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'Toronto all over again': Plans for fairgrounds draw mixed reaction

'Barrie is growing, we have a housing shortage and we are running out of land, so building up is the way of the future,' says Marcus Street neighbour

A new, large and imposing neighbour could be coming to the very backyards of city residents near the former Barrie fairgrounds at Essa Road and Highway 400.

Proposed for the vacant property is 2,828 residential condos and townhouses in nine towers, with heights from 12 to 35 storeys, having 31,775 square feet of integrated retail space along Essa Road, on this 55.3-acre site, at 175 and 199 Essa Rd., along with 50 Wood St.

This property still needs to be rezoned and redesignated with an Official Plan change, and have its draft plan of subdivision approved, but those gears are already grinding.

A public meeting on these applications is to be held early next month on April 5. Then the changes go to city councillors for consideration.

During the last 15 years, development plans for the old fairgrounds have been commonplace.

So is this the one that finally sticks?

Marilyn Pringle, who moved to nearby Campbell Avenue seven years ago, says she hopes not.

“The number one thing I did not want is highrises. They take our sunshine away — you can’t sit in the backyard,” she told BarrieToday. “I’m very disappointed in it. It’s going to come right into our backyard. It’s Toronto all over again.”

Pringle says she expects opposition to the proposed development.

“The more of us stand together, the stronger we are,” she said.

Her daughter, Sharon McKinley, was of the same opinion.

“If people like highrises like that, they should move to the big city,” McKinley said. “I’m not a fan of Toronto or I would live there. I understand change, but not this much. I can think of a number of other things Barrie needs, but not 35 storeys high.”

Hugh Price, who has lived on Campbell Avenue for 30 years, says there are worse alternatives.

“It’s OK,” he said of the development plans. “A lot better than what they were going to do before (with past planned projects).

“People have got to live somewhere and highrises are better there than on farmland,” he added. “Subdivisions take up a lot of parkland.”

Price says he did miss having the Barrie Fair on the fairgrounds in the summers.

“I wish the Barrie Fair was still there,” he said. “I liked living here when the fair was on. Everyone walking by, they were all smiles.”

Amanda Harland, 37, was born and raised in Barrie and has lived on Marcus Street since November. She’s of two minds about the proposed development.

“Like we need more retail space,” Harland said of the proposed 31,775 sq. ft. of commercial space. “But Barrie is growing, we have a housing shortage and we are running out of land, so building up is the way of the future. I think people need housing.

“I know it’s an older area and people don’t like change, but life goes on," she added. 

Gayle Kingston, who has lived on Marcus Street since 1971, isn’t quite so understanding about what’s being proposed.

“The day they pass the bylaw (permitting this development), the for-sale sign goes up,” she said. “It’s way too much. I can’t begin to imagine what the neighbourhood will look like if they put that many (residential units) in there.

“I wouldn’t care if they put single homes on single lots, but they want as many houses as they can,” Kingston said. “I’d like to see something nice go in there. Not a (shopping) mall and 2,000 people."

Of the total residential units being proposed, 2,407 would be condominiums, while 421 would be three-storey townhouses, some condos, some freehold — providing for one-, two- and three-bedroom options.

The property is located on the south side of Essa Road, extending north to Barrie Collingwood Railways (BCRY) tracks, east of Highway 400 and is currently vacant, except for the Barrie Curling Club.

The rezoning application is from highway industrial and general commercial to residential multiple-dwelling second-density, open space and transition centre commercial, with site-specific special provisions.

An Official Plan (OP) amendment is to redesignate this property from Highway 400 industrial and general commercial to residential and open space, with a corresponding defined policy area for residential and commercial use.

And a draft plan of subdivision is proposed to create blocks of land required to further divide land through future applications for part lot control or draft plan of condominium.

These applications have been made by Greenworld Development/Digram Developments.

The Wednesday, April 5, 2023 public meeting is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m., and is part of the affordability committee meeting. It will be held in a virtual forum with electronic participation and in person at Barrie City Hall, and live-streamed on the city’s YouTube channel.

The fairgrounds property was home to the Barrie Raceway, which opened in 1971 and was 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 these intervening decades, been the projected site of various residential and commercial developments, even a university campus.

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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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