Muskoka Centre study to determine best use
LOOKING AT OPTIONS.
The buildings at the Muskoka Centre, an old sanatorium in Gravenhurst, have been condemned and will be torn down; however, the future of the property remains in limbo.
File photo by Colin Old, Gravenhurst Municipal Heritage Committee
December 7, 2012
GRAVENHURST – Representatives and consultants for Infrastructure Ontario said ultimately there may be no redevelopment at the Muskoka Centre property but added the goal of an upcoming public process will be to determine its optimal use and ideally generate local employment.
Kris Menzies, a partner with MHBC Planning and Karen Wianecki, principle with Planning Solutions Inc. are both part of a study team appointed by Infrastructure Ontario and will help guide the process to find the best use for the centre property.
Infrastructure Ontario is attempting to divest itself of surplus property and as the centre has long been condemned and its buildings will be torn down, the province is looking at options for the land, including selling off or potentially redeveloping.
“The purpose of the study is to develop land-use options; the intent is to look at if the site can be reused to create jobs and/or positive economic regional impact,” Menzies explained, adding her primary role will be to manage the study team and if need be, to lead landscape architecture and urban design of the property for future use, while Wianecki will head up the public and stakeholder input process. “The study team is not presupposing what, if anything, could happen on that property.”
Menzies said civil engineers, architects, and environmental and financial experts have already been retained and appointed to the core optimal study team and a steering committee made up of municipal and Infrastructure Ontario representatives and the consultants will round out the team.
The study will take into account any historical documents about the property, such as environmental, servicing or traffic assessments, local official plans, zoning bylaws and strategic plans “to better inform us what, if anything, should happen with the property,” Menzies said.
There is a draft optimal use document in circulation now and available through the town’s website at gravenhurst.ca, but Menzies said in order to create a final document, a wealth of new information will be needed, such as more environmental checks, market analysis, water and road traffic impact studies as well as the stakeholder input collected through the process.
“The intention of the optimal use study is not to say definitively ‘This is the development that shall be going on the property;’ it is to look at options of what could potentially occur once this process is completed,” Menzies said.
A professional planner and mediator, Wianecki will spearhead the stakeholder input stages and said her main role will be to ensure public participation.
“The belief of mine is a simple one; if you engage people effectively at the beginning, you don’t end up with polarized positioning at the end,” she said. “Successful projects are those that start off on the right foot; it’s important for members of our team to work collaboratively with the town and with Infrastructure Ontario to advance a process that promotes confidence and builds trust.”
She explained one of the key roles she will be looking to the steering committee for help with is the best way to engage the local populace, including those temporary or seasonal residents that may be difficult to contact during the winter months.
Initially, Infrastructure Ontario had tasked the consultants with beginning the process in November with the goal of completing the optimal use study by March. Menzies said she will be recommending that deadline be pushed back in order to allow seasonal residents a chance to give input, as well as time for a more appropriate investigation, such as traffic impact studies on both roads and the lake during peak usage.
Council will be bringing forth its recommendations for municipal representatives to sit on the steering committee during its next meeting on Dec. 18.
Eric Gilbert, who spoke to council in late November about the centre on behalf of the Muskoka Bay Property Owners’ Association, said his organization stands by its request for the property to remain in public ownership rather than being handed over to a private developer. He added that their 140 or so members want to see an extensive environmental impact study conducted on the property and reiterated their desire to have an association representative on the steering committee or at least have observer status without voting privileges.
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