On April 23, 2012, I was very pleased, as were many others who responded with clapping and cheering, with the unanimous vote by council to revisit the Official Plan for the 17 Golf Course Road property.
I was disappointed at a subsequent meeting on June 14 of the special planning committee when Mayor Claude Doughty suggested there was a way around council wasting valuable time and money on reviewing the Official Plan every five years and looking into a way of being able to tweak the existing document. He suggested a group to study the development permit system that the province had proposed for municipalities to speed up and circumvent wasted time by limiting the involvement of council and the public. Decisions would be made through clerks and staff at municipal offices. He stated that regular reviews of the Official Plan were a costly waste of time and money and should apply to the provincial area south of Barrie and not here in Muskoka where little changes.
The suggestion put forth by the mayor seemed to deflect the importance of the April 23 decision and put it on the back burner, so to speak. It would directly influence a decision by council, that he was not a part of due to his declaring a conflict of interest.
To shelve the April 23 decision while the development permit system is studied would effectively muzzle council’s opportunity to correct an error in the Official Plan before it goes before the Ontario Municipal Board with Kris House’s appeal over the decision made by council on April 23 regarding the Golf Course Road property. It weakens the position that council decided upon.
Councillors do not readily admit to making errors and when they do they must be commended on their courage to bring it to the public eye. On April 23, Mr.Alcott, who had been on the zoning committee at the time came forward and stated that an error had been made on this portion of the Official Plan and it should be corrected. Mr. Brian Thompson, a current councillor, remembered the discussion and confusion over what to do with the said property and agreed that a poor decision had been made at the time. The special policy industrial designation had included residents and part of the existing agricultural farm. Both of these gentlemen felt the proper zoning should have been rural or rural residential and should be corrected immediately.
Most governments have learned too late that decisions of the past, made with a lack of knowledge and foresight can often be detrimental to a much larger area than the initial project covered. This is very evident in the pollution factor. It is very seldom that errors can be detected in time and the opportunity to correct them presented before any real damage has been done. This is a golden opportunity for the council to correct the admitted error in the Official Plan before irreparable problems surface
Regarding the property on Golf Course Road, there was much secrecy by Mr. House as to what he intends to do with the property. He indicated that it was his private property and he would do what he wished with it –it was nobody else’s business. This approach was very evident when he threatened to sue his neighbours when they complained. He had said that he would leave a buffer of trees to protect the residential area. He not only clear-cut on his property but even some on the neighbouring lands. He also showed little regard for others when he caused expenses to be incurred when he buried the property markers under rubble, which forced survey costs to relocate them.
When the vote went against his plan, he gave an interview with Alison Brownlee of the Huntsville Forester where he stated council had indicated that Huntsville was not open for business and the creation of jobs was not a priority of council. He went on to state that the two businesses that were to be located on the property if the zoning was changed were to be a bio-mass fuel recovery business and a metal fabrication mill-work style business.
This should certainly raise a red flag to the council to closely examine these projects which are, according to Mr. House, “none of their business”
Council did send a message! Was it “we’re not open for business!” No! The message was, “we are not open for sale to the mighty dollar regardless of the proposal if it is negative to the area.”
Is the bio-mass fuel recovery business similar to the one turned down for the Molson Park area in Barrie due to fumes, stench and a negative effect on the city? Is the metal processing centre just a junk yard or is it a more sophisticated reclaiming centre similar to the one in East Georgina that contaminated the acreage so badly that the contaminates are leeching into the Black River and Lake Simcoe?
The expense for clean up is too great even for the province at this time but if it is any consolation to the residents the error has been recognized and the solution presented but no one can afford the solutions.
Common sense dictates that greed and immediate profit have come to be regretted when irreversible damage has been done and regret is the only answer in response to errors made.
Examine the character of the area around 17 Golf Course Rd. Take a compass and circumscribe a circle with a half-mile radius with the property in question at the centre.
Examine what falls within the circle:
• Silver Sands-tent and trailer park for tourists;
•.The Big East River Lagoon cabins tourist area;
• Arrowhead Provincial Park (tourist destination);
• Huntsville Downs Golf Course;
• Whispering Pines Golf Course and family park;
• Part of the National Parks and Trails system;
• The Big East River Heritage Way Canadian Heritage River of historical significance;
• Evanco, a major Huntsville subdivision with more stages to come;
• A potential school site;
• Rural residential on Golf Course Road (on dug wells);
• A century-old farm that has produced agricultural products for over 100 years along with an active sheep farm;
• Fresh water sources (from an underground aquifer) for several creeks, which feed the Big East River.
Could there possibility be a worse location for such a development of a junkyard and a bio-mass fuel recovery business?
Dead centre in many of this town’s natural tourist attractions, the current designation allows for an industrial development because of an error made by a previous council. This is the error that Mr. House would like to exploit to his advantage and be damned with the natural strengths of the area. Is the potential damage to this tourist area worth the risk?
To leave the designation as it is and say oops when the damage has been done, would the council be neglecting its duty to the residents of Huntsville as well as the tourists it encourages to experience this part of Muskoka? Not only should the Official Plan special policy industrial designation be removed but also the town should fight at the OMB level to correct this before a devastating error is made.
We are within our rights to re-examine the Official Plan every five years. It is now approaching seven years. A few thousand spent now or regret and millions for the future generations.
I hope the council acts responsibly and removes the rural special policy area industrial designation on this parcel of land north of Golf Course Road and bordering Muskoka Road 3 north and a portion of Williamsport Road and that they do it immediately before the OMB hearing to which they should send a strong opposition. Our pride in this area and our town could well be at stake.