Part 2 of our series Who Will Save Lake Simcoe? Read the full report here.
It’s full steam ahead in Innisfil, where a Transit Oriented Community is planned to be built around a GO train line and a proposed new GO station.
We are not opposed to Transit Oriented Communities. But developing this way does not improve existing low-density towns, nor does it help existing residents get out of their cars.
If Innisfil had opted for “missing middle” housing and intensification on its arterial and main roads, higher density in existing towns would contribute to achieving transit-supportive densities. This in turn would support financially feasible public transit systems.
One of the significant problems with the use of Minister’s Zoning Orders (MZOs) is that they do not follow the normal public input and consultation required in Ontario’s planning process. MZOs remove the public’s ability to appeal. Therefore, it is not surprising that there is no new publicly available information on this project. Innisfil’s public page about the Orbit  shows no consultation or movement on the file since the Ministry of Municiapl Affairs and Housing’s issuance of the MZO. Between October 14 and November 4, 2020, the Orbit plan came to Council and was approved, before the end of their public consultation period. Breakneck speed may be ok for a train, but not for the planning of 150,000 residents in a town of 37,000.
Where is the promised GO station?
Innisfil Councilor Orsatti asked in the October 14th Council meeting: Does the developer have to build the GO station by a certain time? If not, what is the point of an MZO?
Answer from Chief Planner Tim Cane: We have always been talking with our partners about 2022 for the GO.
That is not much of a commitment. It is hardly surprising that it is 2022 and there is no GO station, since the MZO did not have a date associated with building the station. This public service has been left to the discretion of the developers. The location of the entire project, including the GO station, benefits the developers more than any other stakeholder. The GO station should have been in Alcona, one concession line north, where the majority of Innisfil’s population lives. This would have served the existing population and helped them get on transit.
The question of impacts on Lake Simcoe remains unanswered. Although staff assured the public that they had approvals for expansions to their sewage treatment plant that would enable them to service this massive plan, a Simcoe County Council meeting on April 12th, 2022,  revealed that Innisfil’s wastewater servicing could be limited. Said Chief Planner Stephen Westendorp, “Can we service the growth that’s coming [to the county]? I don’t think there’s a clear answer to that.” He anticipates wastewater servicing constraints in 20 to 30 years and named Innisfil specifically.
All the Lake Simcoe watershed municipalities growing now should consider that this could be their last phase of major revenue coming in from development charges and consider how they will maintain their infrastructure without future development charges. This is the Orbit’s advantage; although it converts farm fields into residential development, it will not be as expensive to service as new sprawling subdivisions.
The apparent lack of coordination for wastewater servicing in the Lake Simcoe watershed is entirely on the province. By all appearances, the coordination of wastewater servicing is an afterthought. This approach to planning could wipe out the hard-fought gains made in Phosphorus reduction in Lake Simcoe.
Williams Treaties First Nations (WTFN) agree that this approach to “planning” is not ok.
WTFN filed a court action in September 2021 over the Orbit, naming Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Steve Clark.
As reported by Miriam King in Barrie Today:
“The court filing says “no analysis was done by the town, the Cortel Group or the minister on the potential impacts of the project on Lake Simcoe’s water quality, aquatic life and habitat.” The group says there’s no proof the project will not impact the lake or WTFN treaty rights.
“The importance of Lake Simcoe to the WTFN cannot be overstated,” states the court filing, while also explaining that First Nations rely on Lake Simcoe for their water and food resources, as well as for ceremonial purposes.” 
Stay tuned to find out how Innisfil manages this mess. Read more on the RLSC blog: Orbit or Obit for Innisfil? 
 Simcoe County Council meeting April 12th, 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZScWHUo3Gg
 King, Miriam. Barrie Today, September 30, 2021. First Nations group challenging MZO granted for massive Orbit proposal in Innisfil. https://www.barrietoday.com/local-news/first-nations-group-challenging-mzo-granted-for-massive-orbit-proposal-in-innisfil-4472407
 Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition. 2021. Orbit or Obit for Innisfil? Blog. https://rescuelakesimcoe.org/2021/12/03/orbit-or-obit-for-innisfil/