By James Matthews (Local Journalism Initiative reporter)
Protecting Grass Lake is a major interest of proponents of a contentious condo development in the Municipality of Dysart et al.
But a group of opponents to the project believe not enough time has been given to ensure sufficient environmental consideration.
Harburn Holdings is seeking zoning bylaw amendments that will allow an application for condominium development on Peninsula Road on Grass Lake.
They’re seeking amendments to 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 held a special meeting Sept. 29 on the issue.
Anthony Usher, a planning consultant representing Harburn Holdings, outlined the proponent’s development plans.
After about five hours, councillors voted to kick the issue up the ladder to the county level. Haliburton County will decide if its Official Plan should be amended to allow the development.
“We’ve all been discussing this for a long, long time,” said Dysart Mayor Andrea Roberts. “I think the planner has answered all the concerns.”
She said moving ahead with the issue is forward-thinking and the project will be a long time in the works before it comes to fruition.
“We’re not (a) council against the town,” Roberts said. “I live here. We all live here.”
The development is proposed for a parcel of land that has frontage onto both County Road 21, which has higher-density land uses, Peninsula Road, which is predominantly low-density development, and Grass Lake.
Kris Orsan, Dysart’s senior planner, wrote in a staff report to council that the proposal is generally consistent with the Provincial Policy, Municipal Official Plan, and represents good planning.
“If council considers the application, the recommendation included at the top of the report may be appropriate,” Orsan wrote.
And that was a recommendation for the “approval of the proposed bylaw, subject to the approval of the Official Plan amendment.”
The proposed development has generated much interest among residents.
Orsan said municipal staff has received 11 letters of support for the condo development, 14 letters of concern, 15 objections, and a petition with the signatures of 912 area residents.
His presentation to council described some of the reasons for people’s objections. Concerns such as increased noise and light pollution at Grass Lake. Eighty-eight condos would leave a larger footprint than about a dozen cottages in the area.
Some supporters of the project cite the town’s need for housing and local businesses’ need for staff, which would require housing, as cause to allow the bylaw amendments.
Usher said there’s a serious permanent housing shortage in Haliburton Village and Haliburton. And the condo development will go toward alleviating need.
“This proposal will provide over time up to 88 medium density housing units,” he said. “This is a sorely needed housing type. Eighty-eight medium density units will be 38 per cent of the municipality’s target to provide over the next number of years.
“There will definitely be opportunities for affordable housing.”
Much of the opposition has been borne of environmental concerns. Some residents want to ensure the integrity of Grass Lake and nearby wetlands is protected. They’re worried fish habitat and that of various bird species will be compromised.
Usher said the proposed work includes 30-metre setbacks in which the existing forest and wetlands will be protected. More than two-thirds of the present forest will be retained and as much of the open areas will be “re-naturalized,” he said.
Trees and shrubs will be planted to kick-start reforestation.
“The natural environment, including protection of Grass Lake, has been the leading consideration in proposing development of these lands,” he said.
“The natural environment has been properly considered and will receive a high level of protection with this development.”
Jeff Iles, the town’s director of planning, said all wetland areas are to be defined as protected environment. And there’s no filling proposed by the applicant.
Marni Saunders is a land use planner with D.M. Wills, a professional planning firm representing Friends of Grass Lake, which is a group of residents opposed to the development. They collected the 912 signatures on two petitions against the project.
Saunders said Haliburton County has yet to approve changes to its Official Plan that would allow the development to proceed. That means it’s premature for Dysart to amend its bylaws and change zoning from Environmental Protection to Suburban Residential and Highway Commercial.
Saunders said Orsan’s staff report recommending approval was compiled Sept. 26 for a council meeting three days later. That left little time for council and the public to review its information, draft bylaws, and its recommendations.
And, she said, scheduling the public meeting on the same day as a special council meeting to make a recommendation on the application doesn’t give enough time for council, staff, or the applicant to hear the public’s concerns.
“It’s also not standard practice in the planning approval process for that reason,” Saunders said.
Dysart council’s recommendation on Harburn Holdings’ application should be deferred until county council makes a decision on how the proposed condo development fits into its Official Plan, she said.
“Public meetings are generally held outside of business hours. The Grass Lake resident group … feel that the accessibility to this meeting is not necessarily appropriate.”
And, she said, other residents without internet access wouldn’t have been able to take part in a virtual meeting.
As to the meeting’s timing and having it online, Roberts said the provincial government allows virtual meetings. And, she said, given people can submit written comments about an agenda item, there is no issue with amount of notice given.
Iles acknowledged that an amended municipal zoning bylaw can’t be approved until the Official Plan is approved by Haliburton County. Staff are merely recommending a new bylaw be supported based on information provided to date.
For public comments that can’t be addressed by staff or the project applicant, Iles said a deferral would perhaps be a good idea.
The county has told the municipality that traffic concerns will be addressed at that level.
“Storm water management, we feel, would be more appropriately addressed at time of development,” he said. “Development will not proceed until storm water management is addressed.”