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COVID-19 raises new set of questions for development, growth planning

COVID pandemic not armageddon, but not to be ignored, say the consultants working on an updated official plan for the Town of Collingwood
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File photo. Erika Engel/CollingwoodToday

The Town of Collingwood is moving into the next phase of creating a new official plan, and COVID-19 has raised new considerations during the process. 

“Will sidewalks become wider? Will there be a need for fewer traffic lanes as a result of increased working from home? Will rush hours be eliminated with people staggering their work hours?”  

Those are the questions included in a discussion paper released by the town as part of its official plan update process.

The town released nine discussion papers and public survey results, all relating to its official plan update, over the last few weeks. 

The plan is the governing policy for growth and development in the town. It is meant to set out a 20-year vision for things like housing, transportation, and green spaces. 

The town has been asking for public input to determine the issues residents would like to see addressed in the plan - things like the size and type of housing development, the town’s focus on parks, what lands to protect and where to expand. 

There were originally eight discussion papers to be released on topics including growth management, sustainable development, housing options, community design, green spaces, downtown and waterfront, transportation, and municipal infrastructure. 

As is the trend in 2020, a ninth discussion paper was added to focus on the impacts of COVID-19 on planning decisions. 

While the COVID paper notes the current pandemic is unlikely a long-term planning issue, it raises the question of what lessons should be learned in the case of future pandemics. 

“This discussion is about ensuring that communities are resilient, and are ready to appropriately respond to whatever the next crisis might be,” states the discussion paper authored by Plan B Natural Heritage, urbanMetrics Inc. and The Planning Partnership – consultants hired to work through the town’s official plan update. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has given us all time to take stock of the choices about how and where to live,” states the paper. “The COVID-19 pandemic is neither an armageddon scenario, nor is it something to be ignored. The world and its social norms will never be exactly the same, but that does not mean that there necessarily needs to be a paradigm shift in how our communities are designed and developed.” 

The consultants suggest COVID-19 has hastened discussions around how much per capita retail space will be needed in the future and what will be replaced by online shopping. Similarly, the consultants suggest formal office space needs will change as more people work from home permanently. 

The COVID paper also questions the need for the same number of formal classroom spaces, the role of cultural facilities (will they become online only?), and the size of parks to accommodate social gathering spaces. 

According to the town’s website, the discussion papers are “meant to get people thinking about solutions for solving problems and charting a course for the community’s future.” 

The next phase of the official plan update is “options and directions” presented by town staff in draft form. Staff are targeting the fall/winter for another consultation on a draft official plan. 

“The options and recommendations report will explore options for underlying philosophies, which will provide a foundation for how planning issues are to be approached in Collingwood,” states the consultant’s discussion papers. “As well as options for addressing a number of other special issues that have come up in this process to-date.” 

The town is encouraging residents and stakeholders to read the discussion papers and consider whether they accurately capture the important issues for the town.

You can read all nine discussion papers online here. You can submit comments, ideas, questions, and your 20-year vision for Collingwood by email to officialplanupdate@collingwood.ca.

Before releasing the discussion papers, the town also released a summary of the online public survey results it collected this summer. 

According to the town, 528 people responded to the survey, and about 75 per cent of those who responded were over the age of 40. 

Results showed a majority of respondents would like to see Collingwood job growth happen in a balanced way in all sectors rather than focusing on a traditional industry or tourism only. 

Respondents indicated they would like to see a mix of uses in buildings throughout the town to allow people to live near where they work and sho. Respondents also encouraged the town to push for smaller housing units and more affordable options such as condos, apartments, and small lots. 

However, the support for mixed uses in town came with a qualifier. Survey respondents said mixed-use buildings (residential/commercial) should only go where they are “compatible with residential development.”

Further, respondents called on the town to clearly define what “compatible” means. 

People were generally in support of intensification to better support walkability and active transportation, but didn’t want it to result in loss of green space nor did they want it to result in the loss of the “small-town feeling.” 

Some respondents were not supportive of increased density or condo buildings. 

Green housing also gathered significant support with 76 per cent of respondents backing the development of greener housing to respond to impacts of climate change.

Eighty per cent of those who filled out the survey said the town should encourage green building techniques such as green roofs, low impact development and energy efficiency. 

Continuing in the vein of sustainable development, 89 per cent of respondents suggested the town focus on improving and expanding sidewalks and bike lanes to make active transportation more practical.

Some people suggested making certain downtown streets pedestrian or bike-only during summer months. In particular, those who responded to the survey wanted to see Collingwood’s downtown become more walkable and bikeable.

Nearly 90 per cent of respondents suggested winter maintenance for walking and cycling infrastructure throughout the town. 

Ninety-four per cent of those who took the survey called for the restoration and protection of natural areas such as wetlands, shorelines and green space. There was also similar support (90 per cent) for more robust requirements for tree planting and a targeted tree canopy. 

Since the official plan review process began before the COVID pandemic, town staff and consultants have added considerations and questions in light of the coronavirus. 

The public survey indicated COVID-19 has revealed the importance of park space, community gardens, pedestrian streets, a need to rely on more than tourism in the area, and better broadband infrastructure for working from home. 

You can read a summary of the survey results on the town website here.


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Erika Engel

About the Author: Erika Engel

Erika regularly covers all things news in Collingwood as a reporter and editor. She has 13 years of experience as a local journalist
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