Significant development constraints impact proposed modular housing on Vespra Street

Staff report recommends city consult with County of Simcoe regarding interest in site

A modular supportive housing project to help Barrie’s homeless population has hit some bumps.

Modular housing initiative -Toronto – photo provided

A staff report to city council general committee was given tentative approval without discussion on Monday that would require staff to consult with the County of Simcoe regarding its interest in the site, located on Vespra at Victoria Streets, over the longer term for affordable or supportive housing and report back to general committee.

As well, the report directs staff to work with the County of Simcoe to determine sites or projects other than Vespra and Victoria Streets that the city could consider supporting to allow for more expeditious provision of supportive housing.

The report said there are significant development constraints associated with the Vespra Street location.

“There are known environmental issues resulting from the historical uses of the former fire station property and from migration of contamination on other properties in close proximity,” the report outlined.

“The site conditions will not allow for a quick build of the supportive housing that council and the community are seeking. Given the amount of work and resulting time to construct any form of housing on this challenging site, staff are recommending that the County of Simcoe be consulted with respect to alternative projects or sites that may allow for the quicker delivery of safe, supportive housing in the community.”

Prior to general committee’s decision, Councillor Keenan Aylwin told Barrie 360 he was hopeful the city and county can come up with ideas to tackle the housing crisis head-on.

“We are facing a really intense housing crisis in the city. We have the third highest rents in the whole country behind Vancouver and Toronto. We know there are people who are underhoused in our community sleeping on the streets, in doorways and in parks, and that’s just untenable,” said Aylwin.

The investigations determined the following:

• Some soil remediation will be necessary prior to redevelopment in order to address historical and surrounding uses;

• Existing soil condition are not ideal for supporting heavy loads; and The ground water depth is between 1.3 and 3.4 metres below the ground surface, and the elevations fluctuate seasonally.

In January, city council committed $3-million to the modular housing project, including soil remediation of the property to be capped at $750,00.

The staff report to general council on Monday estimated the cost of soil remediation would not likely top $500,00. But there were several other requirements that would need to be confirmed as part of the normal development approval process, the report explained.

These include but may not be limited to:

• disposal of any excavated garbage,
• decommissioning of wells located on site,
• a site alteration permit,
• spill contingency plan,
• fill management plan,
• a discharge agreement for construction dewatering and monitoring of groundwater and gas migration.

None of the items have been costed and would be in addition to the tab for soil remediation.

Aylwin isn’t giving up on the site.

“I think there is still some potential with this property,” he said. “As our staff has said in the report to work with the County of Simcoe, who are responsible for social housing and social services, to see what kind of project we can get up and running on the site.”

“But in the meantime, as our staff have recommended, we’d be looking at other potential sites where we could get some rapid housing built to support people in the greatest need in our community.”

Aylwin said there are other sites the city can look at and work with the County of Simcoe and other community agencies to try to find that quick build that city council is looking for.

If the county is not interested in the site, staff would continue its investigation into the potential redesignation and rezoning of the site and report back to general committee. The zoning of the land is mostly institutional with a portion of Victoria Street identified as residential multiple dwelling second density.

General committee’s decision still requires city council approval at its next meeting.

Banner image: Modular housing initiative – Toronto – photo provided