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June 10, 2024

Letter to the Editor: Caution and care

Beaver Valley

LETTER TO THE EDITOR — I am writing as a concerned citizen, resident of Grey County. My family first came to this area over 190 years ago, settled, farmed, worked and have been a part of it ever since. I worked in the City Manager’s Office for Toronto (pre-amalgamation) for a decade and offer some perspective from that experience and from my later experience co-founding and building businesses here in Canada and the US. I hope you will take the time to read this letter.

The decision ahead of you is related to the BVDG’s application for sub-division creation on the lower parcel of their land at Talisman and I urge you to exercise the greatest caution and care.

Municipal governance decision making in my experience is significantly influenced by precedents. For example, having approved subdivisions on one part of a site it will be difficult to deny it on another portion or on other adjacent lands that share the same permissible use zoning.

The precedents that Grey County Council and MGH Council set in how this file is handled, the research analysis and ultimately the conditions brought to bear on development approval will have far reaching implications for all the Beaver Valley and indeed all similarly zoned land on the entire Niagara escarpment.

This subdivision application file is both local and provincial in its true scope.

The difference in the letter and spirit of the law at Talisman

Why is it even possible to be considering development of this scale in an area of the Escarpment that has the highest protection rating under NEP shared by only 1.5% of the total Niagara escarpment?

Over a half century ago when the act came into law the Talisman Resort was one of the largest ski operations in Southern Ontario. That grandfathering provision for “some recreational housing” was provided in that context – to support a pre-existing recreational resort of scale important to people across southern Ontario and to the local community.

The current reality is of course that the Talisman site is no more a recreational site than any other lands in the Beaver Valley. But it is still zoned for some recreational housing.

However, large housing subdivisions and commercial development on a long defunct ski resort when all adjacent surrounding lands have the highest protection afforded by the act is neither consistent with the purposes of the NEP nor the spirit of the NEP.

It is doubtful that the framers of the NEP legislation intended or contemplated that this grandfathering of an existing family recreational business half a century ago would lead to this situation. Now, long after the ski resort has ceased to exist a zoning loophole has been created that would lead to a developer proposing 3 subdivisions the size of a small town in a most highly protected area. Yes, some development is permissible, but the applicant proposal does not pass a “reasonable person” test. Why?

Out of Scale Development: It’s not a subdivision it is a town

While BVDG has made the 370 units provisional in its current application the number is consistent with what they presented in a community meeting which is their goal to build 500-600 residential units and commercial facilities on their two parcels of land.

While technically it is a suburb, with 370 residential units on their lower lands, it would alone be larger than Flesherton, making it in effect immediately a significant town in MGH.

In addition, this is only the first of three parcels of the remaining Talisman site in 2 different developer’s hands.

To be prudent Council would need to consider the reopening and expansion of the existing Hotel as a possibility which a separate owner from BVDG has stated he intends. The former hotel operationally had 100 rooms. The developer owner of it has indicted the desire to expand it.

Opinions will vary on the likelihood of all these factors coming together but they are a real enough possibility to need to be considered in following good planning practices and for Council to make an informed decision.

Taking all the potential development together, this means that just a part of the former Talisman site could become the largest residential and commercial centre in MGH. Housing over 1500 people (2.5 per household), and another 200 visitors in a reopened hotel.

This would mean providing water, wastewater, and sewage treatment, social, health education, emergency services, medical, road, and infrastructure for that population. In addition, it will mean providing onsite parking and roads for approximately 1500 cars.

Research and experience in cities across North America show that these kinds of isolated suburban developments, disconnected from proximity to town or city infrastructure are a negative drain on tax dollars. They simply require more tax dollars than they provide and become a drain and burden to existing taxpayers.

Finally, there is another complicating factor which has not been the subject of the conversation related to the 3 parcels of land at Talisman. It is that the lands under discussion are only a segment of the full former Talisman lands. There are three other large parcels all part of the former Talisman that all share the same zoning provision for “some” Recreational housing. These are all now in private hands with no indication from the current owners of an intention for large scale development. But ownership will change with time and with that so could intentions around development and the use of the recreational housing zoning.

A comprehensive Secondary Plan is needed to address the complete former Talisman lands. Without this it is not possible for the County or Municipality of Grey Highlands Council to make a balanced, informed decision on the BVDG Subdivision Application.

Questionable economic and social benefits

Beaver Valley has seen enormous change in the last century. When it was primarily in agricultural use, photos of the valley show very little forest in the valley. Farm fields extended up to the base of the escarpment cliffs. While some agricultural use still remains, with the changes in the economy and advent of the protections under the NEP the forest returned.

Today coming into the valley, it is one largely uninterrupted, continuous forest with a small village and a housing footprint that is in the main hidden to the visitor. It is this reality and direction that attracts thousands of visitors annually to the valley; to enjoy this natural and unique to Ontario, beauty of the valley, and to hike it’s many trails. It is why many people stayed and new residents have chosen to invest their life savings in buying land, building homes, settling here, and contributing to the community. It is why Kimberley now has a thriving General Store, two world-class restaurants and a third in development. A defunct small motel has been restored and reopened. Young entrepreneurs have chosen to invest their capital and taken the risk to set up business here. Twenty years ago, there was only one small restaurant, and no store in Kimberley. All these businesses have done so working within the scale and nature of the valley bringing back to life underutilized buildings and attracting visitors.

Most importantly all these people together have invested their most precious resource – their family lives and time in this community. They are the people that are the volunteers that steward and maintain the trails and clean the visitor sites like Hoggs Falls and join Library Boards. They work and serve in local hospitals and teach in schools.

The actions and words of BVDG are a disappointment

There is an old saying that goes like this “If the only tool you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail.” It appears in what the BVDG has said and now in the application for subdivisions that their only tool is a hammer and to them the valley is a nail. Despite having said they would do otherwise the proposal looks to be of the same density and nature as developments some of the the prinicpals of BVDG have been involved in other sites like the village at Blue Mountain — as much building as possible in a small area.

They have disparaged the motivation and character in their public statements and social media any who are advocating for a reasoned and proportionate development on the Talisman site. Their current application is thin on many fronts and others are submitting briefs on that.

Their proposals exploit the care and stewardship that has brought the valley to its current state. Should they be successful the valley will become but a backdrop to a whole new town where one was never intended. All the care that others have taken in the valley over decades will enable them to build and sell units and in doing so irrevocably degrade the natural resource that is the valley for this and future generations.

It is important that Council not break faith with the intent of the protections of the valley, and with the community. The economic and social directions of the valley do not need revitalization. The people and businesses that have stayed or moved here show that there is a vital and resilient direction in place already in the valley. The Councils of Grey County and Municipality of Grey Highlands can support and enhance this momentum and make decisions that are aligned with what is already growing in Beaver Valley.

Paul Woolner,
Grey Highlands


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