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Innisfil council ignores advice, approves 'golden goose' Tollendale seniors complex

Innisfil council votes against the recommendation of planning staff to support the Tollendale Village 2 proposal. Also opposed are the County of Simcoe and the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority

“We up here have the luxury of bowing to popular opinion. We up here have the luxury of following our hearts.”

With those words, Innisfil Mayor Lynn Dollin called for a vote on the Tollendale Village 2 proposal, overturning the recommendations of staff, and supporting the Official Plan and zoning bylaw amendments needed to give a green light to a new long-term and continuum care facility and retirement village.

Last year, Simcoe County Christian Senior Home Inc. and Richard Gordon filed plans for Tollendale Village 2, comprising of care facilities and retirement residences that would accommodate approximately 600 senior residents and provide amenities, including a doctor’s office and restaurant.

The seniors complex, slated to be built just outside the Barrie city limits on the north side of Big Bay Point Road, between The Queensway and Prince William Way, would include a 160-bed long-term-care facility, an approximately 52-bed extended/memory care facility, and four retirement residences with a total of 388 one- and two-bedroom units.

The issue: although the proposed development would be serviced by the City of Barrie, the 14-hectare property on Big Bay Point Road is actually in the Town of Innisfil, and Innisfil planning staff recommended turning down the Official Plan and zoning bylaw amendments.

Innisfil planners acknowledged, “the proposed development has many planning merits, and the backlog of affordable seniors’ housing is substantial,” but identified a key sticking point: the lands in question lie outside of a designated settlement area.

A report to council recommended turning down the amendment applications, as contrary to the Provincial Policy Statement, Provincial Growth Plan, and Official Plans of both the Town of Innisfil and County of Simcoe.

The proposal was deemed “too urban” for a rural use, and Innisfil staff warned approval would set a dangerous precedent, leading to more development applications and urban sprawl.

Such proposals “should be” located within a settlement area, council was told, although planners admitted the regulations do not make it mandatory.

Innisfil council received numerous letters of support for the proposed development, including letters from Barrie-Innisfil MPP Andrea Khanjin and Barrie-Innisfil MP John Brassard.

Consultant Clare Riepma addressed council on Wednesday night, pointing out that even the town’s planning staff had recognized the “many planning merits” of a public service facility that would offer government support for 35 per cent of the retirement units, providing affordable seniors’ housing.

Town staff also acknowledged there were “no concerns from a technical standpoint,” he said.

Although the lands are outside of an urban settlement area, Riepma, who also happens to be a Barrie city councillor, pointed out that “Barrie is right across the border” – and, in fact, right across the road.

“It’s the classic hole in the donut, with development all around it,” he told council. “This is infill.”

Councillors also supported the application.

“As a municipality, we need to support low-income housing,” said Coun. Donna Orsatti, noting the waiting list for the existing Tollendale Village is more than two years long, with approximately 1,500 seniors looking for accommodation.

The Tollendale Village 2 proposal would protect the natural heritage system woodlot and wetlands in the northern third of the property, while providing long-term and continuum care and a retirement community, she said.

Orsatti supported an alternate recommendation, redesignating the lands from rural area to rural area site specific exception, and rezoning from agricultural to community service exception holding and environmental protection, to allow the project to move forward.

“I am in full support of this project to support affordable housing,” Orsatti said.

Coun. Bill van Berkel agreed. “We should do everything in our power to help them,” he said.

“At no cost to the town, this is creating an environmental heritage area, creating jobs, creating low-income housing for seniors,” without putting stress on Innisfil water and sewer services, since Barrie is providing servicing, said Coun. Ken Fowler. “This is in essence a golden goose.”

Coun. Kevin Eisses noted that while the county Official Plan seeks to preserve agricultural land, the property in question has “very limited potential” for agriculture and is “marginal at best.” He called the Tollendale proposal “a positive thing to do.”

“I take my hat off to the landowners. Not only does Innisfil want it, we need it,” said Coun. Carolyn Payne. “I think it’s just great.”

Dollin, in supporting Orsatti’s motion, noted the proponents have a proven track record in providing seniors’ accommodation.

“Do I wish it was more in the Innisfil community than in the Barrie community? I do,” Dollin said. She expressed a hope that future phases of Tollendale will be located within Innisfil’s settlement areas.

Council was unanimous in supporting the amendment applications for Tollendale Village 2.

Of the correspondence received, only a handful of responses voiced opposition – but opponents included the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority, and the County of Simcoe.

The LSRCA asked for deferral “until all natural heritage matters are addressed,” arguing the proposed use should not permitted due to natural heritage system mapping and the fact that the lands lie outside a settlement area boundary.

The county noted that although "public service facilities" can be located outside of settlement areas, there is a need to justify such a location and show there are no alternatives. The Simcoe County Official Plan also actively discourages development within one kilometre of an urban boundary, treating such properties as “prime agricultural” land.

“I still think there’s going to be a hurdle at the county,” said Dollin, “but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

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Miriam King

About the Author: Miriam King

Miriam King is a journalist and photographer with Bradford Today, covering news and events in Bradford West Gwillimbury and Innisfil.
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