Ten years after the City of Barrie annexed land from Innisfil, and as development begins to ramp up in that area, Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman says he feels the right decision was made.
Sitting on a bargaining committee back then, he remembers there was a lot of misinformation circulating around the discussions — including the persistent rumour Barrie was seeking the Innisfil Heights industrial area, including the Georgian Downs racetrack.
“I took no delight in the fact we were on a different page with our neighbours,” he said. “Nobody likes watching governments fight.”
In the end, neither of those things happened when the city annexed around 5,600 acres from Innisfil.
While there was a lot of resistance from Innisfil residents, Lehman said Barrie was in the best position to develop those lands as an urban growth centre.
“We had this strong view that, if growth was going to happen, it should be in cities where full services can be provided,” he said.
The city projects the number of residents to grow from the current 147,000 to an estimated 210,000 by 2031 and much of that growth is pegged for the south end.
Lehman noted the annexed land will be split nearly evenly between residential growth, industrial and institutional development, and green space to ensure responsible growth.
“We made it a policy that job and residential growth have to occur at the same time; there will be monitoring of job growth as we go along,” Lehman said.
He said it is “astonishing” that planning for the annexed lands took 10 years to complete. But the city hopes to correct the urban sprawl model of subdivisions constructed during the 1980s and 1990s by building more compact, walkable communities with a variety of housing types and employment opportunities.
“That’s a commentary on a planning process that is so over-engineered and lengthy,” he said.
On the other side of the annexed lands, Innisfil Mayor Lynn Dollin remembers 2009 as a difficult time, and doesn’t totally agree it was the right decision.
It seems there was some bitterness in the way the land grab happened.
She noted a previous land annexation saw Innisfil receive funding to work on servicing infrastructure.
“In this case, there was a winner and a loser and, unfortunately, Innisfil was on the losing side,” she said. “There was no compensation at all.”
While observers are just seeing the beginning of development in the annexed lands in Barrie now, she said Innisfil has been growing at its own pace for the last decade.
“We’ve been able to deliver on new homes through this period,” said Jason Reynar, chief administrative officer for the town. “A lot of that has been because there hasn’t been a lot of supply.”
Dollin said they’ve licked their wounds, and may have come out as a stronger community.
“If anything, it solidified us,” she said.
Fortunately for Innisfil, Lehman doesn’t see the need for any more annexation talk in the foreseeable future.
“Innisfil is not interested in being Barrie’s snack food any longer,” Dollin joked.