Original Published on Sep 27, 2022 at 07:45
By James Matthews, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A group of residents is lobbying council for the protection of local forests and wetlands against a proposed condo development.
The group, Friends of Grass Lake (FGL), has collected more than 900 signatures on two petitions urging the protection of Haliburton’s forests and wetlands ecosystem. The first petition garnered more than 400 signatures in July. The second in August netted more than 500 names.
Both petitions have been forwarded to Dysart town council.
The group opposes proposed zoning bylaw amendments to allow a Harburn Holdings application for condominium development on Peninsula Road on Grass Lake.
Harburn Holdings has an application before council to amend the county’s Official Plan and zoning bylaw that would pave the way for lot severance and the construction of 88 condominium units.
Dysart’s town council will host a special public meeting on the issue Sept. 29, to be conducted over Zoom.
Dysart Mayor Andrea Roberts said she’s met with FGL members on a number of occasions. Information about the issue has been available on the town’s website for over a year.
“Nothing’s been hidden or kept from the public,” she said.
Indeed, informing and engaging the public is part of the municipal planning process in any municipality. Everything pertaining to the application is on the town’s website.
FGL is urging council to defer a decision on the issue until after the Oct. 24 election so the new municipal government will judge yea or nay on the proposal.
“The environment is our greatest resource, the foundation of our local economy, and, indeed, of our very health and well-being,” said Catherine Swift, the group’s spokesperson.
Anthony Usher, a planning consultant representing Harburn Holdings, said public conversation between the various parties takes place through public meetings, and that’s part of the planning process.
“This is why the public meeting is taking place,” he said.
Swift said other municipalities have established long-term visions for their regions which include Green Infrastructure Plans and site alteration bylaws to ensure a balance between development and environmental concerns.
According to FGL, Dysart appears to have taken the approach of approving or rejecting proposals on an ad hoc basis instead of having an established vision as to which types of proposals would be acceptable to enable the region to grow in a sustainable manner.
Roberts said the town has a responsibility to receive development applications. The town is in need of housing. If the applicant has met all the requirements of the Official Plan and relevant legislation, the application may proceed.
FGL said in a press release that the announcement of a public meeting on the application was a surprise as many outstanding issues remain to be resolved before the project can be properly evaluated.
Given that the proposed development has garnered so much attention, Roberts said a meeting outside the regularly scheduled public meetings gives people ample time to voice their concerns and have their questions answered.
FGL has sent a letter to the mayor, councillors, and candidates in the Oct. 24 election.
Dysart planning staff recommendations on this large and unprecedented development will be submitted to council and the public before council and staff have had an opportunity for an informed conversation with D.M. Wills, the professional planning firm representing FGL.
Usher said D.M. Wills made two submissions to Dysart in March and June. And he responded to each of them.
“As the applicant’s representative, I have repeatedly offered to have an ‘informed conversation’ with D.M. Wills,” he said. “They have never accepted.”
Swift said it’s a surprise members of the current council, most of whom are not
running for re-election, would call a public meeting on this vital issue just weeks before the election.
“The fact the mayor and most councillors will not be around post-election means their accountability for any decision made is questionable,” she said.
Swift said rushing a timeline on the proposal will not serve the best interests of the township.
“We strongly urge that the public meeting and accompanying council discussions should fall under the new council’s purview after the election, and not rushed through by an outgoing council,” said Swift.
Usher said there’s no way to tell when this council or the next will decide to approve or nix the development application.
“That a public meeting taking place on Sept. 29 does not determine whether council will decide on the 29th, or decide on another date before the election, or leave a decision to the new council,” Usher said. “Which course to follow is entirely council’s decision and we will respect whatever council decides.”