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Grey Highlands appoints consulting firm to assist in downtown revisioning project

·3 min read

The municipality of Grey Highlands is calling in backup to assist in gathering public input for its Downtown Markdale Revisioning project.

“In a pandemic world, as we know, we're all Zoomed out and tired of sitting at a computer screen. We wanted to make sure that this was a fulsome opportunity for the community to engage,” said Michele Harris, director of community and economic development for Grey Highlands.

At a council meeting held on Wednesday, Grey Highlands council approved appointing The Planning Partnership as the consultants for the project.

In 2018, the municipality purchased 20 Toronto Street North, a two-acre property located in downtown Markdale.

Markdale is the largest settlement area in Grey Highlands with 1,200 residents. The rural community is also located near Highway 10 and Grey Road 12, which sees 9,300 daily travellers in the peak season.

At the time of the purchase, the municipality declared the site would serve as “a place where cultural and market interests intermingle to catalyze the region’s economy and contribute to the revitalization of Markdale’s downtown core”.

In late 2020, council moved the project forward, authorizing staff to proceed with an RFEI process that would seek out applicants to assist the municipality through the community engagement process.

The RFEI also called on applicants to outline how they would create a plan to build awareness around the project; propose post-project recommendations on how to keep the community updated and provide a final report highlighting the results of the process.

In early February, two submissions were recommended to proceed to the next step in the Downtown Markdale Revisioning RFEI. Fotenn and The Planning Partnership provided full RFP submissions to the municipality’s Technical Review Team in mid-February.

“The committee was unanimous in my recommendation of the Planning Partnership, they're extremely experienced in this field, their firm's depth of expertise, their approaches to community engagement are going to be really interesting,” said Harris.

The Technical Review Team includes three volunteer representatives from the community, as well as the CAO and Harris.

During the presentation process the proponents were asked to identify their experience in understanding how zoning and planning regulations would need to be considered; the importance of the project as a catalyst for downtown revitalization; their approach to meaningful community engagement; and experience with similar projects.

“This company had been using a lot of these virtual tools, in parallel with their traditional tools, prior to the pandemic,” Harris explained. “This is not new for them. They have the experience that I think really sets them apart from most of the other submissions we received.”

Council approved spending $31,000 for the consulting portion of the project, which will be funded through the municipality’s working capital reserve.

According to Harris, the project is expected to begin almost immediately and staff expect to deliver the final report from the consultants by the end of June.

“We will be communicating out to the public what the process is and what the timelines are,” she added. “I'm really interested to see how the community embraces this.”

Jennifer Golletz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca