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Poplar/Raglan development aims to be 'catalyst' for Collingwood's future

The vision is to bring in light industrial, tech-based industry as well as housing and health care, and your feedback is welcome

If you have ideas about the newly proposed Poplar Regional Health and Wellness Village, a developer behind the innovative new project wants to hear from you.

Live Work Learn Play Inc. has opened a new web portal to receive feedback on their proposal to build a health and wellness village in south-east Collingwood at Poplar Sideroad and Raglan Street. Max Reim, chief executive officer of Live Work Learn Play Inc. talked with this week about his personal passion for village-style developments, specific elements of the Collingwood proposal, why they're asking for a minister’s zoning order and why long-term community engagement is so important.

“I grew up, as a two-year-old, on construction sites and real-estate development sites with my father. I grew up seeing how towns and cities were developing many decades ago,” said Reim. “I learned very quickly that strip centres, shopping centres and big, single-use office buildings or track housing wasn’t delivering community fulfillment.”

“It wasn’t delivering maximum economic impact, or a happy place for people to live. So, I dedicated myself many, many years ago, to find a company that did thrive in delivering mixed-use villages,” he said.

Reim’s first foray into South Georgian Bay came back in the 1990s, as he was involved in the development of Blue Mountain Resort/Village as global vice president of Intrawest Corporation.

“I, personally, fell in love with the Collingwood community and the region,” said Reim. “I loved the salt-of-the-earth people. I loved how real people were. I felt we could really help them have a great future.”

Live Work Learn Play Inc. was co-founded by Reim and specializes in large-scale complete mixed-use communities. Reim has spent 38 years building more than 125 large-scale complete community projects, including cities, towns and districts in eight different countries.

How the Poplar project started

Reim recalls first hearing about the idea to create a health and wellness village in south-east Collingwood when his company was contacted by an agent for South Georgian Bay businessman John Di Poce about 10 months ago.

Di Poce has donated funding and land to a variety of projects across Ontario including the Collingwood Georgian College campus and hospital projects in the Greater Toronto Area.  All the projects been health and wellness-based.

“The idea came from his philanthropy, and he really wanted to make sure these lands get used in a productive way for the community of Collingwood and the region,” said Reim. “It really inspired us to want to get involved.”

According to the initial vision for the project presented to councillors in March, 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/long-term care 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 rejuvenation 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.

The developer is planning to see shovels in the ground in 2024/25.

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

Prior to presenting a vision for the project to councillors, Reim said many members of the community were consulted in Collingwood, as well as in the surrounding communities of Blue Mountain and Clearview Township.

As a result of those discussions, he says the incorporation of a regional transit hub, services for seniors and housing elements were included in the design that was seen at the council table.

“There were several tremendous needs that were communicated to us, such as workforce housing. It’s been pretty obvious to everyone how expensive it’s become to live in Collingwood. When you have regular folks not being able to afford shelter, that’s a major concern,” said Reim. “We also know that if you want to have a healthy economy, employers need to know that employees have the ability to live well and affordably close to their work.”

Another core component Reim references is quality jobs.

“They were very concerned that Collingwood doesn’t have a knowledge-based economy for the future. It’s very service-based,” he said.

This led to the addition of businesses and job sites in the plan such as medical offices, research clinics and medical imaging businesses.

“This came from your community, loud and clear. The people we spoke with made it clear they were here to help us. We’ve committed to a very fulsome community engagement process and plan,” he said.

What about the hospital?

Di Poce had previously offered to donate some of the land at the Poplar and Raglan site for the building of a new Collingwood hospital. As of now, Reim says the project could still include the hospital, should they choose the site.

“We’ve created a placeholder in the plan for the hospital, if they choose to relocate and create a state-of-the-art health-care provider for the region,” said Reim. “They know it’s there for them if they would like to be out there.”

“At the same time, the project is going to move forward in phases without that anchor if they decide to hold off on that decision. They’re undergoing the final strokes of their analysis in conjunction with the province to look at their future options,” he said. “Either way, it’s going to work beautifully.”

Project in process of applying for minister’s zoning order

When presenting the project to councillors in March, Reim confirmed they would be applying for a minister’s zoning order, a controversial tool used by developers to fast-track zoning changes to land. When asked why they chose to pursue a minister’s zoning order for the project, Reim looks back on Collingwood’s history.

“It was a manufacturing and factory town for many decades. In the 1980s, it started losing its manufacturing to the 400 corridor,” said Reim. “It was a deliberate decision decades ago to move those factories to highways in other locations.”

An MZO is a provincial order to change the zoning on a piece of land to allow something else to be built there that isn't currently allowed based on municipal zoning. In the case of the Poplar Sideroad proposal, the land is currently set aside for "employment" use such as factories, warehouses, and offices. The developer wants that changed to "mixed-use" to allow commercial, education, recreation, residential, and health facilities to be built on the property.

“The land uses are still noxious manufacturing and factory uses. They don’t work with sensitive uses like Georgian College, which is already up and running. Where have all your factories gone? They’ve left Collingwood. They’re not running to be in Collingwood,” said Reim. “They’re leaving and moving to highways in other communities.”

A minister’s zoning order request requires a resolution from Collingwood council in support of the project. During a special council meeting in March, council voted in favour of bringing on third-party consultants Planning Partnership Inc. and Urban Metrics – which will be paid for by the developer – to review the Poplar proposal in advance of deciding whether they will support the application.

“Now is the time to transform this vision as a catalyst for Collingwood’s future. Mixed-use allows us to bring in light industrial, tech-based industry, but also affordable housing for those employers, health care and wellness uses, trail systems and to have an eco-friendly place in Collingwood,” said Reim.

“They all work together and work toward that vision. This change to mixed-use on these lands will allow them to finally become productive. You have to ask, are industrial factories really the best use of the lands versus health care, wellness, parks and greenspace?”

Reim says the company fully intends to still go through the full planning and permitting process should an MZO be approved.

“It’s not about losing employment lands. It’s about sparking this economy with new jobs,” he said. “This could be something world-class for Collingwood.”

A switch to mixed-use would also allow the plan to be flexible over time as the needs of the community change, said Reim.

“The idea is that villages are always evolving and improving, and becoming more relevant to the needs of the community at that time. That’s how these places become really special,” he said.

Live Work Learn Play Inc. wants to hear from you

Reim says community engagement is “absolutely essential” to the progress of the village and not just now, but for years to come.

To that end, Live Work Learn Play Inc. has now launched a web portal to gather feedback, which is available here.

“Not everyone can get to a public meeting, or feels comfortable speaking in public. Instead of having just the usual people who speak out, we’d like to reach out to everyone in the community and in other area communities,” said Reim. “We wanted an inclusionary process, something more than the traditional public-consultation process.”

As feedback is gathered, updates and answers to frequently asked questions will also be added to the site. Overall, Reim says they’re looking for feedback from all community members on subjects such as possible additional recreational uses and how they might like to participate in the visioning process. Reim says the company is also committed to doing in-person public consultation sessions for community groups such as seniors and students.

“We wanted to make sure we were introducing ways for the community to get engaged, involved and provide us with great ideas,” said Reim. “If anyone brings us an idea, we explore it.”

“We want to know what their concerns might be,” he said.

Looking to the future, Reim says he’s excited about the possibilities that lie ahead.

“We’re just at the beginning,” he said. “We’d like people to get excited about transforming the future of Collingwood in a very positive way.”