INNISFIL–Making 298 families pay a developer’s legal bills after he spent $3.2 million fighting their objections to his massive development on Lake Simcoe would scare communities away from expressing their views, says the lawyer representing the families.
The Innisfil District Association, a local ratepayers’ group, lost that fight last year, and now the developer is at a second Ontario Municipal Board hearing, seeking a refund of the company’s expenses from the residents and their lawyers.
“You have to consider that your decision will instil fear in the heart of anyone who wants to come out to protest,” Derek Bell, the ratepayers’ lawyer, told the board Friday.
“It took these families five years to raise $100,000 for their lawyers,” said Bell. “It’s ironic that when they finally got the money to come (to the board) to be heard, they lose and then are on the hook for the costs. What are ratepayers supposed to do – not come? That is what developers would like.”
He wondered how long it would take them to raise $3.2 million.
It will be financially ruinous for the families, he said.
Bell gave the board an elaborate chart showing the resources to which developer Kimvar Enterprises had access, including 105 experts and more than a dozen lawyers and paralegals who had been directly retained. “It’s an army; they (developers) have deep pockets,” he said.
“If this is what they put forward for a frivolous case, imagine what they would have done for a serious case,” Bell said.
Ratepayers don’t come to the board to make money but to comment on how things should be done, Bell said. He argued a decision against ratepayers will have a chilling effect on anyone seeking justice through the OMB.
This case is being closely watched as a potential precedent for future clashes between developers and residents who want to protest urban sprawl.
When it was proposed six years ago, the $1 billion Big Bay Point Resort near Innisfil provoked a feud between developer Earl Rumm and some residents, cottagers and environmentalists who claimed a development that large would threaten an already fragile Lake Simcoe.
Plans for the project, on a 242-hectare property 10 kilometres east of Barrie, include 1,600 condos and town homes, 400 hotel rooms, a 1,000-slip boat marina and a golf course.
Bell rebutted accusations from the developer that the ratepayers did not represent the community and that the organization was run like a fiefdom. “It’s also untrue that the ratepayers are not residents of the area,” Bell said.
The hearing continues Tuesday.