Developer fails to change capital plan
Barrie city council hasn't changed its 2017 capital budget to include expanding Essa Road to six lanes between Anne Street and Bryne Drive. MARK WANZEL photo
Essa Road won't be widened any earlier, and the old Barrie fairgrounds likely won't be developed any sooner.
City council did not change its 2017 capital budget to include expanding Essa to six lanes between Anne Street and Bryne Drive at its meeting earlier this week.
Brad Keast of Osmington, which owns the 60-acre property at 175 Essa Rd., asked council to advance the project's timing – now scheduled for 2019-2021.
“Why is it now we really want this? For a number of years, there has not been a whole lot of leasing interest in the site. Now there is,” he said. “There's a lot of interest in the site. We want to make sure there is road capacity for the tenants, so they can go in and open the door.”
Osmington was planning 400,000 square feet of commercial development at the fairgrounds property in 2008, and there was site plan approval for the project. Two years ago this land was included in the site for a proposed university campus – until the province decided York, Peel and Halton regions would be the locations for new post-secondary school locations.
Now Keast says the plan is for 130,000 to 150,000 sq. ft. of retail fronting Essa, with 525 units of medium-density residential north of that.
But he wants Essa widened this year. The city plans to widen Essa from Fairview Road to Bryne, including ramp improvements at Highway 400, in 2019 for $4 million.
In 2020-2021, Essa would be widened from Fairview to Anne, for $6.1 million.
Keast suggested to council that these costs could be paid by borrowing from the city development charges (DC) reserve fund, then paying that back from the capital reserves. He estimated Osmington's fairgrounds project would generate $22 million in development charges for the city and that, once up and running, $3 million in annual tax assessment. That money could help replentish those reserves.
Craig Millar, the city's finance director and treasurer, was asked what he thought.
“Unfortunately the city doesn't have a wealth of reserves where we can borrow,” he said. “While some of those numbers may look large ... they're really not when you look at the city's assets ($33 billion worth of buildings, roads, bridges, etc. that need maintaining).”
Millar also explained the capital budget prioritizes city growth and infrastructure renewal needs, and that changing it could lead to a domino effect.
“If you were going to advance another project (widening Essa Road), as treasurer I'd be recommending that you need to defer another project,” he said.
Millar said there are other options, such as financing arrangements whereby developers front-end the costs of the project and in return receive credits later.
Coun. Barry Ward asked Keast if this was something Osmington would consider.
“At this point, on our own, we wouldn't be looking at front-ending,” Keast said. “We are speaking to potential partners and that is something we can talk to them about, to see if they would be willing to front-end.”
“I have great concerns about other projects being ignored, if we go ahead with this one,” Ward said.
“It (widening Essa) would help Osmington, it would also help the city of Barrie if we could find a way to work with the developer to advance that work, all residents that are using that road would benefit.”
Keast said the Essa Road widening would help traffic congestion on both side of the Highway 400 bridge.
He compared Osmington's fairgrounds to the member of a family who's not contributing, on the couch, playing video games, doesn't have a job, not paying the bills, doesn't even do laundry.
“Let's help him out, let's get him off the couch,” Keast said of the property. “He has great potential. There's a lot of potential here, potential to ease the affordability of the housing supply prices, the potential to generate some significant DCs ... for significant tax assessment.
“The site itself is a little bit underwhelming. Again, great location, great visibility, the potential to develop this into a great gateway for visitors and residents alike.”
City staff will continue talking with Osmington, to see what solutions are available, said Richard Forward, the city's general manager of infrastructure and growth management.