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Barrie councillors consider updates to zoning bylaw amidst housing shortfall

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Barrie city councillors are getting a look at some potential opportunities to increase local housing supply amidst an ongoing housing crisis.

City staff have presented the latest draft of their updated zoning bylaw for the city. Staff has been looking for new ways to address the affordability challenges facing many owners and tenants as demand for housing continues to outpace supply.

Amongst the recommendations is increasing densification by permitting the construction of any type of building in any neighbourhood throughout the city. While this would be a way to increase the number of units in Barrie, the mayor has long argued that the character of certain neighbourhoods must be maintained.

"For me, when I look at the City of Barrie and how I would like it to grow, I'd like it to grow through the process of intensification nodes," Nuttall said to CTV News, saying he's in favour of increasing housing stock in areas near transit hubs. "It allows the city to grow up and to grow in a way that doesn't overly influence entire regions of the city."

Another change being proposed is reducing the number of new parking spaces that are required with new builds. According to the staff report, this would preserve land to be used for new units as opposed to parking and encourage more to use the transit system.

However, the mayor expects much debate amongst councillors on this idea in the coming months, arguing that many existing neighbourhoods already need more parking. Nuttall says reducing parking would only make sense on a case-by-case basis.

TRANSIT CHANGES

During Wednesday's Finance and Responsible Governance Committee meeting, councillors gave initial approval to update the transfer policy for Barrie Transit riders.

Once fully approved, the motion, brought forward by councillor Sergio Morales, will see Barrie Transit adopt a 90-minute 'time-based' transfer system, replacing the current 75-minute continuous trip option available to riders.

Morales' goal is to increase flexibility options for users, which he hopes will increase ridership in the long term.

"I think this is a positive step forward," said committee chair Gary Harvey. "[Sergio] and I had some discussions along with the director of transit in regards to, is 90 enough? But I think this is a good start, see what the potential financial impact is, and then, who knows, we may even see something bigger and better in the future."

LOBBYIST REGISTRY

Sitting as general committee, Barrie councillors also made a small amendment to the upcoming lobbyist registry, which was first approved earlier this spring.

Councillors have clarified the definition of who the new lobbyist registry will apply to, which will include virtually any special interest group. Once in place, all lobbyists would be required to register discussions with the city, which would be available through a publicly accessible database.

"Once people know meetings take place, then they can hold the city accountable," Nuttall said to CTV News. "We shouldn't be putting the city and its population in a position where they have to chase members of council or chase members of the senior personnel of the City of Barrie to find out who's influencing them. It should be easily understood."

INCREASING RENTAL SUPPLY 

Wednesday's meeting came on the same day the Ontario government announced its plans to move ahead with previously announced plans to remove its portion of the tax on rental developments. The goal is to encourage developers to build more rental developments.

While welcoming the news, arguing Barrie needs more purpose-built rentals, he says it is critical to remember that this is just one part of the current housing crisis.

"I think that the greatest opportunity that exists for kids like I was, coming out of government housing, is the chance to get into home ownership and feel the security of that with a roof over one's heads, and if we breed a generation of renters we're breeding a generation that is paying somebody else's mortgage," Nuttall said.

There was also a discussion Wednesday centred around the city's ongoing negotiations with the YMCA of Simcoe Muskoka for a new home on the property where the Sadlon Arena is. Those conversations continue to be held confidentially until the negotiations are finalized.

Councillors will sit as city council next Wednesday, Nov. 8. 

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