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County endorses fast-tracking plan to turn Oro-Medonte farmland into seniors housing

Located on the border between Barrie and Oro-Medonte, land could be converted into mixed senior living space with parkland, long-term care and affordable housing

The McLean family has a vision, and this week they asked for Simcoe County council’s help to achieve it.

At Tuesday’s committee-of-the-whole meeting, councillors considered a request from the McLean family to throw their support behind their quest to have a ministerial zoning order (MZO) approved by the province.

The plan is to overhaul farmland that has been in their family for generations to create a new living experience to help fill the gap in Oro-Medonte Township for senior living options.

“Our vision is to build an innovative neighbourhood called McLean Park, a unique place to live that welcomes everyone – most particularly the under-serviced seniors in our community,” wrote the McLean family in their property proposal.

According to the proposal, the land – four lots located at 121 Penetanguishene Rd., on the border between Barrie and Oro-Medonte Township – has been owned by the McLean family for generations.

“The McLean family has been faithful stewards of the 133 acres,” reads the report. “It’s here that our parents, Joe and Eileen McLean, lived and worked the land. As their children and proud inheritors of their farming traditions, we are committed to honouring their legacy. We wish to begin a new chapter that will let us share, with the community, the abundance and prosperity inherent in the land.”

The land is currently designated 'restricted rural' in the township's Official Plan.

The site is in active agricultural use and consists of farmland with a small treed area located at the southeast corner of the property. Existing structures include a single detached dwelling and multiple agriculture-related buildings.

The McLean family submitted their plans for the site as part of the request.

The proposed development would consist of multi-unit apartment buildings four to five storeys in height, rear-lane and back-to-back townhouses, senior-focused one-storey single detached dwellings, single detached dwellings, a mix of commercial, office and retail uses, future institutional (long-term care home) and recreational uses, parkland, stormwater management facilities, an infrastructure block and wastewater treatment facility, as well as local minor collector and arterial roads.

According to the proposal, there are plans to incorporate innovative agricultural technologies within the community, and estimates that approximately 430 permanent full-time jobs would be created.

Without an MZO, a county Official Plan amendment would be required to permit the proposed development in the current location. An Oro-Medonte Official Plan amendment would also be required, as well as a zoning-bylaw amendment.

The MZO would establish land-use permissions and set specific requirements for new development, such as maximum building heights, parking, access and servicing requirements.

An MZO is also not appealable to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT).

The McLean family’s justification for the MZO is that the proposal responds to and supports provincial priorities in that it contributes improvements to health care, thereby reducing hospital wait times, creates jobs, and provides housing, including affordable options.

However, some councillors weren’t on board with putting their support behind the request.

“I just have some concerns with this,” said Adjala-Tosorontio Deputy Mayor Bob Meadows. “The county’s Official Plan – it doesn’t meet the requirements for that. The Growth Plan for the Golden Horseshoe – it doesn’t conform to that. (Oro-Medonte’s) own bylaw – it doesn’t conform to that.

"So here we have an MZO (request) for something that doesn’t meet the criteria for three sections of the planning and building code," he added. “I don’t know how I can support it sitting here on council."

While Meadows acknowledged the family’s deep roots in the community, he said that can’t be the sole reason to support something of this nature.

Oro-Medonte Township Mayor Harry Hughes said it’s important to look at changing times. He said COVID-19 has drawn attention to issues in long-term care, retirement living and health care in general that need to be addressed moving forward.

“This proposal includes more affordable housing for age groups where the challenge is the greatest,” said Hughes. “(This proposal) has plans for 131 long-term care beds, which would help alleviate the strain on our hospitals.”

He added that Oro-Medonte council was also sending a letter to support the MZO request.

“I would ask that this house capitalize on this unique opportunity,” said Hughes.

The committee voted to recommend the county support the MZO request to the province.

The decision will need to be ratified at the next regular meeting of council.