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Old Barrie fairgrounds could look very different with a proposed new 4,000 unit development

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A well-known property now vacant in Barrie could soon look a lot different, pending a decision by the province.

During Wednesday's affordability meeting, councillors gave initial approval for a Community Infrastructure and Housing Accelerator Order (CIHA) for a proposed development at the old Barrie Fairgrounds along Essa Road.

The proposal from Greenworld Construction Inc. would see just over 4,000 new units built on the site when the City faces a severe housing shortfall.

Most of those units would be split across multiple high-rise towers, with just over 100 coming from newly constructed townhomes.

By approving a CIHA, council is sending the proposal to the province for expedited action on the project. With both local school boards vying for a spot as part of the development, the mayor says it is best to leave this in the province's hands.

"These are two competing provincial priorities, education and housing, and certainly they fit hand in glove," Nuttall told CTV News ahead of Wednesday's vote. "Education is outside of what we do as a municipality, and so we need the province to take the lead on this one."

While concerns have been raised regarding this project's high density, the mayor says its location near a major thoroughfare makes it appropriate, so long as the planned public park space comes to fruition.

"It's really important that we do put intensification in the right place," Nuttall said. "I don't feel this one is offside in the sense of where the intensification takes place; the question is how many units, how many schools, what does the MTO think in terms of the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario and they'll have to make that determination and get back to us."

LSRA SHARES DECISION

While not on this week's agenda, staff have distributed draft copies of the 2024 budget, focussing on city services. It comes as councillors voted on a staff report recommending the sale of the City's remaining 10 per cent shares in the Lake Simcoe Regional Airport (LSRA) to the County of Simcoe.

According to the report, the LSRA will require millions of dollars in investment for a planned expansion, something staff say is not a key priority for the City.

Councillors voted to move this motion forward, with an amendment that a first right of refusal clause be added in, protecting the City if the County decided to sell the land at a higher zoning value shortly.

The mayor called the airport a bit of a 'stranded asset' for the City.

"The County has some great plans for the airport and from our perspective I think that there's a real opportunity for us to focus on the rail side and allow the County of Simcoe to focus on the airport side and to both be bringing what we do best to the table," Nuttall said.

According to the staff report, approximately $ 1.3 million from the sale of the shares will go towards the LSRA's outstanding budget requests for this year. Roughly $ 1.2 million will be applied toward the County Capital reserves for other long-term projects.

"If you look across the province, there are no municipal airports that are actually making any money, so this is a money pit that I think we're getting rid of," said Councillor Gary Harvey during Wednesday's meeting.

SKATING PILOT PROGRAM

With winter just around the corner, councillors have moved forward with a staff recommendation to expand skating access to more people.

Starting in December, a two-year pilot program will launch to see Simcoe Skate Rentals provide skate rentals at the Circle at the Center rink downtown.

According to the report, a portion of the skate change room will be repurposed to offer rental and sharpening services, with the City getting 10 percent of gross sales over the two-year period.

"If you don't have skates and you want to be able to go try skating, or you're from out of town and a tourist at Christmastime, and you want to try skating out, I think this is a great thing," Nuttall said.

Next week, councillors will begin budget deliberations, beginning first at the Finance and Responsible Governance Committee.

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