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Barrie zoning decision sparks debate

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Barrie city councillors took a step forward in helping local businesses create new opportunities south of the border at Wednesday's meeting. But before that, they faced some pushback for a vote from last week.

The empty piece of land along Harvie Road will no longer be zoned for agricultural purposes despite a last-minute push by its owners, SmartCentres Real Estate Company.

"I don't support giving SmartCentres a upwards of $150,000 tax cut at the expense of residents in our community," said Mayor Alex Nuttall.

Last week, in a near-unanimous vote, councillors decided to end temporarily zoning the land for agriculture until it is ready for development, concluding that in the previous seven years, zoning has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential tax revenue.

On Wednesday, the SmartCentres pushed back.

"In our view, the requested interim use represents good planning for the property while we continue to work on the development of the property," said Mark Resnick with SmartCentres.

That development, which has only approved its draft plan, includes an elementary school, 155 semi-detached and townhouse units, two blocks slated for apartment buildings, and a public park. The owners are arguing that temporary zoning until studies are done is beneficial.

"Farming reduces nuisance and dumping on the property while supporting a local farmer as we advance the approvals," said Resnick.

However, the mayor and council didn't budge.

"We are a business-friendly environment, but that is not going to include giving a random tax break," continued Resnick.

Councillors moved forward with work on Wednesday to establish a new sister city relationship with Saginaw, Michigan. The city wants to expand its economic development and business opportunities with other partnerships.

"This relationship with Saginaw, Michigan, came around quite quickly, and we're very excited to add the first North American international relations between the City to our complement of twin cities," said city councillor Jim Harris.

Pointing to the auto sector first, the mayor says the relationship could be much broader.

"When you look at where there is growth, it's in high-tech manufacturing, it's in digital jobs, and so we really want to look at everything," concluded Nuttall.

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