Simcoe County council has given their tentative thumbs up for the Town of Innisfil to apply for a minister’s zoning order (MZO) for the controversial transit hub and development project called The Orbit.
During county council’s committee of the whole meeting on Tuesday, council recommended writing a letter in support of an MZO for the project to Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark.
An MZO would give approvals for high-density, mixed-use development surrounding a proposed GO train station on Line 6 near Alcona, allowing 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.
To read our full story on the town’s original request, click here.
During Tuesday's meeting, Adjala-Tosorontio Township Mayor Floyd Pinto asked what special circumstances The Orbit project fell under that the town felt it warranted an MZO.
Innisfil Mayor Lynn Dollin added some clarity, indicating that the province has changed the rules around the construction of GO Transit stations, which has made the build challenging.
“In the past, the province approved GO train stations and they built them. We were approved in 2016 to get a GO train station, which should have been built by now,” she said. “When the government changed, they changed the rules and they now require the developer to build the station in exchange for density around the station.”
There were multiple deputations on the subject during the county’s meeting.
Claire Malcolmson, executive director of the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition, spoke about environmental concerns regarding the proposed project.
“We’ve been trying to argue that the province should be slowing down development in the Lake Simcoe watershed until it’s clear we’re reaching our goals. The province did not do so,” said Malcolmson.
“You are the next line of defence for the lake. Many of you here have campaigned on a promise to protect Lake Simcoe and its health, and I hope you take that responsibility seriously.
“The Orbit is a massive proposal that turns farmland into potentially a city of 150,000 people. I would suggest development of this scale is both inappropriate for an MZO and at the same time, something that really ought to go through an Official Plan amendment at least,” she added.
In November 2019, Innisfil council adopted a vision for The Orbit based on the principle of it being a transit-oriented community founded upon a major transit station area.
Innisfil council subsequently approved a design concept for the project on July 15, and also approved sending the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing a request for an MZO in November.
Stuart Reece, who lives in Alcona, spoke in favour of the project at county council and in favour of applying for an MZO.
“I think The Orbit is a great opportunity. Without intentional, strategic, big-picture plans, we often see urban sprawl and cookie-cutter developments,” said Reece. “I know from experience that zoning changes can take so long and can be so arduous that they can derail a project. The GO train station needs to go in and if there’s such a delay that this greater picture can’t be realized, I think that’s a threat... that we may lose an opportunity where we can realize something greater.
“The growth is going to happen, whether we have the opportunity to plan for it or not,” he added.
During their committee of the whole meeting, county council voted to recommend sending a letter of support for a MZO to the provincial minister. The decision will need to be ratified at the next meeting of council.