By John Goddard
Innisfil Mayor Brian Jackson rejected suggestions yesterday that town council is siding with a development firm against local ratepayers.
“We’re not suing the ratepayers,” the mayor said the day after a council meeting erupted in cries of “Shame! Shame! Shame!” from the public gallery when attempts to discuss the matter failed.
His latest statement did nothing to silence critics.
“This town has run amok,” said Rick Smith, executive director of the advocacy group Environmental Defence, which opposes the Lake Simcoe development.
“This council has forgotten why they’ve been elected,” he said in a phone interview.
“They’re under the thrall of this developer.”
Geranium Corp. of Markham, under the name Kimvar Enterprises, won provincial approval last year to build a hotel, condominium and marina project at Innisfil’s Big Bay Point – “possibly the largest inland marina development in eastern North America,” Smith said.
On getting the go-ahead from the Ontario Municipal Board, the developer announced it would seek $3.6 million in legal costs from the project’s main challengers, the Innisfil District Association of Ratepayers.
The amount was later adjusted to $3.2 million.
A motion to discuss the matter publicly was put forward by Councillor Dan Davidson but failed to find a seconder.
The claim is justified, Geranium spokesperson Jim Maclean said, because the opposition case was “frivolous and vexatious … simply a delaying tactic, an abuse of process.”
Awards for costs usually run between $2,000 and $5,000, he acknowledged.
“Certainly the (Ontario Municipal Board) has never before awarded $3.2 million,” he said. “It’s a large request but there it is.”
Environmental Defence lawyer Clayton Ruby has called the claim a “scare away” tactic, similar to what is known as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, or SLAPP suit, used by large corporations to crush and bankrupt opposition.
The ratepayers’ association had looked to town council for support against Geranium’s cost claim but the council will not get involved, Mayor Jackson said.
“We’re not concerned about the total sum,” he also said. Council’s interest, the mayor said, is restricted to reclaiming its own costs from the approval process of $750,000.
Geranium has paid those costs as it is obliged to do so by law, the mayor said.
The Big Bay Point Resort calls for a 235-hectare development featuring 1,600 residential housing units, 400 hotel rooms, a golf course and a marina with 1,000 slips. The development is also to include a conference centre, theatre, retail space and an indoor sports and recreation centre.