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'Iconic site': New plan in city's hands for former fairgrounds

'The question remains the size, scale and fit for the area,' ward councillor says of long-vacant property at Essa Road and Highway 400

Another new year, another new development proposal for Barrie’s old fairgrounds.

The city has received applications to rezone and redesignate 175 and 199 Essa Rd., as well as 50 Wood St., for mixed-use residential and commercial development, along with a subdivision plan.

“Barrie residents have been expecting, and many have wanted, to see this site developed for years,” said Ward 8 Coun. Jim Harris, who represents this area. “Some would say it’s a gateway site. You come down the (Highway) 400 into Barrie and there it is.”

Greenworld Development/Digram Developments wants to build 2,828 residential units in nine towers, with integrated retail space (2,952 square metres) along Essa Road, on this 55.3-acre site.

The towers would range in height from 12 to 35 storeys, providing for one, two and three bedroom options. Of the total residential units, 2,407 would be condominiums, while 421 would be three-storey townhouses, some condos, some freehold.

“It’s massive. Now it’s this big, huge nine towers,” said Arnie Ivsins, who lives on nearby Alfred Street. “What kind of infrastructure is there to support that? The traffic would be an absolute nightmare.

“It’s mind-boggling to be honest — it’s absolutely mind-boggling," he added. 

Harris said more needs to be known about this proposal.

“Early response from residents has included a concern for size and scale, however there’s been some recognition that we have to create housing options in Barrie,” he said. “The question remains the size, scale and fit for the area.” 

Redevelopment plans for the former fairgrounds, which have sat vacant for decades, apply for Official Plan (OP) and zoning-bylaw amendments, along with a plan of subdivision, to facilitate a mixed-use residential and commercial development.

And longtime owner Osmington has applied for OP and zoning-bylaw amendments to change the principle of the land use from highway industrial to residential and open space at 50 Wood St., to facilitate residential development, stormwater management and the daylighting of Hotchkiss Creek in co-ordination with 175 and 199 Essa Rd.

In late 2021, Jeff Lehman, who was Barrie's mayor at the time, hinted that new plans were afoot to redevelop the fairgrounds as highrise office buildings, with a mixture of residential uses, plans that would move forward in 2022.

Osmington’s applications were similar to what are listed above.

A neighbourhood meeting was held Aug. 13, 2019, and a public meeting on Aug. 10, 2020, on OP and zoning-bylaw changes, along with a subdivision plan.

Harris says he wants another neighbourhood meeting on the latest proposal.

“This is different than what was presented to residents in 2019, and even to council in 2020 at the public meeting,” he said, “so my focus right now is that we’re going to have another neighbourhood meeting, given the changes, the applicant, the (new) council, the size and scale of what’s being presented.

“I think the neighbourhood meeting is really important,” Harris added.

City staff said a second public meeting is expected to be held in early April and notification will be sent out in accordance with the Planning Act at that time.

The fairgrounds were home to Barrie Raceway, which opened in 1971 and were owned by the Barrie Agricultural Society. It was afterwards home to the Barrie Fair, which has since moved to the Essa Agriplex near Thornton.

The fairgrounds have, during the intervening decades, been the projected site of various residential and commercial developments, even a university campus.

“It used to feature a pretty prominent type of use. It was a harness racing track, so it was very unique,” Harris said. “It’s a kind of an iconic site.”


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Bob Bruton

About the Author: Bob Bruton

Bob Bruton is a full-time BarrieToday reporter who covers politics and city hall.
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