December 09, 2021
In this 5-part analysis of the Talisman properties controversy, John Butler explores the history of the lauded Beaver Valley resort and the many visions for its next chapter. His story documents the sordid details that have led to the situation currently facing the Municipality of Grey Highlands Council and the concerned community it represents.
BY JOHN BUTLER FOR SOUTHGREY.CA — On November 18 of 2021, South Grey News wrote to Grey Highlands CAO Karen Govan requesting the RFP for the work thinkCOMPASS was chosen to do, and the project terms of reference given to thinkCOMPASS, We also asked if thinkCOMPASS contacted any potential private sector investors to gauge their interest in the Talisman project, and whether the firm’s outreach also included outreach to any civic sector or environmental organizations to invite them to express interest, or tell them they could express interest, in buying or investing in the Talisman properties. No reply from Ms. Govan to these requests was received.
The municipality made it clear in its October 2020 media release that it intended to sell the Talisman properties. Shortly after the October 2020 media release, concerns began to grow among Grey Highlands residents (particularly those from the Beaver Valley) and among environmental groups concerned about the Valley, that environmental opportunities were being sacrificed to development interests.
On October 26, a Grey Highlands resident wrote to all members of Council suggesting that a supplemental media release be issued, highlighting the importance of the civic sector and of environmental regeneration and protection in discussions and consultations about the fate of the Beaver Valley municipal lands, and that local residents drawn from the civic and environmental sectors be included as partners in helping design any community consultation process about these lands. Neither suggestion was acknowledged or acted on by Council.
In response to the announcement of plans to sell the lands, a core group of residents was formed called the Friends of the Beaver Valley, whose goal was to bring together conservation, education, service organizations and other stakeholders to negotiate to purchase the properties. Core group member Joyce Hall said, “Many citizens are already expressing concern that development will destroy the already fragmented wildlife corridor, increase pressure on the water supply and watershed, and undermine the fragile beauty of this unique valley... Grey Highlands has the opportunity here to pursue the maximum public good for precious public land, especially given all we now know about the links between COVID, the destruction of our environment and the value of nature to our health.”
The core group circulated a petition addressed to the Grey Highlands Municipal Council that said, in part: “Whereas the Beaver Valley lands once known as Talisman Mountain Resort are contiguous with a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, and are a much beloved and high profile public asset; and whereas many well-established stakeholder groups exist and have a productive role to play in the future of these properties; we ask that Council delay any sale of the three parcels in order to give the citizens leading this effort three months to bring together nature conservation, education, service organizations and other stakeholders to develop an appropriate and realistic plan for the properties. We need time.”
The group also fund-raised, garnering more than $17,000 to cover the costs of advocacy for an environmental alternative to sale of Talisman lands to private developers.
It wasn’t until November 2021 — a full year after the 2020 media release indicating their intentions — that the municipality published a legally-required public notice that Grey Highlands intended to declare the lands surplus and also intended to sell the lands.
On March 8 2021, Grey Highlands and 2420124 Ontario Inc. (represented by Phil Calvano and Brian Ellis, owners of the middle parcel of land sold to them by Grey Highlands in 2015) entered into a Joint Venture Agreement that formalized their commitment to collectively market and promote the three properties that originally comprised the former Talisman Resort. According to a notice under “Business Opportunities” on The Grey Highlands website, this agreement would “support a thoughtful, sustainable and respectful undertaking that will provide social, environmental and economic benefit to the residents and businesses across Grey Highlands.” The text of the Agreement said “The Participants have a shared vision to maximize the development potential of Talisman and the surrounding Municipally owned lands in order to serve as the anchor for the revitalization of the Beaver Valley and by extension downtown Markdale and the greater Grey Highlands region.” It also said “The Participants acknowledge that there are outstanding property taxes owing to Grey Highlands on the lands in the Beaver Valley Development Project owned by 2420124 and that maximizing the value of a sale of the said lands will be to the mutual benefit of the Participants in that the outstanding taxes will be paid.”
Between mid-April and July 16, 2021, the municipality’s promise to engage its community in building a future vision for the Beaver Valley was fulfilled through visioning sessions and surveys on the future of the Valley Corridor (a 40 km. stretch in Grey Highlands extending from Hogg's Falls in the south to north of Epping). Its information gathering included
A pre-workshop survey to help shape the online workshops; six two-hour on-line workshops engaging about 400 people; and a survey using information gathered during the workshops (345 people answered). The final Visioning Report was presented to Grey Highlands Council on September 1. It presented four principles as the foundation of planning in the Corridor: respect and value the natural, cultural and rural environment; build a better community for all; create a strong and sustainable economy; and create a management plan involving the community and in partnership with other agencies. It also offered a draft vision for the Corridor: “The Beaver Valley Corridor, a significant ecological system in the heart of Grey Highlands, will be a model of best practices in sustainable, ecological and environmental pursuits in support of the long-term social cultural and economic vitality of the community for generations.”
Read the next instalment in the series:
Voices grow louder still, while the municipality's silence deafens
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