Town of Innisfil staff will write the province to signal interest in a special planning approval to expedite the construction of a GO Station and the surrounding development.
On Oct. 14, Innisfil council held a recorded vote on requesting a ministerial zoning order (MZO) from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing for the Mobility Orbit, a futuristic development vision surrounding the to-be-built 6th Line GO station. The motion passed with a majority of councillors in favour.
Coun. Bill Van Berkel and Coun. Kenneth Fowler voted against the recommendation to pursue the MZO. Coun. Kevin Eisses did not vote due to a declared conflict of interest.
Staff will now write the province about the interest in the MZO approval, with the “final content of the potential MZO to be submitted after stakeholder input and County of Simcoe consideration.”
A recommendation report will come back to council on Nov. 4.
The potential use of an MZO drew concerns from residents, who petitioned council not to seek one.
Coun.Van Berkel said he spent a lot of time researching the MZO, following an onslaught of emails about the topic.
He noted that MZOs are mostly used for projects that are deemed to be in the provincial interest.
“I'm not really a fan of the MZO tool,” he said, adding that in his opinion, this project is only in the interest of Innisfil. “We can’t just go ahead and plow through and say we don't need consultation, I'm in favour of the Orbit and the train station, but not the way we're doing it.”
According to the town’s director of growth, Tim Cane, the proposed MZO will apply to a 425-metre radius around the future GO Station and includes development principals that would commit the developer to sustainability goals laid out by the town. No development beyond the 425-metre radius would be permitted until a secondary plan process is completed, Cane said.
“It would be prudent to move forward now so that the station is not delayed unnecessarily for the future,” he said, noting the typical planning process can take many years, especially if there is an appeal.
“You're looking at potentially five to seven years for that to go through that process, so it is quite longer than what a MZO would allow,” he said.
That potential delay could derail the vision, Coun. Alex Waters said, which concerned him.
“If we don't use the MZO and we have to wait five to seven years or longer, this community will become just another community,” he said. “We will continue the urban sprawl, the single-family housing, and not reach the density targets we need to make communities more sustainable.”
Mayor Lynn Dollin called the Orbit plan an “antidote” to urban sprawl.
“If you don't want a single-family house or if you don't want a townhouse you cannot live in this town, you've got to go somewhere else, so I really think that we are thinking of the future,” she said.
The MZO would allow development to proceed in the 425-metre radius of the GO Station that would support a minimum of 20,000 people. At full build-out, which would take decades, the Mobility Orbit project contemplates a total population of 150,000.
Claire Malcolmson, executive director of the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition, advocated against the use of the MZO at the meeting.
She said she was surprised council voted in favour of it despite concerns from the community.
“I was surprised to hear the chief planner repeatedly defend not using normal planning processes because the MZO would expedite the building of this GO train station,” she said. “They're trying to avoid appeals, they're trying to avoid any slowdowns.”
She said the town should take its time with a project of this scale to ensure they get it right.
Residents looking for more information can check out a virtual open house, scheduled for Oct. 19 at 6:30 p.m. on the town’s YouTube channel.
Innisfil residents can also review the draft MZO and provide feedback at getinvolvedinnisfil.ca/go or by emailing to firstname.lastname@example.org by end of day Oct. 26.
Shane MacDonald, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Barrie Advance