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Smart City proposal sends Innisfil council into 'orbit'

Proposed development would be built around Line 6 GO train station, with high-density housing in the middle with lower density aspects on the outer ring

It’s not often that a town council wholeheartedly and unanimously praises a developer. 

However, that's exactly what happened on Wednesday night when there was nothing but praise for the Cortel Group for its innovative development being proposed in Innisfil.

The response came after the unveiling of the Innisfil Mobility Orbit Vision, a planned community that will centre around a new GO train station on Line 6 on land largely owned by Cortel.

“Rarely do opportunities such as this come before us,” said Tim Cane, the town's manager of land-use planning, who opened the presentation. “Tonight is about dreaming about what we can be… to grow differently, and set the stage for meaningful dialogue.”

The Mobility Orbit proposal grows out of the town’s 'Our Place’ study, Cane said.

“We heard repeatedly from our residents about the things they cherished,” he said, such as agricultural land, sense of community, natural areas and Lake Simcoe.

The vision is one of sustainable and manageable growth by building an identity, moving people and creating jobs while preserving existing neighbourhoods, Cane said.

The Town of Innisfil covers 260 square kilometres, which is approximately the size of Mississauga, but with a population of nearly 37,000, while Mississauga has over 800,000 people.

“In the 1950s, Mississauga was a lot like Innisfil,” Cane noted. 

Now, Mississauga is "a place left scrambling for spaces to retrofit… a very expensive example of how to service a municipality.”

Innisfil, on the other hand, is "a blank canvas."

"It’s an opportunity to create a whole new community. We have a chance to do it differently,” Cane said.

The vision is to create a 'Smart City' featuring innovation, underground services and connectedness, local transit integrated with the GO train service, and limited sprawl.

“It’s a melting pot of all those things that are happening globally,” Cane said. “Growing up and not out is going to help our town and our climate.”

Alex Josephson, co-founder of Partisan Projects, presented the first public look at the Mobility Orbit vision, which is a proposed planned community, all within a radius of about 800 metres of the new GO station, based on a “utopic” design of concentric rings.

“This is probably one of the most interesting projects I’ve had the opportunity to work on,” he told council.

The proposed development would incorporate high-density housing in the vicinity of the station, along with retail, office space and other forms of residential housing, in which “high density and low density co-exist in a cohesive way.”

“Could there be a hospital? I want there to be one,” said Josephson. “Innisfil is a pioneer about how things should have been done in Ontario, and weren’t… The Orbit is this incredible centre of gravity.”

He provided examples of similar concentric planned cities, including Moshav in Israel, but proposed a modification: rather than circles of roads, Josephson described “squircles,” or squared circles that fit better with the existing environment and natural wetlands.

The highest density is envisioned closest to the GO station, with lower densities farther away.

“The station becomes embedded in the larger development,” said Josephson, who referred to the rail line as a “steel river” and the required setback from the tracks as a new kind of linear parkland.

“We turn something we normally turn our backs to into an asset,” said Josephson. “The possibilities for the future of Innisfil are bright, they’re green, they’re sustainable.”

The planned development would be built in phases, but there is a 2022 target for the train station and the start of the highest density development, said CAO Jason Reynar, noting that not only the town and local developers or “stakeholders” are on board, but also the county, the province and provincial ministries “have aligned for this project.”

Stakeholders include Mar King, SanDiego Homes, Metrolinx, Innisfil Alcona Ltd., Previn, InnPower, County of Simcoe, and especially the Cortel Group, which Reynar praised for “agreeing to build the train station in an accelerated time frame.”

Mayor Lynn Dollin noted that approval for a GO train station finally came through four years ago, but funding for stations was cut when the new provincial government came into power. It was Premier Doug Ford’s talk of selling the ‘air rights’ at GO stations to promote higher density nodes of development that sparked the vision.

“The seed was planted,” Dollin said, praising Partisan Projects. “I think you hit it out of the park.”

“We can put our thumb print on what can be,” said Coun. Alex Waters. “I’m very, very excited. I think this is a great project… However, a plan without targets is just a plan.”

He asked for targets, in writing, of the phasing-in of the Orbit project.

“We need metrics to allow us to basically evaluate it,” Waters said.

“This is going to take 25, 30 maybe even 40 years to fulfil. This is the future of Innisfil,” said Coun. Bill Van Berkel, adding he was “proud” to be part of a council that made the decision to proceed.

“They have a vision that goes beyond our term,” agreed Deputy Mayor Dan Davidson.

Describing himself as an environmentalist, Davidson called it an opportunity to “leave something better for your generation down the road… I will push hard for this to move forward, with targets.”

“I’m really excited to see this reimagining rural, and reimagining Innisfil,” said Coun. Kevin Eisses, bringing rural and urban together in its design.

“This truly is council's defining legacy. I truly can’t wait to see this come to life,” said Coun. Rob Nicol.

Council voted unanimously to receive the presentation and to move forward with Mobility Orbit, entering into agreements with Cortel Group and Metrolinx, to work collaboratively on the design of the GO train station and the integration of a mobility hub/Smart City.

“This is one of the most important votes for council. I think it’s a legacy for this town for years to come. It’s quite a visionary design,” said Coun. Donna Orsatti, noting that there will be many more opportunities for public engagement, through focus groups and open houses, to create a “continual dialogue with our community.”

Said Mayor Dollin: “Fasten your seatbelts, because we’re going into Orbit!”

Josephson had mentioned the possibility that the future trainline would be electric, but after the meeting admitted that he had not seen the original Metrolinx plans for electrification.

Those plans, in addition to a double track, include a massive overhead power grid that might not be conducive to highrise development located nearby.

But Josephson suggested: “Maybe the Orbit is a catalyst for them to think differently.”

In the audience for the meeting were Mario Cortellucci and other members of the Cortelluci family and Cortel Group, which owns the bulk of the land within the Mobility Orbit plan area.

The agreement, approved by council, commits the town to consider front-end financing for the new train station, and asks the county to do the same, along with including the new station in the county and/or town development charges, if possible.

The town also commits to providing sewage allocation for the increased densities proposed within the Orbit development, as well as to moving ahead with both the servicing of Innisfil Heights using the Line 6 corridor, and the opening of the Line 6-Highway 400 interchange, with Innisfil agreeing to pay one-third of the cost of the interchange.

In return, Cortel Group will pay 100 per cent of the cost of the land, design and construction of the GO train station, expected to cost at least $20 million, subject to any up-front financing available from the municipalities; fund 60 per cent of the cost of an $8.2-million sanitary sewer pumping station in exchange for development charge credits; and one-third up front of the estimated $65-million cost of the Line 6 interchange, if full funding is not available from the province.

Plans also include land for a new hospital and a post-secondary institution.

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Miriam King

About the Author: Miriam King

Miriam King is a journalist and photographer with Bradford Today, covering news and events in Bradford West Gwillimbury and Innisfil.
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