Thousands of new houses will change the face of Midhurst, a small rural Ontario community

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By John Devine

Special to Ontario Construction Report

Site preparation and engineering work continues on a housing development in the Township of Springwater, begun earlier this year following years of legal wrangling, environmental assessments, and consultations with stakeholders.

The Geranium Corp’s Carson Road project calls for 2,500 homes on land just north of Barrie, part of the Midhurst Secondary Plan (MSP). More growth is coming, however, as the plan allows for 10,000 units, plus additional growth within the mixed use and employment districts.

The project includes the construction of two new wastewater treatment plants to service the new growth.

“As a requirement of the development, the developers are required to build the capital infrastructure for water and wastewater.  This infrastructure will be assumed, owned and operated in the future by the Township,” Nicole Audette, communications officer for the Township, told Ontario Construction Report.

“The developers must pay 100 percent for the initial capital outlay of this infrastructure. As part of the draft plan conditions, the developers are required to construct the water and wastewater treatment plants that will service all of the new growth in Midhurst.  The capital costs of constructing water, wastewater and transportation infrastructure exceeds $300 million in which the Township is not required to pay for any of this infrastructure.”

The plants are to be located on the north side of Snow Valley Road (1432 Snow Valley Road).

“This property is currently under the ownership of the developer, but will be required to be conveyed to the Township,” she adds.

The MSP plan identifies three new neighbourhoods in the region:

  • Geranium’s Carson Road project, which stretches from Carson Road on the border with Barrie, Wilson Drive to the west of the development, and close to Snow Valley Road north of it
  • The developer also has plans for the Doran Road neighbourhood, to the east of the existing Midhurst community
  • In total, the developer has more than 1,000 acres of residential lands on which to build
  • The third neighbourhood is identified as Pooles Road, with Old School Road to the east, Russell Road to the west, and Walt Road to the north

The first two neighbourhoods are included in the first two phases of the plan, while the third, Pooles Road, will be developed in a later phase. Development is to be shaped by policies, regulations and guidelines towards the vision of a “liveable and diverse community that is sympathetic to the environmental context.”

The Township says all hurdles, including environmental assessments, were cleared.

“Following the approval of the Midhurst Secondary Plan … the Township was required to complete an Environmental Assessment for the provisions of water, wastewater and transportation upgrades to accommodate future growth in the Midhurst area. The purpose of the EA is to plan and provide preliminary design for the water, wastewater and transportation projects to service the anticipated population growth,” says Audette.

But residents and environmentalists have long questioned the project, saying it poses concerns for the nearby Minising Wetlands, skips over provincial development processes, and contributes to urban sprawl.

“Local groups hired hydrologists, planners, and lawyers to demonstrate that the threat to water and contamination was real and serious, and further the outflow of effluent would be going to a significant area of the wetlands, and so there were concerns about what that warm water would do to the sensitive flora and fauna that are there,” Margaret Prophet, executive director of the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition, told Ontario Construction News.

Of particular concern, she continues, was the fate of Hine’s Emerald Dragonflies, which has few nesting places in Canada, one of which is the wetlands.

“In the United States, they have done these rehabilitation plans that have cost millions of dollars to try and recoup wetlands where this dragonfly exists, because it is a key indicator species of health.”

The Township, says Audette, held extensive public and stakeholder consultations throughout all phases of the environmental assessment. Concerns were addressed through the process to the satisfaction of the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, she added.

“At the request of the Minister, the Township was required to fulfil a number of additional conditions to further address these concerns. On November 25, 2020, the Ministry advised that the conditions had been met and infrastructure works were permitted to proceed.”

The Midhurst Ratepayer Association, of which Prophet was a member, reportedly spent $250,000 on legal fees and reports/studies battling the project, which had its initial approval from the Township in 2008. As well as environmental concerns, the group and others questioned the ‘special rule’ granted by the Province that gave the development the green light to proceed.

According to Audette, the special rule was a legislated permission provided by the Province that permitted up to 300 hectares of land to be released for development specific to the Midhurst Secondary Plan (Page 12 of the Growth Management Strategy GMS).

The Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) subsequently approved an additional 4,595 residential units for the 300 hectares, representing population growth beyond the growth forecasted for the planning horizon. “Furthermore, through the County’s 20,000 population program, an additional population of 2,961 residents was allocated and approved within the Midhurst Secondary Plan area,” according to the GMS.

The ruling predated changes made last summer to the 2006 Places to Grow act which aimed to direct growth to the region’s urban centres, with density and employment targets for 2041, since updated to 2051. The legislation aimed to concentrate growth in areas which already had servicing capacity, Prophet said earlier.

The changes, she says, allows development to go forward in areas that currently don’t have the servicing hierarchy. She, and other environmentalists, argue that will encourage urban sprawl.

However, the development, says Audette, aligns with the updated 2020 Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe area.

“The MSP requires the provision of full municipal services, environmental assessments, financial considerations, and comprehensive infrastructure planning prior to development proceeding. In addition, the MSP establishes growth targets as per the Growth Plan with respect to densities, provisions for employment and the protection of the environment, which are all in line with Provincial planning documents,’’ she says.

The new plan identifies a Simcoe County population of 555,000 by 2051. The plan delegates the authority to allocate population to the County. The old growth plan set a population target of 24,000 by 2031 for Springwater. Standard conditions of approval require:

  • Development Charges Study Update
  • Long Range Financial Plan
  • Library and Facilities Assessment
  • Parks and Recreation Master Plan Update
  • Fire and Emergency Services Master Plan
  • Community Improvement Plan (CIP)

“The Township continues to work with all stakeholders to ensure a healthy, prosperous and complete community,” Audette concluded.

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