The City of Orillia has its eyes on more than 280 hectares (more than 690 acres) of land in Oro-Medonte and Severn Township.
As part of its boundary review process, the city is holding a virtual public open house on June 20 as it works towards meeting its growth needs for 2051.
Meeting attendees will be updated on the city’s land needs assessment, the city’s intensification and densification targets, and will have the opportunity to provide comments to city officials.
The meeting is open to residents from Orillia, Oro-Medonte, Severn, and Ramara, and Treaty First Nations. Input gathered at the meeting will help inform a report to council in early 2024, after which council will determine its intensification targets and the size of a potential boundary expansion.
With Orillia slated to grow to nearly 50,000 residents by 2051, city officials have put together a preliminary boundary expansion concept that, in its current form, would see 188.7 hectares of land annexed from Oro-Medonte and 97 hectares annexed from Severn.
The land could be subject to change through the process, and final approval of any boundary expansion rests with the provincial government.
“We're conscious that we can do more in-filling within the city. There's probably better uses of land; there's vacant land within the city, and we need to fill that up,” Mayor Don McIsaac told OrilliaMatters.
“But also, at some point, we're going to burst our seams, if you will, and to be able to accommodate that future growth we need to look to the townships for additional land," said McIsaac.
“It can wind up being more or less, based on the input, and based on how we wind up looking at our future, and negotiating with townships,” the mayor said.
McIsaac said the proposed lands likely will not meet the city’s needs through 2051, but said they are a good start.
“We're probably not going to get to 2051 on this amount of land, but they'll certainly meet our needs for the short-term, near-term, which is what we're trying to do,” he said. “At this point, we're completing a municipal comprehensive review … and these discussions are for planning purposes only, so we need to make sure that we've got the right thing for the right place.”
The mayors of Oro-Medonte and Severn, Randy Greenlaw and Mike Burkett, respectively, both said they hope to see intensification within the city’s current boundaries ahead of annexing township lands.
“What we've heard back from our constituents … (is) if we keep getting cut back from the urban centers that are surrounding Oro-Medonte, eventually we're going to be to the point where all we have is agricultural land,” Greenlaw told OrilliaMatters.
Greenlaw suggested that servicing partnerships between the township and the city could create a “win-win” scenario, where the city could generate revenue from wastewater servicing, for example, while the municipal boundary remains intact.
“I think boundary adjustments are not the only option available to assist Orillia with the housing and employment land needs,” he said. “It's common south of us, where water (and) wastewater would be … if we were to develop those lands ourselves, we'd become a revenue stream for the city.”
“From what my council colleagues have heard, and myself, from our residents in Oro-Medonte … the appetite’s not there for boundary adjustments," said Greenlaw.
Some of the land proposed for annexation in Severn, Burkett said, was approved for development in Severn in years past – though no development has taken place as of yet.
“That would be developed in the future, knowing what the Premier’s looking at – he wants more homes built … it's discouraging to know that Orillia is looking at taking it over,” he told OrilliaMatters.
In preparation for the potential boundary expansion, Burkett said the township will hold a council meeting with a consultant to discuss the issue on June 19 at 9 a.m.
"It'll give us more time as a council to sit down and speak to our lawyer and digest ... what it actually means for us," he said. "None of us have been involved in any type of planning exercise like this, no member of council, and no member of staff, so this is all new to them, as well."
Both Greenlaw and Burkett said they plan to work closely with the city to find a solution that works for all, with Burkett pointing out the city has reduced the amount of lands proposed for annexation compared with last year.
“It was huge. It was massive, what they were looking at taking not only from Severn, but from Oro-Medonte, as well,” Burkett said. "I am thankful to Orillia, that they respected what we said to them last April."
Moving forward, McIsaac said he plans to work with the townships to find the best solution, as well.
“Obviously, we have to take into account the needs of the City of Orillia … to make sure that the city's interests are represented,” he said. “We need to talk together and see how we can work forward on those things and make the best solution for everyone.”
Residents can read more about Orillia's municipal comprehensive review, and sign up for the June 20 virtual public open house, on the city's website.