HUNTSVILLE – It all seemed to happen so fast.
Huntsville council considered an application on Sept. 18 submitted by Skyline Deerhurst Resort Inc. for the rezoning of property beside Peninsula Lake.
Glenn Lucas, representing the resort owner at the meeting, spoke about plans to demolish the 100-year-old Lodge building, the condemned Terrace building and a few unused cottages by the waterfront at Deerhurst Resort to make way for a potential 173-unit development.
Without the rezoning the company could build only 52 units.
“Deerhurst has excellent convention facilities and we can compete with places like Niagara Falls and Blue Mountain (in Collingwood, Ont.). Where we can’t compete is with respect to accommodation units,” said Lucas.
He stated that Niagara Falls has more than 4,000 accommodation units in its convention facilities and Blue Mountain has nearly 1,000. Deerhurst has fewer than 500.
About 50 per cent of Deerhurst’s business is related to conventions and much of it is booked into the shoulder seasons, otherwise known as spring and fall. He noted Deerhurst employs about 600 people.
Skyline wants to rezone the property to allow for a five-storey, 173-unit accommodation development with swimming pool, barbecue area, gazebos, and other amenities.
Concept drawings show the proposed development to be a dominant, one-building feature on the lakefront that is higher than the trees around it, but with a treed hill visible behind it in the distance.
He said it was the town’s policy to allow some buildings to take a more prominent role in the landscape based on a statement in the Official Plan.
The height of the building was one of the main concerns of the Peninsula Lake Association, which also spoke at the meeting.
Association president Robert Hurst said the organization that represents 275 families around the lake is opposed to the proposed development because it is too high and too massive.
“Our mission is to preserve and enhance Peninsula Lake and the surrounding landscape,” said Hurst. “We take this mission quite seriously.”
He said the rectangular building with its peaked roof would be a potential eyesore.
The development, he noted, would be 20 per cent higher than Taboo Resort Golf and Spa in Gravenhurst and Red Leaves in Muskoka Lakes, and 50 per cent higher than the former Grandview Resort in Huntsville.
Hurst argued the building would stick above the tree line directly surrounding the building and in no way blend in with the environment.
“Your line in the sand should be the tree line. Nothing should cross it, nothing should go over it,” he said to council. “We’ve all chosen to live in Muskoka because of the natural beauty that surrounds us here – our freshwater lakes, the rocks of our Canadian Shield, the rocks of our forests – it’s one of the few places in the world like this.”
Development should exist in harmony with that natural landscape, he said.
Hurst concluded that the association wanted the development a storey shorter and broken into a cluster of smaller buildings. He also asked that council defer its decision to analyze drawings submitted by Skyline to council the day before the meeting.
About 20 people in the gallery broke into applause following Hurst’s presentation.
Wayne Simpson, representing Muskoka Standard Condominium Corporation No. 25, also asked that his clients be given time to review any new information or plan changes in regard to the development before decisions were made.
The condominium corporation members own the only property directly abutting Deerhurst and they want an opportunity to offer constructive feedback, said Simpson.
When it came time for council to discuss the fate of the application councillors spoke of little other than the appearance of the proposed development.
Coun. Chris Zanetti said he appreciated the impact Deerhurst has on employment in the region and how construction of the new building would increase employment further.
“But perhaps we could ask Skyline to go back and rework how it looks from the lakeside,” said Zanetti.
Coun. Tim Withey agreed.
“I’m not sold on this,” said Withey of the drawings. “I’d like to see something a little more iconic or a little less belligerent.”
Mayor Claude Doughty assured council the aesthetic of the development could be debated at the site plan stage.
There were also a few comments about where the tree line was and how high the building would sit.
Discussion stopped somewhat abruptly and Doughty called for a vote.
In what seemed to be a blink of the eye, the majority of councillors voted in favour of the application leaving the gallery sitting in what appeared to be stunned silence.
Murmurs from the gallery started as council moved onto the next agenda item.
Additional approvals are required from council before construction can begin, though Skyline now has the right to build 173 units on the lakeside.