Ontario must carefully balance provincial plans for growth with minimal impact, while respecting local decision-making.
The province wisely wants to direct growth to existing settlement areas, avoiding boundary expansions through putting higher density housing in areas where local growth plans have already been approved, such as Midhurst.
Growth in Midhurst, which is outside the Lake Simcoe watershed, is good news for the Lake Simcoe Act and the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, both of which aim to minimize the impacts of growth on the Lake. Development of the large greenfield areas of Innisfil the province annexed to Barrie will put pressure on Lake Simcoe.
Barrie is, with good reason, taking its time to carefully plan the development of the annexed lands so they don’t end up as more sprawl. However, this is a slow process, with new residences in that area not expected for another decade. Meanwhile, growth pressures are heavy now, and exceed what is being offered through infill growth in existing developed areas. The approved Midhurst plan provides a handy middle-ground; offering hundreds of integrated new residences on modern services in place within 2-3 years.
Barrie’s own stated intent is to increase the number of jobs in (or near) Barrie as a proportion of population, thus reducing the pressure for commuting, yet development south of Barrie cannot help but encourage commuting to the GTA.
Georgian College, Royal Victoria Hospital, and Napoleon Furnace expansions promise over 1,600 new jobs in the north end of Barrie, which means hundreds of new families needing places to live. If new residents are to be oriented to jobs within Barrie, then housing them to the north makes as much, if not more, sense than placing them to the south.
Barrie and Midhurst are part of the same regional market and already have a high degree of social and economic integration. Midhurst development thus encourages local community-building and live-work solutions, integrating them into and balancing existing communities.
As the staff report recently approved by the County of Simcoe Council notes: “The [Midhurst] Official Plan Amendment has been reviewed and considered in accordance with the current, in effect County of Simcoe Official Plan (office consolidation 2007), the Provincial Policy Statement (2005) and the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (2006),” and it, “…is consistent with the PPS [Provincial Policy Statement] and County Official Plan and in conformity with the Growth Plan”.
Although varying somewhat from the distribution the province proposes, the Midhurst plan meets all of the goals called for by the Provincial Growth Plan, including density levels, has had extensive public input earning local support, and makes good sense for our region. Hopefully the province will perceive this, and not delay it through an appeal to the OMB.
A version of this was published in my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Growth should bolster existing communities"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is an educator, father, volunteer and politician.