Innisfil council backs MZO request for Orbit development near Alcona
Minister’s zoning order requested to fast-track development and construction of GO train station on Line 6; Project could be home for up to 150,000 people if fully built out as envisioned
By: Miriam King Barrie Today
Innisfil councillors approved the revised draft of its request to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing for a minister’s zoning order (MZO) to fast-track the Mobility Orbit development as a transit-oriented community.
The MZO would give approvals for high-density, mixed-use development surrounding a proposed GO train station on Line 6 near Alcona. It would allow the developer, Cortel Group, to avoid the lengthy Official Plan and zoning-bylaw amendment process in exchange for covering the cost of the new station.
With interest running high in the community, the town extended the public comment period and opened new lines of communication before Wednesday night’s special meeting.
The MZO requested now establishes three zones, surrounding the GO station:
* Transit Oriented Community 1, with a minimum density of 200 residential units per hectare housed in the tallest buildings, within a 225-metre radius of the station, in addition to non-residential uses and public amenties;
* Transit Oriented Community 2, with a density of 150 units per hectare within a circle 225 to 425 metres from the station;
* Transit Oriented Community 3, from 425 to 2,020 metres, where existing uses and standard application processes will be in place until a secondary plan for the area is completed.
All three zones are within what is now defined as a “major transit station area.”
There were other changes proposed. A memo received on Nov. 4 made it clear that policies relating to “sustainability” and “affordable housing” could not appropriately be included in an MZO.
Instead, the town’s growth director, Tim Cane, said the vision of sustainable and environmentally sensitive development was “relocated” to the site-plan process. The minister was also asked to include a requirement that the developer enter into a site-plan agreement with the town “to implement the council-adopted Orbit vision and Orbit principles.”
Council members also heard from the public about the project during the open forum portion of the meeting.
Speaking on behalf of the Innisfil District Association, Debra McGrath her group objects not the Orbit proposal, but rather the process around it. She called the MZO a “blunt tool designed to bypass all the laws designed to protect citizens.” McGrath warned that not only would council lose full control of planning, it would also erode the public trust.
By circumventing the standard planning process, “it doesn’t enable a fully informed decision-making process,” she said.
“We implore council and staff to consider the future,” McGrath said. “Hopefully, things will turn out better than we fear.”
Megan Varga also said an MZO lacks transparency and public input, noting that council was elected to represent its citizens. “I cannot find one resident who finds the MZO is the right path,” she said.
Architect Steve Kirshenblatt called the MZO “an attack on our democratic rights as citizens of this town.”
Kirshenblatt asked for more transparency regarding agreements signed with the developer.
But there was also support.
Sandra Rizzardo, of SanDiego Homes, indicated she supported the innovative and sustainable principles of the Orbit proposal.
“We think we can incorporate the values and the things that have always been important to Innisfil,” Rizzardo said.
Coun. Alex Waters asked staff to address the “recurring concerns of residents,” adding environmental issues would be swept aside by an MZO.
Cane acknowledged that there is no third-party appeal for an MZO, which approves land use, but said that other policies – including the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan – still apply. There would also be “checks and balances” through the site-plan process.
“They are there as a backstop to make sure the MZO is not running roughshod,” he said.
Land-use planning manager Mary Nordstrom said for development to occur, the site-plan process still requires a long list of background studies.
“I think that’s an important missing piece,” said Mayor Lynn Dollin. “This isn’t just, ‘Here you go, do whatever you want’.”
Coun. Bill Van Berkel was not convinced.
“I don’t think the MZO is the right tool,” he said, adding if there’s support for the Orbit then the MZO shouldn’t be needed. “(It) gives the developers and the ministry much more power than we have.”
Town of Innisfil chief administrative officer Jason Reynar said the developer needs the certainty of permissions granted in an MZO to get the appropriate financing.
“So, what I’m understanding is it’s a money thing,” said Van Berkel. “I still have a problem with the MZO.”
Dollin suggested that if the Orbit went through the regular Official Plan and zoning-bylaw amendment process, “there will be a lineup of developers and speculators to appeal it” to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) and pressure on the town to settle by granting other approvals.
“We can spend tens of thousands of dollars at the LPAT and not know the outcome,” Dollin said, adding LPAT “can sometimes be the worst enemy… It ends up eroding the process, in my opinion.
“It’s not the (Orbit) vision that’s the issue… It is a vision that this council has been 100 per cent behind for a year and a half now,” she added.
Coun. Donna Orsatti agreed. “It’s about the financing,” she said. “Metrolinx has chosen the site. The residents want a station.”
With an MZO in place, construction on a GO station would be expected to begin in 2022. The standard planning process could delay the project by a decade or more, Orsatti said.
The planned community would add 7,000 residential units and approximately 20,000 people within the first ring around the GO station and could house up to 150,000 if it’s fully built out as envisioned.
Orsatti proposed an amendment to the motion requesting the MZO, asking that the town invite community consultation during the site-plan process. “This, I think, assures residents that there’s more control by the town,” she said.
The amendment was approved.
Council voted 5-2 in favour of the amended resolution requesting an MZO. Coun. Kevin Eisses declared a conflict of interest and abstained, while Deputy Mayor Dan Davidson was absent.
The request will now be forwarded to the County of Simcoe for “expedited” approval. The MZO is expected to reach the Minister Steve Clark’s desk before the end of the year.