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Innisfil's pursuit of MZO for Orbit, GO station project 'the exception, not the rule,' says mayor

'MZOs assist our government’s plan to get shovels in the ground faster on critical projects,' says ministry spokesperson
2020-11-10 Innisfil MZOs SM
Claire Malcolmson (left), and Megan Varga are among several residents who spoke out against the use of an Minister’s Zoning Order to fast track a development and construction of the 6th Line Go Station. Shane MacDonald, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Can a minister's zoning order, which critics describe as undemocratic, be used for good? Innisfil council has faith.

Innisfil council recently voted to send a request for a minister's zoning order (MZO) to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH) in a bid to fast track development of the 6th Line GO Station and surrounding development. County of Simcoe council also needs to approve the request.

The developer, Cortel Group, will finance and build the GO Station at  a cost of about $25 million, and the MZO, if approved, would increase density in the surrounding Mobility Orbit development, which envisions a sustainable, transit-oriented community that could one day be home to 150,000 people.

The proposed use of an MZO prompted an outpouring of feedback and debate about the pros and cons of the tool, which removes the ability for appeals.

According to the MMAH, the tool lets the minister make zoning orders for regulating the use of land and the location, use, height, size and spacing of buildings and structures.

“MZOs assist our government’s plan to get shovels in the ground faster on critical projects by speeding up part of the planning approvals process needed for development," Rachel Widakdo, spokesperson for MMAH, wrote in an email.

There has been a significant increase in the use of MZOs since the Progressive Conservative Party was elected in Ontario.

Barrie-Innisfil MPP Andrea Khanjin says every MZO issued by her government not on provincial land has been done so at the request of local councils.

“Our government has issued one MZO in Innisfil, which was at the request of the local council,” she wrote about Tollendale Village II, which received the order in 2019.

Innisfil Mayor Lynn Dollin said the decision to pursue an MZO for the Orbit was town-led.

“I think, generally speaking, MZOs should be the exception, not the rule,” she said. “I think that that there has to be good solid reasons like there was with Tollendale II and like I believe there is for the Orbit.”

Getting a GO train station developed quickly and controlling future growth in a sustainable way are two reasons to use an MZO in this situation, the mayor said.

“When the growth comes … we've got a plan for it as opposed to it happening to us,” she said.

The MZO also gives the developer certain assurances, such as higher densities in the surrounding Orbit.

“It ensures that they can build enough units to recover the cost of the GO train station,” Dollin said.

At the Nov. 4 meeting, Dollin said that if the town did not seek an MZO and instead used an Official Plan amendment to try to create those densities, it would be appealed by other developers to the Land Planning and Appeal Tribunal (LPAT), and could lead to the town settling and compromising the Orbit vision.

“I feel we have to show faith in our staff that they know what they're doing,” Coun. Carolyn Payne said.

Not everyone is convinced, though, evidenced by comments online and by residents who spoke at the meeting.

Claire Malcolmson, executive director of Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition, said she did not see the justification to use an MZO for this project, calling the inability to appeal and implications on public consultation undemocratic.

“All I can conclude is this is good for the developer, that's why we're seeing this request and the speed,” she said. “The Town of Innisfil has no money to build the GO train station themselves, so they are beholden to the developer.”

Shane MacDonald, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Barrie Advance