Barrie Mayor Alex Nuttall’s recent efforts to expand the city’s boundaries are nothing new.
In fact, it’s old hat. Barrie has annexed or absorbed neighbouring municipalities more than a dozen times over many decades, starting in the late 1800s.
What’s different about Nuttall’s efforts is they don’t make sense, according to one former Barrie mayor.
Jim Perri, who sat in the mayor’s seat from 2000 to 2003 and was chair of the city’s development committee from 1969 to 1997, is one of a half dozen or so former Barrie mayors who penned letters of support for Nuttall’s boundary expansion plans.
Perri says he sees three things wrong with the current plan to expand into Oro-Medonte and Springwater townships.
“First, it’s not logical,” he told BradfordToday and InnisfilToday. “Second, it’s not fiscally responsible, because the cost is going to be very high and last, it doesn’t get you what you want — industrial land.”
Nuttall has said the city could provide for 20,000 industrial, manufacturing and warehousing jobs during the next 20 years if it could work out a deal to use neighbouring land.
Nuttall's plan identifies 1,907 acres of land, public and private, east of Penetanguishene Road and generally south of Highway 11 in Oro-Medonte for the project. Three parcels of land in Springwater Township have also been identified for potential development.
There are 2,564 acres in and around Little Lake, much of it city-owned, 422 acres along Highway 90 and 284 acres in the Midhurst area, just north of Barrie.
Perri said he agrees with the need. But he also said he doesn’t agree with the plan.
“Why are they proposing lands in Oro-Medonte and Springwater? They’re not serviceable by Barrie," he said. "It would require pumping stations or a brand new wastewater treatment plant.”
The cost of a wastewater treatment plant, Perri said, would be prohibitive. He said Barrie’s current wastewater treatment plant, located on Bradford Street, would cost more than a billion dollars to build today.
“I think we paid upward of $600 or $700 million for it and that was 40 or 50 years ago,” he added.
Perri, now 79, said an eventual expansion into Oro-Medonte and Springwater might make sense sometime in the future, but if the city’s objective is to get immediate serviceable land for industrial development, “that ain’t the place," he said.
He says the city should be looking south, toward the Lovers Creek watershed, which goes all the way down to the 8th Line of Innisfil.
“It could be serviced tomorrow, by the way,” Perri said. “The city has built a trunk sewer to the Innisfil boundary that’s as big as this room in diameter — it’s eight or nine feet — for that very purpose.”
In the late 1970s or early '80s, Perri said, the city had to service the south end of Barrie. At that time, the city made a strategic decision to build a trunk sewer to the capacity of Lovers Creek watershed.
“It only made sense,” he said. “Council at the time took a calculated risk that the city was going to grow and it was going to happen in the south. It was common sense.”
Perri says the land-use studies and the planning sessions that were done years ago remain valid because the area’s geography hasn’t changed.
He said good planning is driven by logic and logic follows topography, the physical layout of the environment in which you live.
Perri says the only reason why the topic keeps resurfacing is because every incoming council tosses out what the council before did.
“I’m sorry, but in terms of development, planning, expansion — it’s been done,” he said. “Unfortunately, councils throw things away and they want to start fresh, but this has all been done. The whole area has been studied.”
Perri says with the research that’s been done, the previous 'annexation' of Innisfil land and the continued growth along the Highway 400 corridor, the only place Barrie should be looking for industrial and employment land is to the south.
“Barrie and Innisfil should be one municipality,” he said. “It’s an urban area already. Why have two councils, two fire departments, two police departments?
“In the long run, for the betterment of the whole community, Barrie and Innisfil should be joined together. It would resolve all these issues.”
The provincially mandated Barrie-Innisfil Boundary Adjustment Act came into effect on Jan. 1, 2010, transferring 5,664 acres of Innisfil land to Barrie, extending city wards 7, 8, 9 and 10 to include the new properties.
Innisfil Mayor Lynn Dollin has recently said she's happy to see Barrie looking elsewhere for industrial land this time around.
"What happened in Innisfil in 2009 was unfortunate because there was no compensation for any of the land given to Barrie," Dollin said earlier this month when Barrie's boundary expansion plans came up.
In the city's north end, the Barrie-Vespra Annexation Act of 1984 also gobbled up what is now the Bayfield Street North area.
— With files from Bob Bruton and Chris Simon