Innisfil, Ontario – The Province of Ontario’s centre-piece Places to Grow plan has a mega-yacht sized loophole that allows a 96,000 person new town of so-called “second homes” to be built outside approved settlement areas. Testimony at the Big Pay Point mega-marina Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) hearing last week proves that Simcoe County could permit 30 developments the size of Big Bay Point without having to satisfy most of the province’s smart growth principles.
The OMB also heard that the resort proposal for a 1,000 slip mega-marina and 2,000 units on Lake Simcoe represents bad planning and exploits a “semantic loophole” created in the County’s Official Plan, according to the expert witness testimony of the Innisfil District Association (IDA).

“Calling a development a ‘resort’ instead of settlement and lamely trying to limit occupancy to 300 days a year should not get developers a free pass to develop the shoreline of Lake Simcoe,” said David Donnelly, counsel to environmental and residents’ groups opposed to the development.  “The loop-hole that exempts these mega-resorts from the province’s planning rules is so large, you could sail a yacht through it that would make Thurston Howell III proud.”

The proposed development was also described as ‘premature’ by IDA’s planner Mr. Al McNair, who pointed out it should not go ahead until a new watershed management plan and water quality targets are developed for Lake Simcoe.

The County of Simcoe’s own growth management consultants concluded that the province has “overlooked” the effects ofsecond home developments on the economy and the infrastructure and servicing needs of the County. The Big Bay Point project is before the OMB in the absence of any studies, projections and planning policies in place for second home resort development for the Greater Toronto Area.  The impact of these developments on the urban structure and green lands of southern Ontario could be huge.

Under the existing provincial rules, the proposed development at Big Bay Point would be strictly prohibited, except the developer is proposing to limit occupancy to unit owners to less than 300 days per year. This loophole allows the proponent to call the urban settlement of 4,000 plus people to be a ‘resort’. Prior testimony from the developer’s expert stated that it could be left to a resident’s committee to enforce the limited occupancy rules.

“The Province, County of Simcoe and Township of Innisfil have allowed Big Bay Point to do an end run around the Growth Management Plans for Simcoe County,” said Dr. Rick Smith, Executive Director, Environmental Defence. “I’d use the ‘walk like a duck’ metaphor to describe this development, but that would be an insult to ducks.”

“In my opinion, the County of Simcoe has not planned wisely in selecting the Special Development Area designation for this second home resort community. I believe the County of Simcoe used the Special Development Area to avoid the issue of whether this community of 4,000 to 5,000 people is a settlement,” said Mr. Al McNair, a Professional Planner with 30 years experience who has testified dozens of times before the OMB.

His testimony included the conclusion that the development would be prohibited in the Greenbelt which covers the south east portion of the Lake Simcoe watershed.

“We’ve been asking the County and Township to tell us how this large new community fits with their growth management strategies,” said Don Avery, President of the IDA. “Failure to do these studies is grounds to send the proposal back to the Province for a serious review of Simcoe County population forecasts or allocations.”

The hearing has moved to the water quality and marina impacts phase, with the much anticipated testimony of Dr. Peter Dillon, a world authority on water quality, to begin on Wednesday, October 17,  2007. 
 
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For more information, or to arrange interviews, please contact:
 
Jennifer Foulds, Environmental Defence, (416) 323-9521 ext. 232; (647) 280 -9521 (cell)
Don Avery, President, Innisfil District Association, (416) 997-7836; (705) 436-3877