Lake Simcoe is being threatened by a loophole in Ontario’s smart growth law that exempts “second homes” and resorts from development limits, an environmental lobby group argues.
Environmental Defence is demanding that Premier Dalton McGuinty protect the area by making good on his campaign commitment to introduce a Lake Simcoe Protection Act to contain development sprawl on the lake. And key to the act should be wording that will stop resort projects from circumventing the smart growth plan.
As exhibit A, Environmental Defence lawyer David Donnelly pointed yesterday to the $1 billion Big Bay Point development, a 1,000-slip marina and 1,600-unit time-share project on the western shores of Lake Simcoe that is the subject of a contentious, ongoing Ontario Municipal Board hearing.
Evidence during the OMB hearing, he said, has raised alarm over a “semantic loophole” in the heralded Places to Grow legislation, which draws a distinction between a “settlement” and a “resort.”
The loophole could potentially allow creation of another 30 resort developments the size of Big Bay Point – above and beyond the 228,700 new residents allowed by the Places to Grow plan for all of Simcoe County, including Barrie and Orillia, over the next 25 years. The growth plan sets out limits to development and is designed to discourage urban sprawl.
Big Bay Point’s developer estimates there will be a market for about 48,000 “second homes” within commuting distance of the GTA over the next 20 years, representing another 96,000 people.
A place is deemed a “resort” if the owners are present for fewer than 300 days a year.
Environmental Defence hopes to make Big Bay Point a key issue, despite McGuinty’s statement that the project would not be linked to the promised Lake Simcoe Protection Act. The lobby group says Big Bay Point should be subject to the constraints of any plan to protect Lake Simcoe, regardless of how the OMB rules, because it has yet to undergo an environmental assessment or planning approvals.
Besides, the county is only now undertaking a study on how to handle such “lifestyle and recreation-based” housing, so approving Big Bay Point before such a policy is approved would be premature, Donnelly said.
Earl Rumm, of Geranium Corp., the developer behind Big Bay Point, didn’t respond to the Environmental Defence statement but pointed out that McGuinty had “plainly said” that “Big Bay Point would be exempt from anything that would come out in the future.”
Innisfil Mayor Brian Jackson said municipal officials won’t comment on the issue until it is decided by the OMB.
Development limit loophole threatens lake, advocates say