“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” That quote by Joni Mitchell was repeated by one of the many speakers who attended a public meeting Wednesday to express their concerns and disdain for the development vision being proposed for Deerhurst Resort, including additional parking for 600 vehicles.
More than 150 people attended the planning meeting held at the Algonquin Theatre on the evening of Wednesday, May 17 to hear from the community on the plans the new owner of Deerhurst, Freed Developments, has for the resort.
Freed Developments has submitted an Official Plan and zoning bylaw amendment in order to facilitate the first phase of their vision for the resort on a portion of the lands known in Huntsville’s Official Plan as the Deerhurst Village Centre – Plateau. The Plateau forms part of previous consultations and planning approvals granted by the Town and District of Muskoka, and submitted by a former resort owner, who envisioned a resort village-type development.
Freed Developments is proposing a new vision for the resort, being referred to as Deerhurst Modern, and the Plateau site in particular. A concept that involves the creation of two connected buildings which would house 447 recreational resort residential units. The two buildings would be connected via a shared entranceway and contain commercial components such as a restaurant, retail stores as well as a pool.
“The buildings will operate as a hotel, with owners able to participate in a tourist commercial accommodation rental program operated by the Deerhurst Resort. Building A, located to the south, is proposed to have a maximum height of 23.5m and consist of 229 recreational resort residential units across 6.5 floors. Building B, located to the north, is proposed to be 21.3m in height and consist of 218 recreational resort residential units across 5.5 floors,” noted a report compiled by the Manager of Planning for the Town, Richard Clark (pdf).
Jamie Robinson, of MHBC Planning Urban Design & Landscape Architecture, was at the meeting on behalf of the applicant and told those present that the Plateau area of the property, which consists of an area of approximately nine hectares with frontage on Canal Road and Deerhurst Drive, has previous development rights.
‘We’re dealing with a property that is zoned and designated for a resort-style development,” said Robinson, adding that there is an existing density associated with that approval and what’s being proposed does not increase the density previously approved. “What is proposed is a change in development concept.” He noted that the 447 units proposed are less than the maximum density permitted on the site, which is 560 units.
He said Freed Resorts and Hotels are responsible for the development of Muskoka Bay in Gravenhurst, “and it’s been a very successful hotel and resort complex within the Town of Gravenhurst and the District of Muskoka. The takeaway from that is that they do have a track record of completing successful developments within the District of Muskoka.”
He spoke of supporting material prepared with the application such as an environmental study report, a traffic study as well as a visual impact study, and a planning justification report. He spoke to concerns regarding the proposed height of the buildings (which require an OP amendment) and said if the applicant were to decrease in height and number of units, “those units could be made up somewhere else within this Plateau lands which would mean additional massing of buildings from a linear perspective, so there’s a balance at play in terms of height and elevation versus the linear massing of the buildings. The current bylaw doesn’t provide restrictions with respect to the linear or width of a building…”
Regarding concerns about the ability of current infrastructure to accommodate the additional density proposed, Robinson said that’s been reviewed and there is sufficient infrastructure to support the development. In terms of the additional demands the development would have on services in the Town of Huntsville including its hospital, Robinson said there is “no doubt that any new development would have an impact on those services but there are mechanisms through the taxation—as communities grow, service also grows. Freed certainly is a part of those discussions with the municipality and other service providers.”
Robinson concluded his presentation by saying that Freed representatives were at the meeting to listen to the comments received and respond as appropriate.
An estimated 30 people spoke against the new proposal for the better part of three hours, saying Freed’s vision is at odds with what Muskoka represents.
Area property owners as well as the representatives for associations encompassing the communities of Peninsula and Fairy lakes as well as Hidden Valley and Woodland Heights and the Huntsville and Area Historical Society spoke at the meeting. Their concerns included the impact traffic associated with the 447 units would have on their roads and neighbourhoods, on the lakes, the narrow canal between Peninsula and Fairy Lake, and on water quality.
Many questioned the impact the proposed building height of seven storeys would have on the vistas and character of the area. They questioned how robust the studies conducted on behalf of the applicant were. They said the design of the proposed buildings is out of character with Muskoka’s natural environment and lacks imagination. They also questioned the viability of the business model being proposed. The noise level and light effects associated with the proposed development were also questioned.
Others expressed concern about the added noise and light pollution the proposed density would have on the area. Others zeroed in on what they referred to as a precarious business model being proposed. “If you put another 447 condo units into the Deerhurst rental program, that’s 450 percent in excess of the existing participation. So these four factors together—the oversupply of units, the speculative nature of the buyers, diminished cashflow from the diluted Deerhurst rental program combined with a falling real estate market creates a very high risk,” said one of the speakers.
Others also talked about the learning curve associated with lake stewardship and questioned the impact short-term visitors without a stake in the area could have on the lake. Click HERE for more on what the speakers had to say.
Huntsville Mayor Nancy Alcock said the municipality has established sustainability measures for the lands which are contained in the Town’s Official Plan for the Deerhurst property approved in 2014. She said council needs more information from the developer like how he plans to abide by all the sustainability principles and understand what the entire development plan for Deerhurst looks like, not just the first phase. “For me, that is really important as a takeaway.”
Councillor Scott Morrison also said there is information missing from the plan. “We need to make a very important decision and we’re missing information,” he said and referenced a plan to accommodate staff as well as the plan for connecting the resort to Huntsville’s downtown. He also said he wasn’t satisfied with the visual impact study. “I’d love to see a visual impact study procured by the Town, paid for by the developer.”
Morrison also had advice for the developer through his representatives. “We are a very accepting and receptive community. These comments here tonight, none of them were unreasonable. There’s not Nimbyism,” he said. He said council holds roundtable discussions with developers so that “we can be partners in the development of our community. We want to be a partner with you guys too but we can’t be a partner with you guys when you’re asking for a 43 percent increase in height and a 22 percent increase in units. You mentioned that you’re decreasing the units, which is technically true, but you’re increasing the residential units by 22 percent, which has a 22 percent further impact on traffic, boating issues and waterfront issues and you’re taking away the commercial amenities that would’ve gone with those units to help them be serviced and be received in our town.”
Morrison said he’s a fan of the resort and is hoping the municipality can work with the applicant.
Councillor Helena Renwick was not at the meeting.