes is the first developer to start constructing homes in the south-end secondary plan areas, Miller said, with their Bistro 6 ("culinary-inspired condo living" at Mapleview and Yonge) and Bear Creek Ridge (a freehold development at Essa and Salem Road) projects having been issued building permits. 

"The infrastructure that is necessary for those is already underway," she added, such as sewers, roads and pipes

In the meantime, the city's planning department continues to process more paperwork for other new projects. 

"We have a number of other developers that are close to registering their plans," said Miller, who expects construction to ramp up in 2020 and 2021, in conjunction with more infrastructure work.  

"This means more congestion and closures, but it's all tying into development," she added.

Other work also needs to be completed so the city is ready for thousands of new residents. Currently, there is a lot of construction activity along Mapleview Drive East, as well as along Big Bay Point Road with the Harvie Road bridge. 

"That's another example of work that needs to happen in order for some of the other work to happen," Miller said. "It's providing relief to something like Mapleview, so people can get east-west."

City planners also have a vision for how roads will flow through new south-end neighbourhoods.

"They actually did a lot more detail than just saying it was ready for urban development. They laid out the general transportation plan," Miller said. "Essentially, what we have in the secondary plan areas is we basically know the collector road patterns and where the roads are going to intersect and where we're going to do extensions of existing roads.

"We know what the general framework is going to look like," she added. "We also know how we're going to phase development, so it doesn't all get opened up at once."

How trail systems will connect all of the new communities with existing neighbourhoods have also been penciled in. 

When a developer brings their plan to city hall, planners will have a close look to see how it jibes with their vision for the area. 

"If they came in and had all cul-de-sacs and looping roads, we would say 'this does not conform'," Miller said. 

The city is using what Miller refers to as a 'modified grid' pattern for the new south-end land, using more straight lines as opposed to winding streets seen more commonly in years past in other parts of Barrie.

"A couple of things that people would notice as a bit different (from other developed areas in the city) is that, for the most part, we'll see more of a connected grid pattern, which is not the same as what we have," Miller said. "There are a lot of loopy roads. This is a little more in keeping with how planning happens these days."

Many years ago, traditional planning was to use a standard grid pattern, but municipalities moved away from those ideas toward more curved roads. 

"In suburbia in the 1970s and '80s, it was much more about cul-de-sacs, but in the '90s and moving forward, planning theory has gone back to more of the grid pattern," said Miller, noting it's not necessarily about hardline square blocks nowadays, either, but more straight lines. "It's more efficient for servicing and it's easier to get around."

There will also be denser developments in the Hewitt's and Salem secondary plan areas. While still predominantly single-detached homes, Miller said they will be built on smaller lots to meet density requirements. There will also be areas with more blending of residential and commercial uses. 

"There will also be more connectivity as it relates to natural systems, such as trails," she said, adding the city also wants to have parks and community centres built and ready at the outset.

In previous periods of development, there were some neighbourhoods that went without a park or a community centre for five years or more after people moved in, Miller said. 

"We are trying to flip it and require the developers to put that in place up front, so you move in and you're not waiting 10 years to get those services," she said. 

There are also other mistakes made in the past that the city hopes to avoid in the south end. 

"in principle, things like what we would call reverse frontage, like when you drive along Big Bay (Point Road) and you have backyards with fences on your major arterial roads, you're basically separated from that community," Miller said. "We want to bring people to the streets, so we try to avoid that.

"It doesn't look good from an urban-design standpoint, or have a sense of character when you're driving down (a street) and see a whole bunch of wooden fences."

While land has been pinpointed for development in the Hewitt's and Salem secondary plans, there are also some other areas that have been set aside to be developed heading toward 2041. Those areas for even longer-term growth, which are located along the southern, southwestern and southeastern municipal borders, were chosen for future development primarily due to topography and the logistics of extending city services, such as water and sewer pipes, Miller said. 

"While we annexed all of that land, we only needed a certain amount to accommodate the development that was projected until 2031," she said.

Some of the discussions happening now include what will happen in those areas pegged for development in 2041. 

"There are some major policy decisions council needs to make and we'll be presenting that in the fall," Miller said. "Should we be opening those lands up for development right away, or should we be waiting for the development charges to catch up?"

With the city operating the Barrie Community Sports Complex in Springwater Township, BarrieToday asked Miller if there were any plans for something similar in the south end. 

Although both the Salem and Hewitt's areas will have their own recreation centres, similar to the Holly Community Centre, there have been talks around larger sporting facilities. 

"There certainly has been some discussion about a mega sportsplex or mega sports park," Miller said. "There are a couple of things, though. The need for it is not justified, based on our projections, until outside of this planning period, so 2041 would be when we have the population and demand for something like that."

The idea has come up, but it does not seem fiscally viable in the near term. 

"There have been some some discussions with landowner groups about wanting to give that land, or getting credit for that land or the city buying it. But you have to understand that, given the amount of development and infrastructure that needs to be put in to allow for the development that's already planned, there's not unlimited money," Miller added.

"If we spend the money to buy the land for that, for something that we don't need until 2041, how are we paying for a bunch of things that need to happen between now and 2041?"

With so much growth happening around the city, Miller said it's like a gigantic puzzle and making the pieces all fit together. 

And from a city planner's perspective, being so heavily involved in managing that boom is a dream come true for Miller, even if it comes with its own set of challenges and demands. 

"It's super exciting and there's a lot happening," she said. "You're physically seeing the construction happening now, whereas it's been a paper exercise.

"Now that I have my new role as the general manager, overseeing all the growth and infrastructure, I have engineering and planning and roads, parks and fleet, and environmental services, it's all of it," Miller added. "It's how to knit it all together to make sure we've been thinking about the big picture."

For more information on the city's growth plans, click here.