A petition signed by residents opposing the Starboard development at Muskoka Wharf was submitted to Gravenhurst council earlier this month.
Richard Sellon, a resident of David St. for 38 years, presented the petition, which called on council to “turn down the request by the Rosseau Group to develop and in turn, drastically change the natural landscape of Muskoka Bay.” The petition had 1,075 signatures from permanent and seasonal residents.
According to The Rosseau Group’s (TRG) website, the Starboard development on Cherokee Lane will be “a luxury real estate development located in the heart of Muskoka, within the charming town of Gravenhurst on the shore of Lake Muskoka. The development will offer residents a serene and picturesque lifestyle, surrounded by the natural beauty of the region.”
The project will include a seven-storey condominium, restaurants, a micro-brewery, underground parking, a two-storey boathouse and some boat slips.
Sellon told council that petition signees were given the opportunity to give their reasons for opposing the development and that “the most cited was the destruction of the natural and aquatic environment and that this is the wrong project for this parcel of land.”
Sellon said that given the large number of zoning and building amendments the developer has already requested “indicates that this project isn’t suited to this area.” Sellon said he “lost count at 16 or 17 amendments and that it was hard to pin down because the development team seemingly makes changes with regularity.”
He acknowledged that it is “normal and legal” to have changes made to by-laws and regulations, but that it is also “perfectly legal to uphold the current ones and turn down the developers.”
Sellon continued that given climate change, extreme weather and flooding in the Muskoka Watershed, “municipalities are looking at how to mitigate these events and it is unfathomable to me that council would even consider a development of this scope on designated flood land.”
He then questioned what the “vision for development for Gravenhurst” was. He said that after reading through the Town’s website and Strategic Plan, that there didn’t seem to be any form of mission statement for development. He said he did find examples of the Town promoting the “natural beauty of Muskoka, which has been attracting people to our region for centuries.” He said he found it “ironic to advertise this landscape on one hand and on the other, we are allowing the blasting of granite bluffs and the clear-cutting of all vegetation on the development sites.”
Sellon told council he was a “firm believer in the First Nation’s philosophy that we need to look seven generations into the future in order to influence our decisions of today…I see acres and acres of terrestrial ecosystem that has been destroyed, not one green plant left and it will take 100 years to regenerate and even if it does, it won’t regain the natural biodiversity that was lost.”
He asked the council what the priority for the next 20 years of planning will be: “the natural environment or will it be solely based on economic interests like increasing the tax base?” He said that after looking into the process, it appeared that developers were in the driver’s seat. He said the current system is that once council receives project plans, they are given to the Planning Department, sent off to the Province and District of Muskoka and it is then “recommended to proceed, even if it has a huge number of variances and amendments. A public meeting is then held and people can voice their support or opposition, but the Planning Department has already indicated that this project can go ahead.”
A public meeting was held on Feb. 28, 2023 and residents packed council chambers to voice their concerns, however, Sellon said he believes it is just “smoke and mirrors,” because he has never seen “a detailed planning report that states who will be negatively affected by the development or how their concerns will be dealt with by council.”
Sellon encouraged council to “develop its vision and the priorities that will guide the Planning Department…and that they should be transparent, sustainable and environmentally sound. ” He pointed out that these initiatives are “already happening in communities across Canada, why can’t they be carried out here?” He concluded his delegation by reminding council that they leave a legacy behind, and that they “could be remembered by a Joni Mitchell song, you will be known as the council who paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”
There were no questions for Sellon or further discussion by council. The next Committee of the Whole meeting is on June 20.
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