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Neighbours 'kept in the dark' over plans for seniors community in Oro-Medonte

Public consultation will occur, but ‘we’re not there yet,’ says Oro-Medonte mayor
2020-05-28 McLean JO-003
Preliminary plans for McLean Park, proposed for 121 Penetanguishene Road in Oro-Medonte Township. Contributed image

Stephen Sperling lives on the property immediately south of the proposed McLean Park development in Oro-Medonte Township, just outside the Barrie city limits.

He was perplexed to read about the project for the first time on BarrieToday two weeks ago.

“I’m not against the project, but I think, as an adjacent neighbour, we should have been involved somehow in the planning process,” said Sperling.

“I would suggest it should be more of a friendly approach where we’re working together on the development,” he added. “I just find it odd.”

Two weeks ago, Simcoe County councillors approved a request from the McLean family to throw their support behind the family’s quest to have a ministerial zoning order (MZO) approved by the province for a proposed development on their family’s property at 121 Penetanguishene Rd., dubbed McLean Park.

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

The development would consist of multi-unit apartment buildings, rear-lane and back-to-back townhouses, senior-focused one-storey 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.

An MZO would, in effect, bypass the need for a county Official Plan amendment, an Oro-Medonte Official Plan amendment and a zoning-bylaw amendment for the project.

To read our full story on the proposal and the request for an MZO, click here.

According to Sperling, it is an especially unusual situation in that the planning mock-ups for McLean Park show two roads that would run right into his backyard.

“As an adjacent neighbour, don’t you think we should have been involved in the planning process, especially when this shows two roads entering onto my property?” he said. “We’re being kept in the dark on this.”Sperling said he has put his own plans forward to Oro-Medonte council to develop his 19-acre property on Shanty Bay Road multiple times over the past 25 years, but says he has been turned down at every turn.

“We’ve done this three or four times, using planners. At no time were we trying to connect to Barrie services,” said Sperling, who is president of Aeranium Group, which has developed multiple properties across the city.

The last time Sperling said he proposed a development on his property was about four years ago and it was for seniors housing.

He says it also was turned down.

“I’ve been living on this property for well over 30 years,” he said. “They’ve taken one enormous step forward by asking the township and the county to push for a ministerial (zoning order).”

The McMullen family, who live two doors down from the McLean property, sent a letter to Simcoe County clerk John Daly on Monday asking county councillors be provided with their concerns prior to their meeting on Tuesday.

County officials confirmed the letter was distributed to all councillors by email in advance of the meeting.

The letter was also sent to BarrieToday.

“We first learned of this development online through the local news media on May 28,” wrote Laura-Jeanne McMullen in her family’s letter. “If it wasn’t for the media, we may not have learned about this.”

McMullen raised a variety of concerns about the development in her letter, including the effects on the local water table as area residents are all on wells, environmental concerns and concerns around building a new long-term care facility while the current model is under investigation due to COVID-19.

While McMullen wrote that her family is also not necessarily against the development, they also have numerous unanswered questions about what impact it will have on their property.

“We are concerned about the procedure that this development has gone through. As a neighbouring resident and property owner, we did not receive anything in the mail about the proposed development – no letter, no flyer, nothing,” she wrote. “There is no physical billboard sign posted to inform passers of the proposed rezoning.”

Under regular operating procedure, county council considers items in committee of the whole and, two weeks later, votes to ratify them through regular council. As the process has changed recently under COVID-19 emergency orders, matters are now ratified during the same meeting. The motion for county council to send a letter of support to the province to grant an MZO for the McLean Park project was therefore ratified at the May 26 meeting.

According to Oro-Medonte Township Mayor Harry Hughes, proper application procedures would still have to be followed for the project before anything could happen, even if an MZO were approved, including public consultation.

“It would not circumvent anything else – all of the testing, all the other kinds of public engagement that would need to take place in regards to a development would still have to occur,” said Hughes. “There seems to be a lot of confusion about process.”

As the McLean family has opted to apply for an MZO before filing an official application with Oro-Medonte Township, the public notification process has not yet happened.

“If the minister decided to go ahead, there would be a point where notification would be given to the public. Not only would there be engagement with the public in Oro-Medonte, but I think there would also be public engagement from the City of Barrie as well,” he said.

“I think people are confused about the steps in the process. In terms of notifying people – we’re not there yet,” he said.

Hughes said he had heard multiple concerns from residents over the proposed development, and as a result the township would likely do an extra mail-out to address those concerns and explain the process further.

The McLean family has not returned a request for comment from BarrieToday.

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Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen brings 14 years of experience to her role as reporter for Village Media, primarily covering Collingwood and education.
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