More than a year since the Poplar Regional Health and Wellness Village proposal was handed a minister’s zoning order by the provincial government, the Town of Collingwood has now signed a memorandum of understanding with the developer.
According to the town, the memo is meant to ensure what the developer is promising is what will actually be delivered.
During a special meeting of council on Dec. 11, Collingwood's chief administrative officer, Sonya Skinner, told council and the public that the memorandum of understanding has finally been signed.
“It’s been in progress for some time,” said Skinner. “This development agreement binds the owners and any future owners to the agreement that has been set out between the parties.”
Skinner said the town would be releasing more information on the details of the memorandum of understanding in the coming day or so. She noted during her comments that it includes a provision for the developer to leave space on the site for a possible future hospital.
“We hope that the province will make that decision to move forward in the near future,” said Skinner.
The Poplar Regional Health and Wellness Village proposal for 130 acres on the northeast 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 a minister's zoning order (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 Aug. 18, 2022, council endorsed the MZO “in principle,” with the caveat that developers Live Work Learn Play Inc. 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, 2022, the previous Collingwood council voted to officially endorse an MZO for the Poplar Regional Health and Wellness Village project.
The decision didn’t come without controversy, with then-new Mayor Yvonne Hamlin quickly calling a meeting of the newly inaugurated council on Nov. 16, 2022 to revert back to an “in-principle” endorsement 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 would be built on the lands at Poplar and Raglan Streets.
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. Included in that MZO was added language allowing the proposed development to reach 12 storeys in height, superseding the existing Official Plan.
Since then, the town and the developer have had a series of closed-door meetings to iron out the terms of a memorandum of understanding before significant work on the project can get underway.
Armando Lopes, vice president of development for Di Poce Management Ltd. told CollingwoodToday last week that he could not offer specifics on the negotiations at that time.
“Given we are under NDA (non-disclosure agreements) with various parties, I can’t offer any specific details, however I can tell you that we continue to be engaged in very positive discussions with various businesses and stakeholders in the community and region who are eager to be a part of this special project,” said Lopes.
Lopes confirmed that a sticking point in negotiations has been language included in the town’s Official Plan update about the Poplar lands.
“We have a development agreement with the Town of Collingwood, which is ready to be executed, subject to ongoing collaborative work with town leadership and staff to resolve policy language in the town’s draft Official Plan so that it aligns with the MZO and development agreement,” said Lopes.
Lopes said that in 2024, the developer is preparing documents and studies which will inform planning applications to be filed this coming year.
“I want to reinforce that we are excited and committed to moving this project forward in 2024 and beyond and to working together with the town to realize the community benefits this project will offer to Collingwood and the region,” he said.