BY SOUTHGREY.CA STAFF –
Update: On January 17, Grey Highlands council turned down the option to allow 9-trailers on the campground at Hawthorn Cottages & Camping at Lake Eugenia. In the wake of council’s decision, Brian and Jayne LeGree are considering their options including an appeal to the Ontario Municipalities Board (OMB). An online petition to save the campground is still active. The LeGrees continue to urge supporters to sign the petition and email councillors to express their opinion.
On Wednesday, January 3, Grey Highlands Municipal Council Committee of the Whole recommended that their planner prepare a bylaw for nine trailers on the Hawthorn Cottages and Camping (HCC) property at Lake Eugenia. "We want Councillor [Cathy] Little to know how much we appreciate all her work and her support... and we are pleased that the council members looked at it in a more positive way," said Brian LeGree, co-owner of HCC, but he and his wife Jayne LeGree remain dissatisfied.
As they look back on recent history, they have some regrets mixed with many frustrations. “We didn’t come here to fight,” said Jayne in a recent interview with South Grey News. She was referring to their zoning ordeal and the decision that she and her husband made to leave their home in Mississauga and pursue their dream of owning the small resort in the Municipality of Grey Highlands. “We’ve always done what we were told,” she added, listing the many requests made of them to upgrade the facility over their nearly six years of ownership.
She also noted that they have kept pretty quiet throughout the whole process to have legal non-conforming status applied to their property for the operation of their existing 13 campground sites, including the nine sites approved by council on Wednesday. The couple told South Grey News that they will decline council’s offer to maintain only nine sites vowing that they will continue to lobby for the operation of all 13 sites, the remaining four unapproved sites being “transient” and necessary for their business.
“With only nine sites, there would be no sites for campers coming in for a day or two. It’s important that we have those four transient sites for climbers, hikers, bicyclists and other tourists to the area," cited Brian. “These are the people who spend the most money in our community: shopping in town, buying snacks, food and gas at local businesses."
The LeGrees said that the campground's zoning classification changed when the former Artemesia Township was amalgamated into the Municipality of Grey Highlands, which happened prior to their purchase of the property in June, 2012. At the time of purchase, they said they were reassured by their lawyer that the zoning restriction could be easily rectified. They were also quick to note that their lawyer’s opinion was confirmed by municipal staff when they met with them to discuss the situation.
The LeGrees also said that they have many emails and letters in support of their campground from municipal staff, planners, inspectors and the former CAO reassuring them that they were operating the facility in full compliance with applicable codes and the proper disposal of wastewater and grey water from the property. They explained that the water supply is managed under the guidelines set out by the Ontario government as a small drinking water system which requires monthly water quality tests by a private third-party laboratory. “We have put a lot of money into this property,” said Jayne, which included substantial renovations to the cabins, campground and landscaping as well as a $10,000 upgrade to hydro.
The LeGrees are heartened by community support shown to them in what has, at times, become a nasty battle pitting neighbour against neighbour. Jayne explained that the plan to move up here was carried out at her insistence and the stress caused by what she termed as “bullying” and “harassment” from a few of her neighbours has taken its toll.
The LeGrees claim to have traced the history of the campgrounds back to 1890, a time before the lake even existed. They also said that their research uncovered happy memories of camping at Hawthorn’s dating back to the 1950s.
In a groundswell of support around the LeGrees, petitions have collected approximately 1,500 signatures calling for the approval of their application. Many prominent citizens and well-known local families are among the signatories. Their cause has also been supported by previous owners. “You only have to read the reviews on TripAdvisor and Google to see that we run a respectable business,” said Jayne. A quick look online confirmed their claim of five-star status, one of only two such resorts in the area.
In a December 18 Grey Highlands Council meeting Mayor Paul McQueen made a passionate plea to councillors expressing the need for accommodations in Grey Highlands and a desire to work with community stakeholders toward that end.
The owners are optimistic that council will approve their original application for all 13 sites in the next scheduled council meeting on January 17 but are still keeping all options open.
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