By Cheryl Browne
Some 170 angry residents were evicted from Innisfil town hall last night after yelling “Shame!” when the town council refused to discuss a developer’s attempt to make them cover a large legal bill.
In what some consider a dangerously precedent-setting move, Innisfil council is supporting Kimvar Enterprises in its bid to make the ratepayers’ association that opposed its Big Bay Point Resort development cough up $3.2 million in legal fees.
The Innisfil District Association of Ratepayers lost its fight against the Markham-based company’s plans at an Ontario Municipal Board hearing last December.
The lack of public discourse on the matter at yesterday’s council meeting was met with derision from both the ratepayers’ group and Councillor Dan Davidson, who had put forward a motion to discuss the matter publicly.
“I find it difficult that we cannot have an open-minded debate of council and of the public that will change the perception of my town of Innisfil,” Davidson told council and the large audience after his motion failed to find a seconder.
Davidson said in his motion that council had backed Kimvar’s move to recoup its legal costs when neither the government of Ontario nor the County of Simcoe did so. It was never put to a council vote.
Mayor Brian Jackson said the motion couldn’t be seconded and that his office would release a news release today attempting to explain his position.
The crowd erupted into cries of “Shame, shame, shame!”
Jackson called for order, to no avail. Protesters were ushered out of council chambers by police.
No representative of Kimvar was available to comment.
Forty-year resident Stuart Marwick was angry after being ejected.
“There’s a whiff of corruption here,” he said, standing in the front foyer of the town hall. “There’s a real sense that this council is in the thrall of the developer.”
Resident Terry Lindsay said that while the ratepayers’ association had lost its fight to stop the development, it approved of the environmental obligations the OMB required the developer to adhere to when it builds the large hotel-condominium-marina resort.
“We believe it was a fair process, but that process shouldn’t be at the taxpayer’s expense,” Lindsay said.
Environmental Defence advocate Dr. Rick Smith was also taken aback by council’s refusal to open discussion on the issue.
The developer’s suit to recover costs has “never been debated in council, and now it never will be,” Smith said. “The town of Innisfil has just declared war on its own citizens.”
After the December 2007 hearing, the town asked its lawyers for an opinion on supporting the developer’s case for repayment.
“To try to extract costs from our residents is just disgusting,” said Maria Baier-Reinio, a member of the ratepayers’ association’s board.
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