City council will not be supporting the YMCA’s efforts to have a ministerial zoning order (MZO) issued to help fast-track plans for the organization’s Peter Street facility.
During its meeting Thursday, council discussed a letter from the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka, which is asking Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark to issue an MZO to “expedite the approval process” regarding zoning.
The YMCA has been discussing options for the site since the facility closed in August.
“One of these options is to convert the facility into the first comprehensive youth housing hub in our area, with 21 residential transitional/affordable youth units and a wide range of support services onsite (including recreation and well-being services, employment supports, and wrap around services),” Jill Tettmann, CEO of the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka, wrote in the letter.
The property at 300 Peter St. N. is zoned major institutional. If it were to become a youth transitional housing hub, a site-specific exception would be needed to allow for dwelling units, too.
City planner Jill Lewis previously noted the process of zoning changes, as well as a possible need for an Official Plan amendment, typically takes four to six months.
That’s not soon enough if the YMCA wants to get a chunk of the federal rapid housing funding that was announced in October. The zoning exception is necessary to make the project eligible for the funding, and grant applications are due by the end of the year.
MZOs have been controversial lately, with many being issued by the minister to fast-track development, sometimes at the cost of sensitive features such as wetlands.
“I certainly understand what they’re trying to accomplish here,” said Coun. David Campbell, but he added he was “totally opposed to the concept of MZOs.”
“I will absolutely not be supporting this for that reason.”
He stressed his decision was being made on principle, in opposition to MZOs, not the youth transitional housing project.
Coun. Ted Emond also shared his concerns about MZOs. Such orders have been at the province’s disposal for years, he said, but added they have been increasingly issued “well beyond their intended use.”
However, he was willing to support it in this case.
“This is a project that’s very much needed in our community,” Emond said, noting it’s a matter of an agency looking to address a social need rather than a developer looking to circumvent the process.
Coun. Tim Lauer was against the idea, even though he is a member of the working group that’s trying to get the housing hub established.
“This would set a precedent that, I think, would be hard to go back on,” he said, adding more details about the project need to be determined.
Coun. Jay Fallis, also a member of the working group, echoed some of his fellow councillors' concerns about MZOs, but he implored them to support it in this case.
“It could mean a huge injection of affordable housing and transitional housing in Orillia,” he said. “I would argue this is what (MZOs) were intended for.”
The first motion before council — to support the YMCA in its request for an MZO — did not pass. Emond, Fallis and councillors Ralph Cipolla and Pat Hehn voted in favour. Mayor Steve Clarke broke the tie by voting against it.
“I do believe MZOs can be an important facilitating tool in exemplary situations. I’m not sure this is an exemplary situation,” he said.
Clarke noted the County of Simcoe will be building a large affordable housing hub just around the corner from the YMCA and that all proper processes, including public consultation, were followed. An MZO, in theory, could mean that wouldn’t happen with the transitional housing hub.
Council instead passed a motion to forward its resolution in support of the transitional hub — passed earlier this week — to the YMCA.