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Grey Highlands moves to pre-qualify developers for downtown Markdale

Community members say they want downtown Markdale to be more walkable with mixed-use buildings and a community green space

With the community's vision clearly outlined, the Municipality of Grey Highlands is now looking to engage with the development community as it seeks to re-develop the municipally owned lands in downtown Markdale.

Earlier this year, the municipality acquired the services of the Planning Partnership to undertake community consultation around the revitalization of downtown Markdale.  

The Planning Partnership held two public, virtual meetings on May 6 and July 6, as well as a public survey that ran from May 27 to June 18. 

“We had terrific attendance at both workshops. We had around 60 people who joined the working sessions, and we had about 315 participants in the public survey,” said Donna Hinde, partner with the Planning Partnership.

Consultants from the Planning Partnership also conducted several interviews with stakeholders and members of council. 

A volunteer steering committee was also established, which consists of a number of community members whose expertise involve architecture, planning and economic development. 

“The steering committee was involved throughout the project to provide guidance to the Planning Partnership team. By providing professional content perspectives from time-to-time,” explained Jim Harrold, Grey Highlands resident, member of the Markdale revitalization steering committee and current chair of the Grey Highlands economic development advisory group.

Through the community sessions and survey, the Planning Partnership was able to develop recommendations, as well as a number of guiding principles for the development that were proposed by the community. 

“The ideas presented are not about particular downtown development projects. They're about articulating a vision to motivate a genuine and broad interest to invest, to do business and to live in downtown Markdale,” said Harrold. 

Through its report to council, the Planning Partnership offered three recommendations for council to consider as they move forward with development planning:

  • Promote building forms that support mixed uses 
  • Organize and arrange buildings so they frame streets and anchor important locations 
  • Transform the downtown streets into safer, greener, more pedestrian-oriented avenues 

The guiding principles for the development project include:

  • Promote historic, rural and agricultural character of the community 
  • Develop the downtown as a walkable place
  • Ensure compatible development
  • Develop the downtown as a magnet or destination
  • Encourage mixed uses and housing
  • Create green spaces and gathering places 

When it comes to increasing the walkability of the downtown area, public comments suggested creating a treed, pedestrian-scaled promenade extending from Isla Street to King Edward Park/ Community Centre, as well as introduce bump-outs, special paving, landscaping and widened sidewalks along Markdale’s Main and Toronto streets.

“This recommendation aligns with the community's overwhelming desire to create a more human-scale environment, slow traffic and get more people walking downtown. It proposes that the abundance of nature that surrounds the community should also have a strong presence and ample opportunity exists for the greening of public streets,” said Hinde. 

For the mix-use housing along Main and Toronto street, the consultants suggest creating commercial and community uses on the ground floors, with residential units on the upper floors. 

“Whatever the design expression ends up being – whether historic, traditional or contemporary – buildings should be of high-quality materials, and they should relate to the existing building stock,” Hinde continued. 

“If a historic style of the building is to be designed, we would encourage the municipality to pre-qualify the architect. There's nothing worse than poorly designed and executed historic replicas.” 

The community sessions also determined a strong need for a community gathering space with frontage along a public street that would include both hard and soft landscaped areas. 

The public survey echoed many of the same aspects brought forward in the community planning sessions, with the top three priorities from the survey being: to create active ground floor uses (94 per cent); developing a downtown focus (90 per cent); and creating a village square (87 per cent).  

Now, with the community’s needs and wants clearly identified, the municipality plans to explore what interest the development community may have in being a part of the revitalizing Markdale’s downtown core. 

According to Michele Harris, director of economic development for Grey Highlands, the project has already seen various inquiries from the development community. 

“Over the last six months, economic and community development staff have received a number of general inquiries from potential developers on the opportunities available for the municipally-owned properties in downtown Markdale,” Harris said. “Staff have been advising developers of the current process for visioning that is being undertaken and are aware of a number of developers awaiting the outcomes of this report.” 

Grey Highlands will be issuing a pre-qualifying Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI), which will allow staff members to create a shortlist of possible proponents. 

That shortlist is expected to be presented to the council prior to moving forward into a full Request for Proposals (RFP) process.

“I'd ideally like to get this issued by the beginning of September,” said Harris. “I would like to have it back before the council with recommended proponents before Christmas.”

The municipality will also be updating a number of its planning framework documents to better reflect the community’s aspirations for the area.

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Jennifer Golletz

About the Author: Jennifer Golletz

Jennifer Golletz covers civic matters under the Local Journalism Initative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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