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‘This is uncharted territory’: Council starts MZO request talks for Poplar village

Town’s manager of economic development says current demand for traditional industrial-type uses is minimal in Collingwood
2022-03-08 Poplar JO-003
A preliminary artistic rendering of the Poplar Regional Health and Wellness Village, which is planned to be built in Collingwood's south-east end.

Collingwood council has indicated it is open to talking about supporting a provincial re-zoning request for a new health and wellness village in the town’s south-east end, but with a few conditions.

During Monday’s (April 11) development and operations services standing committee meeting, councillors started talks on what it would take for them to consider supporting a minister’s zoning order (MZO) application to the province regarding the proposed Poplar Regional Health and Wellness Village project.

“I think what we’ve heard tonight is, this is uncharted territory in terms of a minister’s zoning order of this magnitude,” said Coun. Yvonne Hamlin. “We’re going to need some good advice as we move forward.”

An MZO is a controversial provincial tool to fast-track a change of zoning on a piece of land to allow something else to be built that isn't currently allowed based on municipal zoning.

In the case of the Poplar Sideroad proposal, the land is currently set aside for industrial 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.

Most MZO requests, which are made by the developer, require a resolution of council in support of the project as part of the application.

A sticking point for some councillors was that the Poplar Sideroad land currently represents about 91 per cent of the town’s total future industrial employment lands.

According to the town's Manager of Economic Development Brennan Kenney, the current demand for traditional industrial-type development in Collingwood has been minimal.

“We do have industrial users, but I would argue that many of those industrial users did not come here because Collingwood was the cheapest or the most centrally located,” said Kenney. “Manufacturing has been in decline for several decades.”

Kenney said that over the past year, the town has seen more requests for mixed-use and commercial uses versus industrial uses. While tourism is currently a main economic driver in Collingwood, he said growth is also a main driver, and allowing more mixed-use zoning fits in with that.

“Growth is largely inevitable... so how we mould and support that growth is going to play a part in the type of community we want to build Collingwood into,” he said. “All of that fits within our economic development action plan. I would argue the vision here fits very well with that.”

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.

The project, which would be built on 53 hectares, would bring housing, a sports centre, healthcare services, eco space, and research and innovation businesses to the lands surrounding the college.

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

For our full story on Live Work Learn Play Inc. plans for the land and an interview with their chief executive officer, click here.

In March, council voted in favour of hiring a third-party consultant, paid for by the developer, to review the proposal and provide advice. The Planning Partnership Inc. and Urban Metrics were retained to provide the service and presented their recommendations as well on Monday.

During Monday’s meeting, Hamlin shared concerns about density.

“We could see as many as 6,000 new residents and as many as 6,500 employees on this 53 hectares of land,” said Hamlin. “That’s about the size of the town of Parry Sound. It’s bigger than Stayner.”

“Maybe we’re going to be creating a new small town built at a high density right along our southern boundary. What does this mean to our existing community?” she said.

Ron Palmer of The Planning Partnership responded to Hamlin’s question, saying it is a big planning question and should be considered through conversations with community stakeholders.

“It’s a different kind of density. It’s a different kind of mixture of land uses. The goal should also be to make sure... it’s integrated with the rest of Collingwood,” said Palmer. “It’s different. It doesn’t mean it’s bad. How do we create that appropriate integration?”

At the end of discussions, Hamlin said she was comfortable with the recommendation put forward by the consultants and staff and looked forward to moving ahead on the project.

“What we’re doing by granting a nod to the MZO is we’re taking our own destiny in our hands,” she said.

Coun. Deb Doherty said she wouldn’t support the recommendation.

“There are so many questions outstanding. It seems to me that entertaining (the idea) of an MZO at this early date is so premature,” said Doherty. “There are no guarantees how our public, businesses or other developers feel about it.”

“We just don’t know enough at this point in time. I’m not suggesting the vision is not bold and may not have tremendous merit but I just think it would behoove us to proceed according to our own internal processes,” said Doherty.

After more than two hours of presentation and discussions, the committee voted in favour of staff’s second recommendation, which is that they endorse the proposal in principle pending a robust public consultation plan. This option also proposes a scaled-back MZO request that would include adding a “deferred development zone” category to the site, which is a special zoning category that would mean development of the site is deferred until council is satisfied with a final classification of the land.

As part of the special zoning, council would be tasked with adopting a block plan for the land, which will include stakeholder consultation and supporting studies.

The proponent will also be responsible to pay for the hiring of a consultant to fast-track the file. The main motion passed by a vote of 4-1, with Doherty opposed.

Two amendments to the motion were put forward by Mayor Brian Saunderson. The first was to include a mechanism to have the MZO revoked if the vision for the project doesn’t proceed as presented in a reasonable time period, or if the property is sold. The second is for the town to meet with the developer and the consultants to discuss further changes to the proposal, at the expense of the proponent.

Both amendments were also passed by votes of 4-1, with Doherty opposed.

The matter will be considered again at the April 25 regular meeting of council.


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Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen brings 12 years of experience to her role as reporter for Village Media, primarily covering Collingwood, County of Simcoe and education.
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