By John Swartz
Monday’s council meeting begins at noon today with a special meeting regarding reconstruction of downtown streets.
The outline for the plan is to develop qualifications needed for the City to hire a project manager, and then hire one in the spring on a 2-year contract. Also in spring the create details for specifications for tendering. At last budget, council approved $1.6 million for the design work.
A tender to survey and design reconstruction is scheduled for spring, with contracts awarded in summer. The original Downtown Tomorrow consultant, Urban Strategies, will also deliver an updated Downtown Tomorrow plan.
Public consultations start with stakeholders in fall.
It won’t be until fall 2025 a detailed design will be ready to go to tender. In the New Year of 2026 the plan is to hire a construction manager. By fall a budget for Phase 1 will be presented to council. The tender for Phase 1 will be awarded in the New Year of 2027, with construction to start in the spring and be completed by fall. Then it’s on to the next phases of construction.
The original plan to rebuild downtown streets did not include Matchedash, Andrew and Albert Streets. Council added those streets to the project during last fall’s budget meeting.
The renewal will include a complete change in how our downtown streets look. The plan is to create a roadway from building edge to building edge on Mississaga and other streets as one surface (i.e. no curbs) with vehicle and foot traffic indicated by paving changes. It also means new trees, lights and hopefully a built in means to close Mississaga and Peter Streets for events (i.e. retractable bollards).
Let’s hope whoever gets the design contract does something unique for Orillia, a look no other city has, which reflects our history (plastic herds of sheep for Mississaga Street?). We missed a golden opportunity to do something original to develop 70 Front Street North and Centennial Drive, so citizens should pay attention to the planning and proposals.
The regular agenda starts at 2 p.m. there are two deputations to hear. Dr. Linda Rodenburg (interim Orillia campus principal), Rebecca Hefferan and Jaclyn Bucik will update council about what is happening at Lake Head University.
Lakehead has foreign students from all over the world. Yes the most come from India, but there are only 71; that is balanced with 115 from other countries, of which China accounts for 19.
The employment rate of students is 97.2% within two years of graduation. The university plans to increase enrolment to 3,000 students by 2032 (expand to 50 countries) and add 10 new programs of study. There are currently more than 2,280 students, including those in programs jointly offered with Georgian College.
Lakehead has a $245.7 million economic effect on the area economy and plans to increase that to $400 million, but no time frame is given.
The second deputation is from the Orillia Rowing Club. They will be making a pitch to council for grants and fee waivers equal to the costs the City will impose on them for permits and development charges resulting from their plan to build a boat/clubhouse in Kitchener Park. Previously staff rejected their request for a deputation, but council overrode the decision.
The club has a $250,000 budget for construction and say the fees the City will impose will add $140,000 to the project. Council previously said they did not want the project to cost the City any funds, but the club’s position is the City stands to make $140,000. It’s worth noting if the project gets cancelled, the City gets nothing anyway. The club’s message to council is applying waivers is essentially revenue neutral on the City’s part.
Council then has the public forum to deal with before going into closed session. There are two reports on the closed agenda. One is a staff report regarding options for a Front Street property the City owns, and the other is an update on contract negotiations with the firefighter’s union.
One report many residents will be not happy to learn about is a staff report about fireworks in residential neighbourhoods.
In the noise by-law, using fireworks is already restricted 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. The noise is a concern for many, but it should be argued the lighted end and where projectiles go is the major concern.
Staff is proposing deleting mention of fireworks from the noise by-law and making a new by-law just for fireworks.
However, they are also proposing to allow fireworks on the usual holidays (which will include Lunar New Year, Gurpurab, and the three days of Diwali – with rain dates on the days following those events.
It would allow a time frame of dusk to 11 p.m. (12:30 a.m. for New Year’s). It would prohibit the use of display fireworks or special effect pyrotechnics and during fire bans.
This effectively undoes the complete ban on fireworks, which never stopped some people, especially in the north end. It also did not stop some people from using fireworks whenever they felt like it. It could be argued the net effect is more fireworks will be used during those holidays.
As mentioned the major concern was from a fire being started and residents wanted some kind of crack down. Instead they are getting more reason to worry.
If a fire starts a by-law includes an inspection fee being added, which can be applied after investigation relating to complaints lodged. One of the problems now is, it’s usually the police who respond to complaints and by the time they get thee the show is over. The new by-law would allow them to collect evidence and statements. If it is found anyone contravened any of the regulation in the by-law they could be fined up to $50,000, $100,000 if it’s a corporation.
If the fire department has to respond, those responsible will have to pay standard fees for equipment deployed in addition to all other costs the fire department incurs.
Another novel way to approach the problem would be for the OPP and by-law officers to be deployed to logistical areas of the city and let their eyes and ears guide them to fireworks, instead of waiting for a call and finding an officer who can respond.
In 2023 there were 28 complaints. Staff expect complaints to go down because fireworks are going to be allowed. This is exactly what residents didn’t want. The City had the most restrictive regulation of any city in Ontario, The problem was enforcement, which is what residents wanted to see an improvement with.
With the next report, staff are recommending not approve a request from residents for a 4-way stop at Mary and Douglas Streets. There are complaints of speeding and one report of a hit and run with a pedestrian last summer. Staff say the amount of traffic at the intersection does not warrant a 4-way stop. Traffic already has a stop on Douglas Street.
The last report on the agenda is from staff asking council to raised the cash-in-lieu of parking fee from $4,000 to $11,000 per parking space required but not built as it applies to developments in the downtown.
Those fees are earmarked for the parking reserve fund and used to maintain municipal lots. Staff surveyed what other municipalities charge and came up with an average of $10,929.
There have been development proposals in recent years for the downtown, and one of the issues in there is nowhere to create parking for tenants. The only option is to better utilize existing municipal lots or buy land and create new lots.
Staff also present options to only increase the charge to $6,000, which is the cost of making parking spaces, or to $18,800 which would include buying land – both on a per space basis.
Councillor Tim Lauer has a notice of motion, which means it is dealt with immediately, to have staff prepare a report on the total number and costs of trees planted in 2023.
Councillors Jay Fallis and Luke Leatherdale have an enquiry motion asking staff for a report about the options and costs to improve snow clearing during major storms, and costs for removing snow in areas where there is no room to push snow accumulation to.
In by-laws the bureaucracy is growing. There is a by-law to promote Amanpreet Singh Sidhu from general manager of corporate services, city solicitor and deputy clerk to general manager of corporate services, city solicitor and deputy chief administrative officer.
Council meetings are open to the public or can be watched on the City’s Youtube channel.
(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia)