One of the most controversial development applications in Southern Ontario – a proposal to build Big Bay Point Resort, a 569-acre marina and golf course on Lake Simcoe east of Barrie, comes before the Ontario Municipal Board tomorrow.
The proposal has stimulated growing activism over the fate of Lake Simcoe, produced something of a competition in which the developer argues that a project opposed by some environmentalists will benefit the environment, and become a hot potato for provincial leaders seeking local votes.
The battle pits a company owned by developer Earl Rumm, whose summer home is one of the largest at Big Bay Point, against his neighbours in the century-old summer settlement where the south shore of Kempenfelt Bay meets Lake Simcoe.
The community is made up of an egalitarian summer-colony mix of ordinary folk alongside wealthy and powerful individuals, such as Peter Godsoe, former chairman of the Bank of Nova Scotia, and Ron Brenneman, president and chief executive officer of Petro-Canada.
Most of the residents belong to the Innisfil District Association.
IDA president Don Avery, a year-round resident, has led the fight against the planned resort since 2002, when Mr. Rumm’s company, Kimvar Enterprises Inc., bought a failing marina and a block of adjacent land and began to take his project on the tortuous trek through the planning process.
“It’s too big, particularly the marina. It’s bad for the lake,” said Mr. Avery in an interview in the kitchen of the home built on the site of the cottage his family has owned for two generations.
The resort has only 200 feet of lake frontage, and with a planned 1,000-slip marina, Mr. Avery predicts that boats will be lined up off the point trying to get into the marina.
Mr. Rumm counters that the resort will actually improve water quality in Lake Simcoe, since his company, Geranium Corp., will pay for a sewer line from an existing water-treatment plant to the resort, thereby allowing 1,600 cottages to get off septic tanks.
Although the project is just now getting to the OMB, the fight has been bruising.
Mr. Rumm has launched lawsuits against various parties, including Mr. Avery and the IDA, a local law firm, and Ned Goodman and Murray Brasseur, two prominent Toronto businessmen who have large estates in the area and belong to the Big Bay Point Golf and Country Club, a nine-hole course developed in 1924.
Many of those who live at Big Bay are shareholders of the golf club, which wants to expand by adding two properties, adjacent to both the golf club and the proposed resort.
These properties are owned by two companies – Nextnine Ltd. and 2025890 Ontario – which have joined with the IDA to fight the resort in front of the OMB.
The environmental record of the existing golf course could be an issue in the hearing.
At the request of Mr. Rumm’s law firm, Davies Howe Partners, a Toronto environmental consulting firm, took water samples from the ditch adjacent to the course this spring. The consultants, Gartner Lee Ltd., found evidence of golf-course pesticides and phosphorus in the runoff water.
Jeff Davies said that, since the IDA’s then-lawyer, Jane Pepino, wrote him last year that the development’s impact on the resort site and the surrounding environment was an issue for the OMB, his client needed to obtain data on existing sources of pollution around the proposed resort, including the golf course.
Ms. Pepino, one of the province’s most skilled development lawyers, acted for the resort’s opponents until late May, when they shifted strategic gears by retaining prominent environmental activist and lawyer David Donnelly. His law partner, Tim Gilbert, will argue the case at the OMB.
In the five years, since the project was first proposed, development on the Lake Simcoe shore has become a political issue – a change that was underlined by Mr. Donnelly’s hiring in late May.
Mr. Donnelly came to the IDA’s attention through Environmental Defence Canada, a group with which Mr. Donnelly has long been associated and which spearheaded the environmental movement’s efforts to create the protected areas of the Oak Ridges Moraine and the Greenbelt.
Environmental Defence, Ontario Nature and the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition, a group in which Mr. Avery was an active member, came together under the banner Campaign Lake Simcoe to press for changes in the way development is managed around the lake.
For the campaigners, the Big Bay Point Resort was a perfect example of what the coalition’s well-heeled supporters around the lake saw as inappropriate development.
A month ago, the campaign got a boost when Premier Dalton McGuinty went to a coalition meeting in Barrie to announce that, if his government is re-elected in October, it would introduce a Lake Simcoe Preservation Act.
A few weeks later, Opposition Leader John Tory weighed in with his Lake Simcoe plan, which includes a Lake Simcoe charter, a regional governance structure for the lake and increased funding for managing water and wastewater.
But the provincial politicians did not give the members of IDA what they wanted the most: an announcement that provincial power would be used to stop the resort. And Mr. McGuinty said that his proposed law would not apply to the project.
As the Premier noted, the resort had been approved by Innisfil Township and Simcoe County. But support for it goes further. Two other ratepayer groups in Innisfil Township have signed off on it, along with the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority, a Barrie environmental group called Living Green, the City of Barrie and the provincial Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
The next round in the battle over the Big Bay Point Resort will come at the OMB. As soon as the hearing begins, Mr. Gilbert plans to ask the OMB, on behalf of his clients – the only remaining appellants fighting the resort at the OMB – to adjourn the hearing on a number of grounds, including the province’s plans to introduce the act.
To Mr. Rumm, this strategy is obvious: to delay the hearing long enough that, should Mr. McGuinty be re-elected this fall and introduce a Lake Simcoe protection act, the opponents of the resort can influence the preservation plan.
Nuts and bolts of Big Bay Point Resort
Designer: Andrés Duany, one of the founders of the new urbanism movement
Builder: Kimvar Enterprises Inc., a subsidiary of Geranium Corp. of Markham
Description: 569 acres, consisting of a 172-acre mixed-use marina village with 1,600 condo units, two hotels with 400 rooms, 80,000 square feet of retail and commercial space, a 1,000-slip marina and an 18-hole, 188-acre golf course
Also contains: a 209-acre nature reserve
Water quality dropping
Lake Simcoe has become the cause du jour for the Ontario environmental movement, now that Premier Dalton McGuinty’s government has laid claim to being the most environmental friendly government in Ontario history.
Recent studies have shown that water quality in Lake Simcoe is declining under the pressure of growth and that phosphorus is the primary pollutant.
An average of 67.4 tonnes of phosphorus get into the lake each year, 23 tonnes of which come from the air during rainstorms, while the rest flows into the lake in groundwater and wastewater.
The target is to hold annual loads down to 75 tonnes, an increase of 11 per cent. But studies suggests that current growth plans for the municipalities around the lake will increase the amount of phosphorus reaching the lake by 25 per cent.
Environmentalists think the province must pass an act that would create a new governance structure around the lake, now ringed by a watershed of 13 towns or townships, two cities, two regional governments and a county, in order to better co-ordinate growth and the pressure on the lake.
James Rusk