Residential condominiums will be built first at the former Bracebridge and Muskoka Lakes Secondary School site, followed by units for senior citizens under a rezoning application approved by a town committee last week.
The development services committee agreed to rezone the property in order to facilitate the project on Wednesday, May 30, after hearing from a number of residents who spoke both in favour of and against the request. Project developer McMurray Street Investments Inc. had originally planned to build a 153-room senior’s complex there, but later revised plans to also include two residential condominiums.
“We had initially expected that the senior’s facility was going to go first. Our partner Traditions Seniors Housing, who have about 30 facilities across the country, were not ready to move on the project as part of the first phase,” said McMurray Street Investments principal John Davies. “They were somewhat concerned about the slow lease of time frames of another facility that was built in the last couple of years in Gravenhurst, and they felt that they needed to postpone moving forward on this site as phase one until the market conditions improved.”
Davies said the senior’s complex will have no physical link to the residential condominiums, and is likely to be a “2014 project.” He said more details on the senior’s units will be available in the fall.
To date, the plans will involve keeping the front part of the building intact as a sales office, but demolishing the rest of the building to make way for development.
Tim Gaffney, who lives near the development site, told the committee he feels the site should be used to house another type of facility instead, which may draw more visitors to central Bracebridge.
“We’ve got lots of condominiums in town already. I think that there’s far better ideas for that property, which is prime real estate in the downtown core of Bracebridge,” he said.
Gaffney said he’s concerned the development would only bring a small number of people to Bracebridge. He said putting another facility there, like a school for performing arts, would contribute much more to the local economy.
“What’s more feasible, to bring 28 or 30 people to downtown, or to build a facility that will bring an influx of people to downtown?” he said.
Another resident, Margaret Smithyes, said she supports the developer’s request to rezone the property, albeit with reservations.
“I think it’s premature to approve something which includes the senior citizens component when we haven’t even really got anything that is definite about what the concept of the condominiums is,” she said. “I would prefer to see the senior citizens component dealt with at some other time.”
She also urged the committee to give more consideration to the impact the project will have on area traffic.
“As it is, the Bracebridge Public School creates almost intolerable traffic congestion,” she said. “Whatever you decide to do with that site, please don’t send any more cars down McMurray Street.”
Speaking on behalf of the developer, Planscape planner Angela Ghikadis said many residents in town are anxious to see the site redeveloped. She said many people who attended an open house for the project a few weeks ago were generally receptive of the plans.
“As a lifelong resident of Bracebridge and professionally, I think this is a really good project,” she said. “It’s an important site, it’ll be revitalized and will contribute to the vibrancy of the town.”
She’s also hoping that the project’s sales office will ward off vandals and firebugs. The building has been hit by at least two separate graffiti waves since the beginning of 2012.
“We’re hopeful that a consistent on-site presence will also go a long way in curbing some of the vandalism,” she said.
Smithyes noted the building has deteriorated steadily since students were moved to the new high school in 2006.
“Right now it looks like something out of downtown slum Detroit,” she said.
For residents who trek through the property’s grounds, Davies said all existing pathways through the site will be preserved.
The school was sold in 2010 by the Trillium Lakelands District School Board for $650,000. Ghikadis said the public will also be able to provide more input at a site plan approval process in the future.
The rezoning approval will now go before a general committee meeting and a council meeting for final approval.