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Zoning changes aim to bring thousands of housing units to Barrie

A sign showing development proposals on a piece of city-owned property on Worsley Street in Barrie, Ont., on Tues. April 9, 2024. (CTV News/Dave Erskine) A sign showing development proposals on a piece of city-owned property on Worsley Street in Barrie, Ont., on Tues. April 9, 2024. (CTV News/Dave Erskine)
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Amidst a housing shortfall, Barrie city councillors took several steps forward Wednesday evening aimed at increasing supply.

Agriculture Bylaw Extension Denied

In a nearly unanimous decision, councillors voted against extending a temporary bylaw permitting agriculture on a piece of property along Harvie Road, adjacent to Highway 400.

The request originated from the property owners, SmartCentres REIT, which sought to maintain agricultural use of the land until they were ready to proceed with development.

"This is a prime place where we can see jobs, housing and commerce taking place," Mayor Alex Nuttall said to CTV News ahead of Wednesday's meeting. "I'm not going to support encouraging it not to be built, and I'm certainly not going to do that at the expense of hardworking folks here in the City of Barrie."

Tax Breaks and Development Debate

The bylaw permitting agriculture on the property has been in effect for roughly seven years and provides the owners with a significant tax break compared to if the land was zoned for other purposes.

When Councillor Gary Harvey pressed city staff Wednesday night, it was revealed it provided an estimated tax break between $50,000 and $175,000 a year.

"I struggle to support this," Harvey told his fellow councillors. "We've provided a significant tax exemption to a fairly large corporation for almost a decade now."

Councillors spent a significant amount of time considering extending the exemption. The debate centred on providing fairness to SmartCentres, and staff pointed out that properties on the annexed land in Innisfil are under different zoning conditions.

Many councillors argued against providing a tax break to a large company, saying ending the exemption could spur the property owners to move ahead more quickly with the development on the property that has remained dormant for years.

There was also consideration given to the benefits of farming the land on a temporary basis as many face food insecurity challenges.

"There's always a conversation about taxes but it's good use of land while it's there," said Councillor Ann-Marie Kungl. "I don't believe [ending the exemption is] incentivizing otherwise the developer to develop sooner."

The development has had a draft plan approved.

Development Plans and Rezoning Approval

Early plans propose an elementary school, 155 semi-detached and townhouse units, two blocks slated for apartment buildings, and a public park. The property includes the Bryne Drive South extension, a project that has cost about $20 million.

After debating for roughly one hour, councillors voted 10-1 to end the temporary zoning bylaw for agriculture, with Kungl the lone vote in support of extending it.

Councillors also gave initial approval to rezoning two city-owned properties that are being put up on the market for future housing opportunities.

In a unanimous vote, councillors approved rezoning 50 Worsley Street, adjacent to the downtown library, for buildings with a base height of three storeys, a mid-section height of six storeys and 36 storeys for a tower.

There are specific setbacks that have been implemented, as well as a minimum of just over 17,000 square feet for commercial uses. As is becoming more common with new developments, parking ratios are being scaled back to less than one space for each unit.

The new zoning for the property allows for around 605 residential units and another 1,600 square metres of space that could be used for commercial purposes.

Zoning Changes

Councillors also approved rezoning 48 Dean Avenue, a city-owned property adjacent to the Painswick Library branch. However, Councillor Sergio Morales brought forth an amendment to adjust some of the proposed setbacks from staff.

According to a staff report, this zoning change could incorporate a development of up to 300 units per hectare.

A third city-owned property, the old police station and its adjacent parking lot along Sperling Drive was also up for rezoning consideration. However, Kungl brought forth an amendment, sending this report back to staff requesting zoning that would permit higher density.

"With its current location when we talk about trying to really look at best use with infill the opportunity, [I'd like] to really explore if we can go a little bit higher than what was presented," Kungl said while proposing the amendment.

Higher Density Considerations and Federal Funding

As they work to increase the housing supply, councillors have approved four units across the city, which has been a requirement to secure funding from the federal government. Last month, Barrie received $25.6 million over four years from the Trudeau government.

However, when giving approval to four units as-of-right last month, councillors passed an amendment that would see such zoning only in certain areas, primarily unbuilt corners of the City, in an effort not to disrupt existing neighbourhoods.

"We need to intensify in places like the downtown, along the 400 corridor, around transit hubs. That's where we want to see big buildings built," said Nuttall, pointing to the property on Sperling Drive as such a location. "We want to preserve neighbourhoods for what they are and certainly have lower densities in those neighbourhoods."

Now, staff will work on required public consultation for council's requested changes to the Sperling Drive property, with a vote on those updated changes expected to come back to council in June.

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