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Province expected to make final decision on fairgrounds project

'Some of the concern (from area residents) is the feeling that the city is losing its ability to have impact on this site,' says ward councillor
Rendering of a proposed development for Barrie's old fairgrounds at Essa Road and Highway 400.

The future of Barrie’s former fairgrounds could soon be squarely in provincial hands.

Councillors approved a motion Wednesday night supporting a community infrastructure and housing accelerator (CIHA) application to the province for more than 4,000 proposed residences on 55.3 acres at Highway 400 and Essa Road.

The CIHA gives Ontario’s minister of municipal affairs and housing the power to make orders to respond to municipal requests to speed approvals of rezoning, in this case from highway industrial to residential and open space.

Coun. Jim Harris, who represents this part of Barrie, said the city should still have some control of what gets built there. The Ward 8 councillor had added to the motion that the province be requested to send the plans back to the city for draft plan and site-plan approval.

“Some of the concern (from area residents) is the feeling that the city is losing its ability to have impact on this site,” Harris said, “and having this language in there provides information for residents that the city will be involved in the site-plan approval and the draft plan.”

Coun. Jim Harris represents Ward 8 in Barrie. | Raymond Bowe/BarrieToday files

Both plans show what goes where on a parcel of land, from buildings and roads to sidewalks and parks. 

This CIHA order could eventually lead to the construction of 4,054 residential units, school blocks and parks for 175 and 199 Essa Rd., and 50 Wood St.

Final approval of this motion will be considered by city council at its March 6 meeting.

Within 15 days of passing the council resolution, the city must submit the request to the minister of municipal affairs and housing with the required supporting information. The minister would undertake a review and has the sole authority to issue a CIHA order and to impose conditions on that order.

A CIHA order cannot be appealed and there is no required timeline to issue a decision.

But Coun. Clare Riepma expressed some doubts about the CIHA process. Early last October, council approved a CIHA for a new long-term care facility, retirement home and a residential development at 800 Yonge St.

“To everybody’s frustration that is still sitting on a minister’s desk six months later and it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere anytime soon,” he said. “I kind of think the proponent is going to come back to us at some point and say ‘sorry we got into this CIHA thing, would you kindly start processing our application here in Barrie’.

“And my view is that’s what we should be doing, because I think we're in a much better position to try to solve some of the problems that are in place on this property and will do it, I think, much faster than somebody is Toronto who doesn’t deal with these things on a day-to- day basis,” Riepma added. “I’m reluctant to send it (the fairgrounds development) down there just for that reason.” 

Also added to the main CIHA motion by Harris is that there be direction from the Ontario ministries of municipal affairs and housing, education and transportation.

Given this would be a residential development, with potential school sites and transportation concerns — Essa Road, for example — Mayor Alex Nuttall said this direction makes sense.

“It’s just not within our (authority). We don’t have the levers for this stuff,” he said. “I’m not going to say the CIHA is going to be successful, but I think we’ve got to at least try to get that direction back, at least try to get the information out of the province, so we can make informed decisions on it.”

It is developer Greenworld Construction that asked the city to support the CIHA order and initiate a CIHA application.

That order would support the development of 4,054 total residential units — highrises, mixed-use highrises and townhouses, along with commercial uses and a school block. That breaks down to 13 residential towers of 15 to 40 storeys, 113 townhouses and 98 three-storey townhouses.

Also proposed in the new development are 196 parking spaces for the townhouses and 3,260 spots for the highrises, including those in a five-storey parking podium. There could be a public/private park almost a half acre in size and walking trails.

Commercial uses would front Essa Road, and there would be no development on the Wood Street property, which includes Hotchkiss Creek. It would be for stormwater management and open space uses.

The development proposed includes two new city access points from Essa Road and Anne Street.

The Simcoe County District School Board and Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board have collectively requested approximately 12 acres of developable land for future school development there. Greenworld has identified six acres in its CHIA submission.

If neither school board exercises the option to build a school in this development, the property would be given to the city at no cost for parkland as part of Greenworld’s parkland dedication requirements. 

Harris also noted this means Campbell Avenue residents would back onto either a park or a school.

City planning staff support the application for a CIHA order because the proposed development would contribute to the number and variety of residential units available in Barrie, and say the land-use and planning approvals should be efficiently addressed to ensure the construction and occupancy of this project as soon as possible. 

A CIHA can be used to regulate land use and the location, use, height, size, and spacing of buildings and structures to permit certain types of development. The requesting municipality is responsible for providing public notice and undertaking consultation and ensuring the order, once made, is made available to the public.

The minister can provide an exemption for other necessary planning-related approvals from provincial plans, the Provincial Policy Statement and municipal Official Plans, if specifically requested by the municipality, and impose conditions on the municipality and/or proponent.

Councillors also approved a motion that city staff investigate the use of the rail spur extending from the (future) Allandale transit hub to the fairgrounds for the use by Barrie Transit for public transit purposes.

“If we’re going to take a serious look at how to deal with the traffic on Essa Road and how to deal with the traffic over on Bradford Street, Innisfil Street, Tiffin Street, this is one option,” Nuttall said.