Thornbury’s long-term care (LTC) home, Errinrung is due for an upgrade and its parent company is eyeing up a 16-acre parcel on the west end of town for a new 160-bed facility.
“Errinrung needs to be redeveloped so that it meets the current standards of the Ministry of Long Term Care. This new site that we're proposing will be the new home for Errinrung,” said Oren Barfoot, vice president of development for Southbridge Health Care LP.
Southbridge owns and operates Errinrung, which consists of 18 new beds and 42 beds that have been earmarked for redevelopment.
Barfoot appeared before the Town of the Blue Mountains (TBM) council on June 22 to ask for their support in a current proposal being planned for presentation to Ontario’s Ministry of Long Term Care.
The company currently has an application in front of the ministry for 128 new beds, which Barfoot says will be increased and re-submitted for 160 beds in the coming weeks.
Southbridge has its eye on a 16-acre property in the west end of Thornbury between Arthur Street West and Alice Street West. The land is currently designated as a commercial corridor and zoned for development.
The company is proposing a six-story continuum of care facility that would offer assisted and independent living suites, retirement bungalows, as well as a multi-residential and commercial component.
Southbridge says it is committed to completing the new facility by December 2023.
The project would require both an official plan amendment and a zoning bylaw amendment from TBM.
Southbridge will also be pursuing a Ministerial Zoning Order (MZO) to expedite the development process.
Under the Ontario’s Planning Act, an MZO gives the provincial Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing the authority to zone any property in the province. An MZO prevails over a municipal zoning bylaw to the extent of a conflict, with the municipal bylaw remaining in effect in all other respects.
Once an MZO is in place, the minister can either delegate the administration of the order to the local planning board or deem it to be the local bylaw, in which case the planning board would have all the powers to pass bylaws to make any changes.
Southbridge representatives say they are pursuing the MZO in order to expedite the planning process so that the project can begin before the end of the year in order to be accepted into the Minister of LTC’s mandate of expanding LTC in Ontario by the end of 2021.
“Nothing happens without a development agreement from the Ministry. That development agreement needs to be in place in 2021. So consequently, in order to get that development agreement, we have to have a proper site that's zoned appropriately. And that is one of the reasons why we've brought forward this MZO request,” Barfoot explained.
Both Barfoot and Nathan Westendorp, director of planning and development services for TBM, confirmed that if an MZO were granted for the project, it would not have any impact on the process of acquiring a site plan agreement with TBM, which requires several stages of public consultation.
“The MZO will help us expedite the process so we can get this development agreement in place from the Ministry of LTC this year. That does not change the fact that we still have to have a site plan application with the municipality, and that goes through that whole process in a normal fashion. We then also have to make an application for a building permit with the municipality as well,” said Barfoot.
During the council meeting, concerns were raised about the proposed height of the building as the concept of amending the town’s official plan for a build over four storeys has not been received well by the public in previous town projects.
“There are many important needs in the community being addressed by this project. At the same time, the trade-off could well be that there will be a six-storey building along Highway 26. It's going to have a huge impact. It's going to create a big shadow very close to the heart of our town,” said councillor Paula Hope.
However, Barfoot explains that LTC facilities are mandated by the ministry to have a certain amount of space for each resident, which will influence the size and perimeters of the building.
“What we've done here is mandated by the ministry that each resident's home area has a maximum capacity of 32 residents. That's one of the reasons why we've gone to the multiple-storey building. In order to accommodate 160 residents, we need five storeys for the resident home areas,” Barfoot explained.
Representatives say the building has been designed with infection control as the highest priority.
“In the past, we had multiple home areas on the same level. But with the current pandemic situation and the introduction of COVID. It has required us to ramp up our infection control processes, and how we're able to contain an infection that might enter into the building. One of the reasons and one of the ways that we've identified is by isolating a resident home area to one floor, this will help us keep our residents safe, and provide maximum care,” he continued.
Along with separate floors that can be isolated to contain any virus, the facility also has the ability to isolate various rooms within the different floors.
“I hear the concerns about height, but I also see the reason for the care facility to have that height. It's well-planned and, certainly, infection control is foremost,” said TBM Mayor, Alar Soever.
“It'd be great to have our seniors who've lived here for many years, stay in our community. And I'd hate to see this project derailed, just because people are worried about the look and feel of the building. Those are certainly important aspects but this is something the community needs,” Soever continued, adding that the closest care home to Thornbury in Grey County is in Markdale, 30 minutes away.
“I have some projections from the county which showed in 2019 there were 2,542 seniors above the age of 75 within a 15-minute drive of Thornbury, and it was projected to go up to 3,086 by 2029,” Soever continued. “If you go to a 30-minute drive of Thornbury, which takes in Meaford and the edge of Collingwood we had 6,655 seniors, projected to go to 8,290 by 2029.”
Southbridge is also looking to incorporate multi-residential units at the site that are expected to serve the staff that will be required to operate the facility.
“The multi-residential component is likely to be rental units that would very easily be able to accommodate some attainable housing. The seniors' bungalows could very easily be affordable housing for our seniors,” Barfoot explained, adding that the bungalows would likely be constructed without a basement and with accessibility at the forefront.
The company also plans to incorporate some commercial space within the facility that would offer supportive healthcare services.
At the special committee of the whole meeting held on Tuesday afternoon, TBM council members passed a motion to receive the presentation and support the project and the MZO request in principle.
Council members also directed town staff to work with Southbridge to prepare a staff report that will outline the project and the related request of supporting the MZO.
“I would suggest that planning staff explore this with Southbridge to get a better understanding of some of the finer details now that we're seeing a proposed elevation, the proposed height, the built form, all those pieces,” said Westendorp. “We need to look at servicing and some of those implications and timing just to be able to come back to this council so that this council can make an informed decision.”
The staff report will be presented at a special meeting of council that has been scheduled for July 5.