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'Time-sensitive opportunity': MZO request on hold, Springwater business park in limbo (4 photos)

'My clients made the decision to withdraw the deputation because it seemed that there was opposition to what was being proposed,' says planning consultant for company eyeing Wilson Drive property

Plans for a new business park north of Barrie in Springwater Township have hit a significant snag.

For the second time this month, a deputation to township councillors on the proposed business park, involving a large manufacturer, has been withdrawn by Snow Valley Yorkwood for 3218 Wilson Dr., near Barrie’s border.

“My clients made the decision to withdraw the deputation because it seemed that there was opposition to what was being proposed,” said planning consultant Celeste Phillips, noting support for a Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO) and interest from TNR Industrial Doors to build a manufacturing plant there, which would employ 200 people.

“What’s next? I don’t know. I haven’t regrouped with my clients,” Phillips said, nor with TNR. “I know they (TNR) are looking for a serviced site and this particular site was top of their list because they are currently in a leased facility… which does not meet their needs. It’s been frustrating.”

This 98-acre property is designated agricultural and within Springwater’s greenbelt policy area as defined in the township’s Official Plan (OP). There is no active rezoning application for 3218 Wilson Dr.

But Snow Valley Yorkwood is requesting township council provide a resolution of support to approach the province with a request for an MZO, which expedites land-use approvals.

The proposed development would require applications for a Simcoe County and local OP amendment, a rezoning to industrial use from agricultural, along with subdivision and site-plan approval, Springwater planning services director Brent Spagnol said in his April 6 staff report.

Located near the intersection of Sunnidale Road and Wilson Drive, a house, barn and outbuildings are there now.

Phillips said Snow Valley Yorkwood wants an MZO because, long story short, it could be well into 2024 before Springwater Township council deals with the matter. 

“This is a time-sensitive opportunity for the township to endorse a MZO to permit employment zoning for the land,” she said. “This was an exciting opportunity for the municipality to designate the lands for the business park, or at least support that. My clients were looking for township support for an MZO.”

Phillips said a neighbourhood meeting was held March 21 for residents 240 metres from the property, and closer. One of the criticisms of the MZO process is lack of public input.

The Planning Act gives the province's minister of municipal affairs and housing the authority to alter zoning or land-use permissions of any property in Ontario. An MZO cannot be appealed to the Ontario Land Tribunal, formerly known as the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) and, previous to that, the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).

Springwater Mayor Don Allen said township council passed two motions related to this matter at Wednesday’s meeting.

The first reaffirmed council’s commitment to maintaining Springwater’s current greenbelt buffer, but it may consider any major institutional development or applications to address a social need to the community, and any major commercial development that would benefit Springwater Township along the corridors of Highways 90, 93, 26 and 27, and the Bayfield Street corridor.

“Discussion was had about referring this to staff to have a separate meeting of council to review details of the mapping to see if it should be reviewed in detail and potentially adjusted,” Allen said, “and that is why approving this (Wednesday) night, without that exercise, was opposed by me.”

The second motion noted the high likelihood of additional MZO support requests coming forward, given current pressures for development land.

Staff were directed to prepare a report to council to consider policies and guidelines for when MZO-support requests are brought forward that include MZO request requirements, notification requirements, public consultation requirements and that a two-thirds majority vote is needed for any matters before council relating to an MZO request, and that Springwater’s procedural bylaw be changed to that effect and be considered at the next council meeting.

Any decisions on MZO requests will be suspended until the policy is adopted by council.

In Snow Valley Yorkwood’s presentation information, it says in meetings with Simcoe County planning staff, it was advised the request for a business park designation would not be part of the municipal comprehensive review (MCR) process.

“Part of the municipal comprehensive review process is to look at the land-supply needs of all our lower-tier municipalities,” said Rob Elliott, the county’s general manager of engineering, planning and environment. “For example, we are consulting with Springwater Township to determine if they have sufficient industrial or residential lands to meet their long-term growth needs. 

“This process is not yet finalized or approved," he added. 

Elliott noted MZOs can be made at any time and are not contingent on the MCR process or County of Simcoe support.

“As part of its role in municipal planning, the county provided clarity to the proponent (Snow Valley Yorkwood) that an MZO is under provincial jurisdiction, and the decision of the minister of municipal affairs and housing,” he said. “No official request for a county council position on this matter has been made by the proponent.”

The ministry confirmed Thursday it has not received an MZO request for 3218 Wilson Dr.

City of Barrie Acting Mayor Barry Ward is also the city councillor for Ward 4, which is close to the Wilson Drive property.

“My main concern was that any changes to the property’s use not be done through a Minister’s Zoning Order, which wouldn’t give residents in Springwater or Barrie a chance to comment,” he said. “Turning a piece of agricultural land into an industrial area would have an effect on traffic and possibly noise. Those living nearby should be given a chance to become involved in the process.

“A few years ago, there was a proposal to build a cell tower, in Springwater but behind homes in Ward 4,” Ward added. “The cell-tower proponents gave those residents a chance to comment on the proposal, with the result it was moved to a location which had less impact on the homes.

"I would hope Springwater Township would follow a similar path with any future land-use proposals.”