A major development that could completely change Collingwood’s south-east end was first brought to the public in 2022, and in November marked the first time ever a private development has been approved for a minister’s zoning order in Collingwood.
The Poplar Regional Health and Wellness Village proposal for 130 acres on the southeast corner of Poplar Sideroad and Raglan St. was first brought forward to Collingwood council in March 2022.
According to the initial vision for the project presented to council, there will be seven key areas incorporated into the design of the village including a regional health and wellness campus, a market district, long-term care/assisted living facilities, bio-science and medical research facilities, an eco-wellness centre, a regional transit hub, student and workforce housing and sports medicine clinics.
The developers intended to seek an MZO — a controversial provincial tool to fast-track a change of zoning on a piece of land with provincial authority bypassing the municipal zoning process — to change the zoning of the property from industrial to mixed-use to allow for the community-hub-style development.
On May 31, developers Live Work Learn Play Inc. and Di Poce Management Ltd. ran a series of open-house sessions to gather resident feedback on their proposal, as well as running a survey. Much of the feedback received was incorporated into the design of the project.
On Aug. 18, council endorsed the MZO “in principle,” with the caveat that developers Live Work Learn Play Inc. (LWLP) and Di Poce Development Ltd. must work with town staff, the mayor and deputy mayor and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to prepare a final MZO for endorsement.
After that, closed-door meetings occurred between the province, the town and the developers to iron out the details of what the MZO should entail.
According to the draft MZO, the lands to be developed must include a minimum of 10 per cent attainable/affordable housing and 60,000 square metres of employment in the form of office, institutional and light industrial uses. Other additions to the overall plan that were included in the MZO were that a block plan and a phasing plan must be submitted prior to any building permits being granted for the project, and a five-kilometre, all-season, multi-modal trail system must also be constructed on the lands.
On Nov. 10, Collingwood council voted to officially endorse a minister’s zoning order (MZO) for the Poplar Regional Health and Wellness Village project.
The decision didn’t come without controversy, with new Mayor Yvonne Hamlin quickly calling a meeting of the newly inaugurated council on Nov. 16 to revert back to an “in-principle” endorsement of an MZO for the Poplar project until the town and the developer had a signed agreement in place to ensure that what the developer was promising is what will be built on the lands at Poplar and Raglan Streets.
‘I don’t feel this was handled in an open and transparent fashion, which is going to be the hallmark of how I govern this town,’ said Hamlin on her intentions to hit the brakes.
However, the day after the meeting occurred and the new council voted to press pause, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing announced they had approved the MZO application on Nov. 16.
When reached for comment by CollingwoodToday on Nov. 17, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing said the housing crisis was a major driver for why the Poplar Village MZO was approved in such short order.
"Driven by a severe shortage of supply, rental housing and home ownership are even further out of reach for too many hardworking Ontarians," said Chris Poulos, director of issues management for Minister Steve Clark. "(This) will help get shovels in the ground faster to create over 2,200 much-needed new homes. This project will also support the local economy by bringing over 3,500 permanent jobs to the community.”
"It is our expectation that municipal councils do their due diligence and conduct proper consultation in their communities before any request for an MZO comes to the minister for consideration," he said.
Meanwhile, Mayor Yvonne Hamlin said work would be ongoing with the developer into 2023 to come up with a final development agreement for the project.
“The developer has said they want to negotiate agreements, so I guess we’ll see,” said Hamlin.
When reached for an update this month, Max Reim, chief executive officer of Live Work Learn Play Inc. said detailed design and development work would continue on the project in 2023.
“Di Poce Management Limited and Live Work Learn Play look forward to continuing to advance this transformational project in the new year,” said Reim. “Working collaboratively with Collingwood General & Marine Hospital, the town and the community, we hope to undertake detailed design and development work for the project, begin the planning process, and continue to engage with the community along the way.”
Reim noted there will be more opportunities in the new year for the public and local businesses to get involved.
“We will also continue curating foundational collaborations as we move this project forward so we can begin to deliver on some of the critical needs facing the region today,” he said.