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City hopes rezoning will kick-start redevelopment along Essa Road (10 photos)

One of the properties included in the Essa-Bradford Corridor Study is the long-vacant former fairgrounds beside Highway 400

From Allandale to the former Barrie fairgrounds and up the hill on Essa Road toward Mapleton Avenue, city planners have a vision for intensification in those neighbourhoods to act as a main corridor to downtown while also jumpstarting redevelopment. 

The specific properties being looked at for possible rezoning include 550 and 552 Essa Rd. (at Mapleton Avenue); 175 and 199 Essa Rd. (the curling club and former fairgrounds site); and 9, 11, 13, 15, 19, 21, 27 and 31 Cumberland St. (several houses off Essa Road in the Allandale area).

"Those are just the first stab," Andrea Miller, the city's general manager of infrastructure and growth management, told BarrieToday. "We have additional work that will come out of the corridor study that we are going to be tackling in the (updated) Official Plan and the zoning bylaw project, which are underway.

"This is a chance to kick-start some things in a couple of areas," she added. 

Through the Essa-Bradford Corridor Study, planners foresee Essa Road to Bradford Street as a gateway to the downtown and waterfront. The Essa-Bradford area would be a "complete community," "distinctive and attractive," featuring mixed uses and building types in a compact design, according to a staff report.

In the spring of 2018, planning staff engaged the public to educate residents about intensification and help to visualize it in a local context. Several preliminary sites were identified for rezoning consideration, focusing on three different areas: the Bradford Street corridor, Essa Road between Lakeshore Drive and Highway 400, and Essa Road between Highway 400 and Mapleview Drive.

The criteria for site selection focused on meeting provincial and city policies, site context, existing property and building conditions, development potential, as well as public feedback. 

In June 2018, council was updated by the planning department on community feedback, which led staff to further analyze and talk with property owners to refine the candidate sites and identify key development opportunities along the corridor.

Miller said council directed staff to find ways to "be catalytic" when it comes to intensification and redevelopment along the corridor, so the city-initiated zoning bylaw amendment looks to spur intensification in those three areas where city staff has identified groups of properties. 

But planners are also dealing with three areas with distinctly different situations. The Essa-Mapleton community is a relatively new area, the old fairgrounds (which is owned by Osmington Inc.) has been vacant for several years, and Allandale is one of the city's oldest and most historic neighbourhoods.

But they are all connected by Essa Road. 

"They all have unique attributes that need to be respected," Miller said. "So, the form of development and the tools that we use to pick up some of those nuances are different, but the principle is the same. We want to have intensification, we want good design and we want to respect existing communities, but also recognize we're evolving into something bigger."


At a public meeting earlier this week, Miller said there was some confusion about Osmington and the fairgrounds property. 

"This is consistent from what their vision is, but we don't have a development application on that site," she said. "This is not related to a development application from them; we are identifying that that property is important and we want to see it rezoned from what it is right now to accommodate mixed-use intensification and set a very clear vision.

"The good news is their vision and our vision are now finally aligned, so it's really great," Miller added. "It is a very important site and is one of the reasons why we felt it was important to include it in this city-initiated, proactive approach, because it does have such a great opportunity."

The old fairgrounds, located at Essa Road and Highway 400, is one of the higher-profile properties being looked at. 

Christian Kieller, development manager with Toronto-based Osmington, which has owned the old fairgrounds site for around a decade, said the firm is working on a development proposal for its Essa Road property to permit "a mixed-use, complete community, generally in line with the city’s zoning standards for mixed-use corridors."

"The proposed development has been designed to strike a balance between respecting the existing neighbourhood character and adjacent property owners, and the city’s need to accommodate intensification," Kieller told BarrieToday

"Our development will incorporate a variety of uses, including multiple residential dwelling types and densities, ground floor retail, office, as well as a central park," he added. 

The plan is for higher-density uses fronting onto Essa Road, transitioning to lower densities and primarily ground-oriented residential development of various build forms in the interior of the property, adjacent to the established low-density neighbourhood, Kieller explained. 

"The site will be well-connected to neighbouring areas through a rich network of vehicular and active transportation connections, including sidewalks, as well as a multi-use path and trails that connect through the (property), providing opportunities for walking and cycling," he said. 

"At the foot of the multi-use path, adjacent to Essa Road, the proposal contemplates a multi-functional space between the curling club and Essa Road that will function as a public square able to host a variety of outdoor community events throughout the summer months," Kieller noted.

Kieller agreed that the city's plans are in line with what Osmington would like to do. 

"Osmington generally supports the city’s initiative to permit mixed-use development on the subject lands and applauds the city’s efforts to proactively rezone sites that have the potential to fulfill the ultimate development vision for Essa Road," said Kieller, who's a Barrie native. "Mixed-use development, particularly along the Essa Road portion of the subject lands, is in line with Osmington’s vision of contributing to the creation of a complete community."

The fairgrounds property has been vacant for several years. 

"There have definitely been factors beyond our control that have hindered previous development plans for the property over the years," Kieller said. "However, those have led us to our current proposal, which I firmly believe is highest and best use for the site."

Across the whole Essa-Bradford Corridor Study, other properties in the three areas, which Miller said possess a lot of similarities and shared principles, would be rezoned to 'mixed use' to transform the neighbourhoods. 

"Now we need to do that fine-tuning and tweaking to respect each unique area," she said. 

While Miller said it wasn't a matter of stagnation in those areas, there was simply an opportunity to have a second look and possibly accelerate redevelopment in specific locations. 

"Either they were vacant land or under-utilized properties, and they could happen fairly easily in the sense that there was only a rezoning required and not an Official Plan amendment, because that's a much more in-depth planning process," she said. "We wanted something that was going to be easier to get on the ground quicker."

The study is also linked to broader city policies, Miller said, such as a major transit hub in the Allandale area, as well as provincial and local guidelines on intensification. 

"Those are some of the principles that really dictated why we selected those particular locations," Miller said. 

Staff presented their plan during a public meeting Tuesday night at Barrie City Hall. 

"We were very impressed with the input that came out of it," Miller said. "Overall, we are happy to hear that, in general, people are understanding the need for intensification, the need to be proactive, and to seed some change."

The next steps include looking at some of the "nuances" gleaned from the public, such as the heritage district in Allandale. 

That includes "what planning tools can we add to the rezoning that will give some additional protection or certainty to particular issues that people raised," said Miller, noting areas such as urban design. "At the rezoning stage, we don't know those details yet, so there's that blind trust that city staff are going to be able to control some of the things that might be on the negative side."  


In 2009, council adopted an intensification study to help meet provincially set growth targets for Barrie, while also recommending new Official Plan policies and performance standards for the accompanying zoning bylaw that staff say will lead to a "vibrant and community-focused style of development."

The Official Plan indicates these areas are intended to provide the opportunity for more people and more jobs in the city, while also promoting the idea of a "complete communty" that is pedestrian-friendly and with better transit options. 

"In order to make that successful, we need more density along there," Miller said, "with good urban design, good planning and implementation related to issues like traffic."

In 2017, the city had a population of 147,000 residents and 73,000 jobs. The projections show Barrie will increase to 210,000 people and 101,000 jobs by 2031, and 253,000 residents and 129,000 jobs by 2041. 

The next steps include a staff report with a recommendation on the proposed rezonings, which is expected in the fall.

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Raymond Bowe

About the Author: Raymond Bowe

Raymond is an award-winning journalist who has been reporting from Simcoe County since 2000
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