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Parking garage, site design questioned as part of $200M Bradford Street project

'All of the drawings show the Bradford Street view, which is lovely. The view from my house is a five-storey parking garage,' says Eccles Street resident

City councillors learned more details about the $200-million development around the former Barrie Central Collegiate site last night.

Councillors and residents also had a chance to ask questions about how it could look once redeveloped in the coming years. 

Waterloo-based HIP Developments is looking to build a mixed-use development with three residential towers, including two 20-storey structures and another that is 10 storeys. It also includes a five-storey parking structure. 

A public meeting was held Monday night at Barrie City Hall to hear details about the proposed three-building development that is drawn up to include 600 residential units, or around 900 people. 

They are seeking a zoning-bylaw amendment at the downtown site, which includes 34-50 Bradford St., as well as a portion of 125 Dunlop St. W. It includes special provisions to allow additional building height along Bradford Street.

Joel Doherty, director of development with HIP Developments, said he estimates the new residents would bring more than $10 million in annual spending while also generating property taxes on the site tenfold. 

"We're thrilled to be here in the Barrie market," he said. "It's a market we've had our eye on for a number of years. We tied up this site going back to 2016.

"There's a lot to like about this project and a lot to like about this site," he added, noting it's a large property within proximity to the waterfront and downtown businesses, as well as easy access to transit and Highway 400. 

The property, which is just under three hectares in size, includes the former Red Storey Field and Prince of Wales elementary school, as well as a portion of the old high school site, where the city has its own plans for redevelopment of W.A. Fisher Auditorium following a land-swap deal with HIP Developments. 

The proposed development also includes a 70,000-square-foot YMCA facility and urban parkette using the shell of the former Prince of Wales school.

Gord Dickson, a senior planner with the city, provided council with an update on HIP's zoning-bylaw amendment application.

At a neighbourhood meeting in April, attended by around 65 people, Dickson said some of the issues raised included the lack of affordable housing, greenspace, the aesthetics of the parking garage, relocation of the high school's former chimney (used as bird habitat), and commercial uses on-site. 

At Monday's meeting, there were some questions about the extension of Simcoe Street into the development, as shown in the artist's renderings, but Dickson said road connections will be decided in the site-plan approval stage. Nothing has been approved as far as access to the site. 

Residents in the area also had a chance to weigh in.

A woman who lives on Eccles Street South, which is located behind the proposed development, said she has issues with the amount of traffic that would be added to her street.

"We're a small community, but we're an important community," she said. "It's not designed for an influx 600 to 800 cars. ... I don't really know what the plan is and I haven't heard anything that actually addresses that."

She also has concerns with the parking structure.

"All of the drawings show the Bradford Street view, which is lovely," she said. "The view from my house is a five-storey parking garage. I'd really love to see a drawing of that, because I'm losing my entire view."

The Eccles Street resident also questioned why the structure had to have so many floors above ground. 

Doherty said the above-ground height was necessary due to the high water table in the area as well as affordability. 

"We are one level below and right now we are already in the water," he said, adding "this isn't our first parking structure we've done."

Coun. Gary Harvey asked whether the exterior of the parking garage could match the other buildings, to which Doherty responded that could be included as part of the design review. 

Coun. Keenan Aylwin asked whether the project would help alleviate the city's affordable housing problem. 

"Affordability is a key consideration in every market. It is a challenge," said Doherty, who noted profit margins and the rise in construction costs.

"We find that balance between rent and cost, it's very tenuous," he added, noting the project will increase Barrie's rental stock.

Rob Armstrong, chief executive officer with YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka, urged council to pass the zoning-bylaw amendment. 

"We've been working with HIP Developments now for about three years," he said. "For us, we believe having a 'Y' downtown is a great opportunity."

Armstrong said the project would up to 2,000 people downtown each day. "They will stay, they will eat, they will shop," he said.

Coun. Clare Riepma asked Doherty if the project is dependent on the YMCA being part of it. 

"What happens if the 'Y' doesn't go forward or is delayed for some reason?" the councillor asked. 

"This site is not dependent on the 'Y' being part of it," Doherty said. "We're going to go forward with it even if the 'Y' didn't happen."

Mayor Jeff Lehman said there's a "great deal of interest" around the property and what ends up being built there. 

"It is one of the most prominent in the city," he said. 

City planning staff anticipates having a report on the zoning-bylaw amendment ready for general committee's consideration in early 2020.

If approved by council, the developer would then submit a site plan to the city, which would include more details about building placement, parking, access, landscaping, lighting and servicing.

Raymond Bowe

About the Author: Raymond Bowe

Raymond is an award-winning journalist who has been reporting from Simcoe County since 2000
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