New infographic-style growth report presents highlights, but committee members want more information

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By John Devine

Special to Ontario Construction News

The City of Barrie’s planning committee got its first look at the planning department’s new approach to reporting growth recently, and the method garnered praise along with questions about data not included.

“For the growth report this year we really wanted an easy-to-understand report showing meaningful metrics demonstrating the movement of land through land-use planning, development approvals, construction, and complete communities in the city over the past year, really looking at going from vacant land to people living in our community and capturing the data along the way,” said Michelle Banfield, Director of Development Services.

“The entire report is … infographic style that summarizes the key activities of 2019.”

Highlights include:

  • 110 development applications received
  • 2,060 residential units approved
  • $43.8 million development charges collected
  • 10 hectares of land dedicated for public open space/environmental protection
  • 312 additional households
  • $76 Million in value of ICI (industrial, commercial, institutional (ICI) and multi-residential construction) permits

“You, as our council, are going to be seeing the impact of that growth, not only by people living in our community, but also the costs … associated with supporting (growth), costs that really come to light during the time of budget when you are asked to look at capital plans, projects and the associated operating costs,” said Banfield.

The report, and its longer six-page version, deal with land use, development approvals, construction, and complete communities.

Ward 2 councillor Keenan Aylwin called the presentation a “great high-level overview,” but wanted to know if the City is “tracking the number of affordable units that have been approved, since in our official plan we do have a goal of 10 per cent affordable units in all new developments over the course of the year.”

“I didn’t see an affordable number either. I did see the 200 second suites that were added last year, and we do know that many of those are affordable but were there other affordable housing units in addition to the second suites, and do we know how many of the second suites are actually affordable?” asked Mayor Jeff Lehman.

Banfield responded by saying she didn’t think the city had created new affordable units in 2019, or at least not very many of them. She added that there “will be an additional report coming that ties into that affordable housing piece, so I am going to ask (for a) report back on that.”

Lehman said that he liked the user-friendly approach of the report, but said he struggled to find information on how many new residential units were occupied.

“I did note right at the end there were a number of new water accounts that were created, including residential, and that would suggest the number of new dwelling units that were occupied. I noted … the number for building permits, but those numbers can’t be the number of occupied units. How many new residences were occupied in 2019? Do we know that?”

The report represents “a big leap forward in terms of reporting on the pace and nature of development in our city and starting to have a real dashboard that gives us a year-by-year insight.”

Lehman concluded that the information would be useful “only because obviously last year there was a major variance between the number of permits issued and number of occupancies, I guess in this case defined as new water accounts.”

Regarding growth in 2019, council asked how much was related to intensification and how much was developed inside the built boundary area.

“For the most part, we are really trying to look at growth management across the city and we can absolutely take that feedback about differentiating,” said Banfield.

“I would say that it was in-fill development that we saw the new units in; as you know the secondary plan areas are busy, but we don’t have tons of residents living in there just yet so a lot of the development we see is actually in the built boundary.”

Having the ability to track growth against the provincial Places to Grow and “our own planning documents” would be “really useful,” Lehman suggested.

“I think we have heard from staff for some time now that development in the secondary plan has been lagging the forecast by considerable amount, not due to any lack of demand or interest, but it seems that the development activity is not at the pace that was forecast by the secondary plan documents at the time,” he said, adding that it’s not necessarily a problem, because it allows infrastructure plans to be coordinated with actual need.

Being able to track growth helps council with a long-standing goal of matching the growth in population and employment, said Lehman.

“So as a very broad principle, making sure that Barrie doesn’t become more of a bedroom community by attempting to gear employment development to the pace of residential development, was a goal that we had established early on and now that we are finally … seeing the development of the secondary plans, that would be great information to be able to report to the community.”

As for the report, the mayor called it “a big leap forward in terms of reporting on the pace and nature of development in our city, and starting to have a real dashboard that gives us a year by year insight.”

This story was originally published in John Devine’s City Scene Barrie.

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