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‘Dramatic’ vision for Poplar/Raglan lands revealed to council (3 photos)

New Poplar Regional Health and Wellness Village will turn 130 acres in Collingwood’s south-east end into an education and medical technology hub with affordable housing and recreation amenities

During a committee meeting this week, Collingwood councillors got a first look at a proposed major hub project that would bring housing, a sports centre, healthcare services, eco space, and research and innovation businesses to the lands surrounding Georgian College.

The Poplar Regional Health and Wellness Village is a new project that is being planned for the lands surrounding Georgian College John Di Poce South Georgian Bay campus at Raglan Street and Poplar Sideroad. During Monday’s strategic initiatives standing committee meeting, Max Reim on behalf of developer Live Work Learn Play Inc. came before council to ask for their support and to direct town staff to work directly with the development team.

In March, the developers are also asking council to consider approving a resolution in support of the developer requesting a Minister’s Zoning Order from the province. In order for the project to proceed, they require that the zoning for the lands be changed from industrial/agricultural employment lands to mixed-use.

“Clearly a lot of work has gone into this, and the vision is quite dramatic,” said Coun. Deb Doherty.

Doherty asked why the developer felt they needed to apply for a Minister’s Zoning Order rather than going through the regular municipal rezoning process.

A provincial zoning order would bypass the municipal process.

The project is a collaboration between two companies: Di Poce Management Limited, who owns the land, and Live Work Learn Play Inc., an international real estate and community development firm which specializes in large-scale mixed-use complete community projects.

Richard Martz, also with Live Work Learn Play, said there were a few reasons they were pursuing a Minister’s Zoning Order in this instance. He said the needs in Collingwood were carefully considered as part of the plan, including the need for affordable/attainable housing as well as the need for medical and health services.

“The typical...process can take years in some cases to come to fruition. We don’t want to delay addressing some of these critical issues that are facing the community today,” said Martz. “We want to expedite being able to deliver those community benefits.”

According to the initial vision for the project presented to councillors, there will be seven key areas incorporated into the design of the village.

  1. Regional Health Hub and Wellness Campus will include: medical offices, research clinics, workforce housing, a women and children’s wellness centre, a medical imaging centre, pharmacy/dispensary, and a medical supply store.
  2. Market District will include: indoor/outdoor health-food market, public outdoor seating, bike rentals, distillery, farm-to-table restaurant, retail offerings and mixed-use workforce housing and outdoor performance space.
  3. Excellence in Aging-In-Place District will include: retirement/assisted living/LTC housing, Institute for Research on Aging, Neuro-Care Village, greenhouses/community gardens.
  4. Eco-Wellness District will include: Eco-Wellness Centre and Spa, school of massage therapy, Yoga, Meditation and Rejuvination Centre, naturalized playgrounds and amenities, eco-glamping, a leadership training academy and multi-generational purpose-built housing.
  5. Bio-Tech and Innovation District will include: biosciences and technology labs, medical research, training and skills development facilities and labs and medical equipment manufacturing.
  6. Education District will include: existing Georgian College John Di Poce South Georgian Bay campus, and new STEM learning centre, accelerator spaces and student housing.
  7. Centre of Excellence in Sports Medicine will include: regional sports centre/sports medicine research and offices, sports therapy and rehabilitation programs, outdoor fitness equipment and training areas, specialty clinics, a regional transportation hub, a community recreation centre and athlete housing.

If all goes well, the developer is planning to see shovels in the ground in 2024/25.

The project is expected to encompass 130 acres and is expected to bring about 4,500 jobs to the area.

Part of the land had previously been offered as a donation to be used as a site for a new Collingwood General and Marine Hospital build. During Monday’s meeting, Reim said this project would proceed regardless of whether the hospital was built adjacent to the site in the future.

“The hospital is not central to this plan,” said Reim. “If the hospital desires to consider locating there, then we can certainly accommodate, but it’s not a necessity.”

“This project will move forward with or without the hospital on the site,” he said.

As part of discussions on the proposal, Coun. Yvonne Hamlin said one of her biggest concerns was the potential loss of the employment lands. Property designated as employment land in the official plan is typically limited to buildings reserved for business and economic activities, mostly manufacturing and warehousing. 

“I’m quite reluctant to give up our employment lands unless we know how they’re going to be replicated in another part of our town,” said Hamlin.

Reim said the lands are currently owned by John Di Poce, and he is keen to get behind delivering a “legacy” project.

“This legacy isn’t just about health and wellness. It is about delivering quality employment,” said Reim.

An agent for John Di Poce, Armando Lopes, said Di Poce has heard “zero interest” over the years in industrial or agricultural uses for the land, which is why it has sat empty for so long.

“If this project doesn’t move forward, the lands may just remain the way they are,” said Lopes.

Hamlin also asked if the project could be done in phases.

“This project will absolutely be phased. Everyone should understand, each phase has an element of commercial and tax-assessed-type uses in the early phases,” said Reim.

Hamlin asked about the proposed timelines, and when conversations with the public might take place.

Reim said some public conversations are already happening, and some members of the public have already reached out to see how they could get involved.

“Throughout most of our history with the shipyards, we were more of a hands economy, whereas now we’re turning it into more of a heads economy, or a more diversified economy,” said Mayor Brian Saunderson.

Coun. Mariane McLeod asked about the different types of housing in the proposal.

“When you’re talking about ‘specialty housing,’ are you talking about rentals? Condos?” asked McLeod.

Reim said most of the housing will be rentals, however they are keeping options open to be able to offer some for sale, specifically in the Aging in Place district.

“I think it’s a real balance between what the end occupiers are going to require,” said Reim.

Deputy Mayor Keith Hull put a notice of motion on the floor for staff to investigate the proposal and provide a recommendation to council on how they should proceed.

“I do think there’s an opportunity to expedite taking a look at these lands to make a change in zoning sooner (rather than) later,” said Hull.

Coun. Kathy Jeffery put forward an amendment to waive notice for the motion so it could be dealt with at the March 10 special council meeting.

McLeod spoke against the motion.

“I am not prepared to waive notice on a motion that I have not seen, read or fully even understand,” said McLeod. “We, in this town, have some experience with projects that were rushed at the council table. I would like to not repeat those mistakes. I don’t like feeling rushed into making decisions that are of a momentous magnitude.”

Coun. Steve Berman said he would support the motion, because he said it was just to gather information.

Councillors voted 5-3, with Doherty, McLeod and Coun. Bob Madigan voting against. Since waiving a notice of motion requires a two-thirds majority vote, it was defeated. This means the notice of motion will instead be considered at the next regular meeting of council on March 21.

“What we have before us tonight, is an idea,” said Hamlin. “I think it’s a great idea. We have a few weeks to think about it and for our staff to look at it. The devil is always in the details.”