MUSKOKA LAKES — A proposed wellness centre in Bala has raised concerns over how it would impact the community’s well-being.
‘The Township of Muskoka Lakes should support people and companies who wish to invest in Bala. It would be nice to see more growth, people and interest’ — William Fletcher Bala resident
The 1,600-square-foot, two-storey centre is slated to sit at the corner of Grey Street and Muskoka Road 169, and is proposed to house a yoga studio.
The site, however, needs to be rezoned from residential to commercial use to accommodate the project, and some residents are fearful it may negatively affect area traffic, available parking and the community’s landscape.
Faced with the concerns, council deferred a decision on the proposal until a future date.
For project developers Catherine Keith and Jasmine Arney, the opposition seemed unexpected.
“I didn’t realize there would be so much opposition,” Keith said at a Monday council meeting.
The development has already been green-lighted by planning staff from the District of Muskoka, provided that the entrance to the centre is on Grey Street.
Although township bylaws define a wellness centre as a place that hosts medical- or physical fitness-related activities, Bala residents Llora and Wayne Weismiller expressed concerns that the terms of commercial rezoning are too loose, giving the developer leeway to potentially host other types of businesses that may be more disruptive.
“The proposed allowed uses for the purpose of the rezoning, were they just to allow a clinic, office, related retail and a yoga studio would be fine,” they said in a letter to council. “But there are the future uses such as a multiple dwelling, restaurant, tavern and place of amusement that do not simply fit within the neighbourhood.”
On top of medical facilities, rezoning the land as a commercial zone could allow it to accommodate retail stores, convenience stores, restaurants, dwelling units, offices and “places of amusement,” a report by the town’s planning staff shows.
The Weismillers also expressed concerns that the building’s height would prove to be an eyesore in Bala’s landscape.
“We see no reason for a 45-foot structure and urge that the maximum height of 30 feet be strictly adhered to,” they wrote. “The owners should be encouraged to respect the neighbourhood and keep a green buffer area on all sides and maintain discreet outdoor lighting.”
Provided road maintenance would not be hindered, the township’s planning staff saw no problems with the project’s proposed zero-foot setback. However, that did not prove reassuring for Bala resident Dennis Fox.
“The setbacks should be maintained at the present 10 feet,” he wrote in a letter. “In the future, widening the road, etc. also presents a visibility problem coming out of Grey Street, creating a safety hazard.”
The setback concerns were seconded by Ruby Smith, whose property abuts the proposed development site. She hopes the project will retain a buffer of mature trees between the two properties.
“This might save Arney/Keith the trouble and expense of erecting a tasteful and soundly constructed fence between our two properties in the future,” she said.
Another critic of the project was Susan Magee, who was concerned the rezoning of the land would allow the project to evolve into something other that what is being proposed.
“What if the new business ventures fails?” she said. “The (commercial) zoning would allow that building to be yet another rooming house. This possibility is what I am strongly objected to.”
Keith reminded council that the 10-foot buffer of mature trees would serve as a buffer to allay parking concerns, and that a local resident whom she spoke with was actually pleased the building’s height would block her view of traffic on Muskoka Road 169.
Keith also pointed to the fact that the centre is slated to sit across the street from where a supermarket and coffee shop are already located.
“I do feel that with the commercial building across the street, it’s not out of nature,” she said of the proposed centre.
The development did receive some support.
“The Township of Muskoka Lakes should support people and companies who wish to invest in Bala,” wrote Bala resident William Fletcher. “It would be nice to see more growth, people and interest.”
Fellow Bala resident Laura Ceschia also wrote to council to express her support for the proposal.
“I feel the township and council should support individuals who want to invest in Bala,” she wrote.