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Doug Ford’s government fast-tracks huge futuristic development near Lake Simcoe
Aug. 11, 2021

The province has approved a special order to fast-track a development in Innisfil that will convert farm fields into a futuristic transit-oriented development surrounded by concentric rings of condominiums and townhouses.

Over the next 20 years, the Orbit proposal (as approved by the minister’s zoning order, or MZO) will increase the population of Innisfil, which currently has less than 40,000 people by another 20,000. A future proposed phase of the development would see the population grow by 150,000.

A local environmental group opposed to the project, given its potential impact on nearby Lake Simcoe already suffering due to development pressures, said approval for the contentious project is the “ultimate cutting of the red tape for developers.”

“Once again the government has put development interests ahead of the environmental concerns and public transparency,” said Claire Malcolmson, the executive director of Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition. “There is nothing in the MZO that talks about safeguarding the lake.”

The town of Innisfil endorsed a vision plan for Mobility Orbit, a next generation development with the 6th Line Go Station at the nucleus.

Orbit was one of seven MZOs issued by Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark over the past two weeks. Doug Ford’s government has issued 53 MZOs since it came to power in 2018.

Clark called the Orbit announcement “a good example of how our government is using minister’s zoning orders, in partnership with municipalities, to help get shovels in the ground quickly on important projects that will benefit residents for generations,” in a release issued by the town of Innisfil on Monday.

The MZO for Orbit approved the first two phases of the three-part project at 6th Line and Metrolinx Rail line, focusing on development around a GO station. The station will be built by the Cortel Group, a company headed by Mario Cortellucci, a prominent developer and donor to Doug Ford’s 2018 election campaign.

In its release, the town said the project was “designed to prevent urban sprawl.”

On its website, the town said it wanted to fast-track the project through a MZO to ensure the developer could “secure financing for the construction of the proposed station … and to meet the designated time frame for construction.”

The first two phases of the three-part project focus on development around a GO station, which will be built by the Cortel Group, a company headed by prominent developer and Doug Ford donor Mario Cortellucci.

The same day the MZO was issued, the province also proposed a regulation that would require the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA) to issue a permit for Orbit within 45 days of receiving the development application.

If it’s finalized, the regulation will allow development to begin before an ecological compensation agreement between the authority and the developer is completed. The agreement is meant to compensate with money for any environmental impact on sensitive lands.

“This approach would expedite development while continuing to require compensation for ecological impacts,” according to the regulation.

Tim Cane, director of growth with the town of Innisfil, said he is not concerned about the expedited ecological agreement or the fast-tracking of the development.

“The LSRCA is a key partner for the town and they will be at the table as the town processes the required subsequent site plan applications and building permits,” said Cane.

Town of Innisfil, which has long endorsed the project said, "the Orbit will be sustainable, inclusive, and technologically advanced."

Cane also said the MZO “includes protection of environmental lands” and will have to conform to all local county and provincial policies, including the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan. He also said that environmental studies will be required.

But Malcolmson said this is an example of the “province changing the rules to give developers the upper hand.”

She also said that despite the project being pitched as smart growth, it will not get people out of cars. A survey of potential GO users in the area found most said they would drive to the station.

“If that was the end game, this GO station would have been planned beside an existing town, not in the middle of the farm field,” said Malcolmson. “People are not going to want to buy a condo on a train line in a farm field and I’m concerned that at the end of day we are just going to have more sprawl.”

A recent Star investigation into MZOs found that companies associated with Cortellucci have received four MZOs. Orbit would be their fifth.