Comment: Speculation surrounds medical site
By Chris Simon Innisfil Scope September 10 2010
Innisfil owes its residents a better explanation for refusing two proposals to build a medical facility on town-owned land.
Recently, the town rejected the formal Expression of Interest from two development groups, who submitted plans to build a medical facility on 2.5 acres of municipally-owned land near the Innisfil Beach Road and Yonge Street intersection. Both plans were reviewed by a committee consisting of mayor Brian Jackson, councillor Bill Pring, and six town staff members.
Jackson originally proposed providing town land for a medical facility in October 2008. Last November, staff were asked to proceed with an Expression of Interest, the first step in gauging potential partners for the site. Two developers — including The Gotfryd Group, in conjunction with a team of medical and architectural experts — submitted their intentions to the town.
The name of the other group, and exact details on their plans, could not be released to the public, due to privacy restrictions. However, the Gotfryd plans included the construction of a 40,000 square foot medical facility featuring family practices, an urgent care centre, eye and fracture clinics, aesthetic surgery, diagnostic (Xray, ultrasound and MRI) imaging, dermatology, orthopedic, pediatrician, physiotherapy, psychiatry and dentistry services, among others.
The concept of the town donating land used specifically for the betterment of residents seems like a great idea, but there is a catch, at least in the Gotfryd proposal. While Gotfryd Group owner Henry Gotfryd suggested he would be willing to purchase the property, he requested the town agree to pay for water and wastewater servicing, and help with the smooth acquisition of required permits and licences.
Here’s where transparency becomes muddied. The town has suggested it turned down both proposals because of the cost that would be incurred by the municipality.
There’s little explanation beyond that, except for formal statements made by Jackson and the town’s planning, safety and community services director Kerry Columbus. Even confirmation of the cost of providing water and wastewater services could not be released, because all items relating to the proposed site can only be discussed in-camera at this point. Any violation of that would break provincial law.
But the town needs to find a way to provide a more thorough explanation to residents, about why these proposals were turned down. Yes, there is always the option of filing a Freedom of Information request. However, that method is time consuming, lengthy, and hardly gaurantees the information sought will be released.
At this point, perception suggests the town is simply putting the bottom line ahead of the well being of its residents. It says officials are comfortable with the shortage of doctors and medical services within the town, and are simply willing to force residents to seek standard care outside the municipality.
Rejecting those proposals also make the town seem like it is unwilling to be proactive, with politicians and staff simply waiting to see what happens with the 6th Line medical campus. But development of that site could be years, if not decades, away from commencing. That site still lacks a specific plan, or any formal commitment from the provincial government.
It’s understandable that the town needs to be careful about the information it releases on this subject. But negative speculation could be dispelled, if the town would simply approach the developers, and ask for permission to release specific details surrounding each proposal. It’s hard to imagine that either developer would be shy to discuss their proposals, since a medical facility would generally be regarded as beneficial to the town.
The municipality should also consider lobbying the provincial government, to provide an exemption on specific in-camera items, when there is a great public interest. There’s little logical reason why this item should not be debated openly.
Officials need to be able to explain why thousands of residents will be denied family doctors for the foreseeable future, and urgent medical care will only be obtained in other local municipalities.
Residents have a right to know exactly how the town reached its decision, and the value it has placed on their well being.