By Ian McInroy – Barrie Examiner
ESSA TWP. — Jonathon Shore has two words for Simcoe County residents who are upset about massive developments in their neighbourhoods: get involved.
The communication chairman of Aware Simcoe, a watchdog group keeping their eyes and ears open to potential development in the county, says the organization — along with residents across Simcoe County — wants to see an end to urban sprawl in the area.
Aware Simcoe hosted a meeting — Sprawl: the Monster that’s Consuming Simcoe County — on Saturday at the Angus Recreation Centre.
Organizers were pleased with the turnout of about 100 people who attended the meeting.
Shore said those in attendance — “mostly zoomers, men and women”, some commuters and about 10 people under the age of thirty — had many concerns about large developments in the area, especially a massive development proposed for Midhurst (currently before the Ontario Municipal Board) and the Big Bay Point resort which is under construction in Innisfil.
“They were concerned fragmented urban nodes in the middle of nowhere with no infrastructure and no jobs, large homes on large lots in the middle of nowhere, destruction of wildlife habitat, destruction of prime farmland and destruction of water resources,” he said.
Participants at Saturday’s meeting also had problems with an increase in traffic density in rural areas — in some cases, an increase of 10 to 20 times the current traffic on already maxed-out roads — as well as the “opening up” of Simcoe County, when plenty of land already exists in the GTA proper, Shore added.
“(Development) is leapfrogging the green belt areas to the south of Simcoe County,” he said, adding that while the province and county have determined the county’s population will surge to 667,000 by 2031, developers would like to see that figure expanded to about one million residents.
During the Saturday meeting, Claire Malcomson, of Environmental Defence, spoke about the history of urban planning in Simcoe County to date, with some emphasis on Lake Simcoe. John Stillich, of the Sustainable Urban Development Association, talked about the impact high density development has on low intensity infrastructure and David Strachan, of the Midhurst Ratepayers Association, spoke about the massive development proposed for the mostly-residental village just north of Barrie.
“Putting 30,000-plus people with no jobs into a village is a very (poorly) thought out thing to attempt, particularly as Barrie has very high unemployment itself,” Shore said, adding that Aware Simcoe will continue to monitor local municipal governments as well as county council to inform its membership of potential urban sprawl issues.
“We want to make the public — in areas of potential urban sprawl — aware of the early signs that development processes are at work and let interested residents know of the processes available to them to influence their local municipal councillors,” he said. “They need to have their opinions heard about bylaw changes which will foster urban sprawl before the process is too far advanced to stop.”  
 Shore said any residents concerned about urban sprawl should attend their local committee of adjustment sessions and council meetings when urban planning issues are on the agenda.
“They should observe the voting patterns of their local councillors and engage them personally in conversation on their vote choices,” he added.