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‘Taller, denser’: 12-storey builds considered in Official Plan

'You need a range of built forms, because you don’t have that today and that’s causing trouble with affordability,' said consultant; public meeting Aug. 2

Build up, not out.

That was one of the messages that came across during a special council meeting held July 11, during which, council pored over the first draft of Collingwood’s new Official Plan, and endorsed the release of the plan for public review and consultation.

The 145-page plan guides land-use decisions within Collingwood and an update is completed every five to 10 years. The plan is the guide for the town’s 20-year growth and directs where, when, and how growth should occur. The town is expected to grow from a population of 22,500 people in 2016 to a projected population of 41,500 people by 2041.

In regards to future maximum building heights, Ron Palmer, a consultant with The Planning Partnership who was retained by the town to oversee the Official Plan process, acknowledged that in the past, for the most part, the town has stuck to a six-storey maximum. However, Palmer said that should change based on affordability and climate change concerns that have been expressed as major issues Collingwood faces in the future.

“It is time for Collingwood to start thinking about taller built forms, linking back to opportunities for affordable housing, and opportunities to change the mix of units in Collingwood. We’re very focused on single detached dwellings,” said Palmer, clarifying that taller buildings would be best situated adjacent to major arterial road networks.

Acting Deputy Mayor Mariane McLeod raised concerns about the possibility of 12-storey buildings in town, as highlighted in the plan as the suggested maximum height for future high-rise buildings.

Palmer said that in response to climate change, municipalities including Collingwood need to “get denser.”

“That means get taller. It’s linked to the urban structure and focusing density and height on arterial road networks supports greater investment in transit,” he said. “You’re also reducing the per-person carbon footprint when (buildings) are taller and denser.”

“It’s really important we move away from low-rise development in Collingwood because there is an impact on climate change,” said Palmer.

McLeod said she thought there would be a “tremendous” amount of push-back from the community on 12-storey buildings, as she didn’t think they fit in with the character of the “small-town charm” of Collingwood.

“I’m not entirely convinced that a 12-storey building anywhere is in keeping with that character,” said McLeod. “I think there’s a balance that needs to be thought through carefully.”

Coun. Deb Doherty said she shared McLeod’s concerns.

Palmer pushed back on the assertions of small-town character.

“First Street. Small-town character? Is that how you define it?” asked Palmer. “Small-town character can mean many, many things. There are many different ways to achieve density, however, there are consequences to spreading out at grade, rather than going up.”

“The discussion about height is really about location and other elements of character that you’re trying to achieve,” he said. “You need a range of built forms, because you don’t have that today and that’s causing trouble with affordability.”

“You need to do something,” said Palmer.

Coun. Bob Madigan said he was also leery of the possibility of higher-rises in Collingwood.

“When change comes, people are afraid. I’m not excited to talk about a 12-storey building but as a long-time retailer in the downtown, when Walmart came here it scared a lot of us,” said Madigan. “It proved to make our town stronger because people weren’t leaving our community to shop.”

“This is a fantastic jumping-off point. The public will let us know what’s really important to them,” he said.

The release of the first draft of the Official Plan is a culmination of two years of work, which started in 2019, and included community visioning, a public survey and consultation with various community groups, organizations and changing provincial policy.

Palmer described the Official Plan as the broad, overarching framework that seeks to address current issues the town is facing through planning. Some of the matters considered in crafting the plan include municipal infrastructure needs, community design, the downtown and waterfront, growth management, housing, natural heritage, sustainable development and transportation.

The long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic were also considered.

“This is still a work-in-progress. There’s lots of opportunity for refinements,” said Palmer. “The goal at the end of this process is to leave this town with the best Official Plan we can leave you with, as we move into the future.”

Coun. Yvonne Hamlin asked some questions about community improvement plans. She noted there are now a variety of policies that address affordable housing, and one of the suggestions put forward by Collingwood’s Affordable Housing Task Force was the creation of community improvement plans, which was included as part of the Official Plan. In regards to affordable housing, the plan is suggesting a target of 25 per cent of all new dwelling units built over the next 20 years be affordable.

Palmer said community improvement plans can help communities set up and facilitate incentive programs.

“It’s the only tool you have to really do that, and it really means transferring funding from the municipality to private sector developers,” said Palmer. “Through a CIP, you could establish a program or incentive for projects that meet the appropriate definition of affordable housing.”

“The bigger the incentive, the more successful it tends to be,” he said.

The new plan outlines the importance of active transportation networks. Hamlin also asked how these links can be implemented in applications as they come forward to the town.

“A commitment to development of an active transportation network...starts with the municipality. It’s relatively new on the planning scene,” said Palmer. “Sidewalks are not an add-on anymore.”

Matters not fully addressed as part of the Official Plan update are the County of Simcoe’s Municipal Comprehensive Review, the Collingwood Terminals revitalization plans, the town’s short-term accommodation review, the proposed minister's zoning order request in regards to the Poplar Village project and flood management, as Palmer said those matters have not yet been concluded.

To access the draft Official Plan document or for more information on the Official Plan process, click here.

At the end of the special council meeting on Monday, councillors voted unanimously in favour of moving the first draft of the plan to public and community consultation, after which time a second draft will be considered by council. A timeline has not yet been provided by the town on when the second draft will come back to council.

The first community information and feedback session will be taking place Aug. 2. Written feedback will also be considered, and should be sent to [email protected].