By James Matthews
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
An environmental group has asked Haliburton County to halt all development on Grass Lake and to reject a proposal to build condominiums there.
The Friends of Grass Lake brought their concerns to county council when it met Feb. 22 to discuss Harburn Holdings’ pitch to build 88 condominiums on Grass Lake at Peninsula Road and County Road 21 in Dysart et al.
Dysart previously approved a land use amendment for the area. It was brought to the upper tier level to ensure all provincial, county, and municipal planning policies were adhered to regarding the proposed development.
County council deferred its decision for a variety of reasons until March 22.
Carolyn Langdon of Friends of Grass Lake [FOGL] said the group would like Haliburton County to ensure the property remains classified as rural and to protect those wetlands for the benefit of all residents.
“Existing studies and indicators show a lake in distress,” Langdon said. “It’s undoubtedly the most polluted lake in the county, and further studies will confirm this.”
She urged local politicians work with concerned residents to lobby Queen’s Park to enact tougher development restrictions for the highlands.
“The Highlands deserve special consideration because of the fragile nature of our environment and the important ecological services we provide to downstream communities,” she said.
Poor land use decision will endanger the region’s clean water and intact forests, she said.
Catherine Swift is also a member of the group. She said there’s more people opposed to development on Grass Lake than just those who are in FOGL.
They gathered more than 900 signatures last fall on a petition against the condo development.
“Our petition process, it really revealed a depth of distress and resignation that people across the board felt in the face of little municipal oversight to protect the environment,” Swift said.
It was clear that a special meeting last fall about the development was “a sham,” she said, and added that approval for the housing build was likely a foregone conclusion.
“It doesn’t give one confidence in government decisions in future,” she said. “We’re certainly not opposed at all to multi-density housing. But this is the largest residential development to come before your council.”
They have a problem with a development of Harburn’s size being “shoehorned into a very narrow strip of land adjacent to one of the last remaining wetlands within the settlement area of Haliburton.”
Simply put, Swift said the land in question was designated in the Official Plan as rural and an environmentally protected zone for a reason.
“A wall of condos and commercial development adjacent to a wetland will have serious repercussions for the entire Kashagawigamog watershed,” Swift said.
Raj Kehar, planning lawyer from the firm WeirFoulds, spoke on behalf of Haliburton Veterinary Services. His client’s land is located near the condo development on Peninsula Road. His client operates an animal hospital and clinic on the property, but there are also rental properties.
There are significant concerns about the impact the development will have on the quality and quantity of water available to the clinic and housing tenants, should it be allowed to proceed.
As such, Kehar asked county council to defer by a minimum of three months its decision on the proposed development to allow more time for an agreement between his client and the developer that addresses those concerns about well water.
“There is a private well on our client’s property, and it was pump-tested in April 2020 by the developer in support of their development application,” Kehar said. “Immediately following that pump test, our client experienced sediment in their drinking water supply.”
He said the initial safe drinking water was turned to “brown sludge almost immediately.” He said water quality issues are continuing.
Kehar’s client has also reached out to MTE Consulting, a professional independent hydrogeologist. Those consultants will peer review Harburn Holdings’ water reports and peer review the peer review of reports prepared for Dysart.
“It’s a very focused analysis,” he said. “And I think it’s important that focused analysis be given some time to occur and for a consultations and discussions to be had between our clients hydrogeologist and the developer’s hydrogeologist.”
Warden Liz Danielsen, the mayor of Algonquin Highlands, said county council will consider the deferment request.
Councillor Murray Fearrey, Dysart’s mayor, said he’d be willing to take another 30 days, but he doesn’t think three months is necessary.
Tony Usher, a planning consultant representing Harburn Holdings, said Harburn Holdings is committed to ensuring there will be a clean and secure drinking water supply for the vital business.
Usher said Dysart council heard much in support for and against the development. The municipality got feedback from its own staff and made a decision.
Any comments and questions that required clarification was previously addressed by Usher or the proponent, he said.
“To the extent these same points have been made again in the (agenda attachments), I believe that we have already answered them,” Usher said. “So I’m not going to take up your time today by plowing that ground over again.”
Coun. Jennifer Dailloux, the deputy mayor of Algonquin Highlands, said she understands that, in the interest of time, Usher couldn’t address all the concerns broached by FOGL’s representatives.
“But I do think that there was an opportunity there to address some of those concerns,” she said. “I’m not sure at what stage they’ll be addressed now, which is unfortunate from my perspective.”
As people tend to choose the shortest route to a destination, Dailloux asked Usher if there is going to be a physical barrier to prevent people from accessing the development’s wetland area to get to the lake.
“Friends of Grass Lake made many, many statements, basically all of which they have made before, and which we have already addressed in submissions to Dysart, probably in about 25 pages of letters (of response) and in many, many comments that were I made at the Dysart public meeting,” Usher said.
Regarding the shoreline, people can’t access most of the highwater mark. There is a single spot by which the shoreline can be accessed, he said. But there are cattails that act as a barrier to protect wetland.
“Beyond that, the water is essentially inaccessible,” he said.
By James Matthews