Swayed by the heartfelt complaints of nearby residents, the Planning and Development Committee turned it down.
Council reversed that decision last week.
TRAE, a proposed “eco-resort” of small cabins on a 30-metre cliff with spectacular views of the Adolphus Reach, was approved in a 7-5 vote. The Mayor recused himself after declaring a pecuniary interest in the file. Councillors Maynard, MacNaughton, Pennell, Prinzen, and Engelsdorfer were opposed.
The site, currently zoned Rural 1, will now be zoned Tourist Commercial, or TC-60.
Concerns raised by residents at the Planning meeting of Nov. 22 and again at Council Dec. 10 concerned the incongruity of a resort and wedding venue in a peaceful rural location where the largest outdoor gatherings are of sheep.
But the 30-acre site is designated Shore Land in the County’s Official Plan. The designation permits tourist-commercial uses compatible with shore lands protection and supports the mandate to promote tourism as a major economic driver in the County.
Likewise, County Road 7 is a designated Tourism Corridor in the 2021 Official Plan. It is a relatively undiscovered scenic route through the County, starting high on the escarpment at Lake on the Mountain and winding slowly downwards through picturesque farmland to Cressy and Waupoos. The Official Plan encourages tourist-related developments in appropriate areas along such corridors.
In response to complaints from the neighbours, the proposal was modified into what was dubbed “TRAE light.” The resort will feature of mix of 19 cabins and 12 motel units — one-room studio cabins arranged back-to-back — a club house, an outdoor heated pool, a spa, and an event space for 50 people. It will be limited to 10 weddings a year.
Day visitors are limited to 20 and the maximum number of people permitted at any one time will be 150. The resort will now be set back 70 metres from County Road 7 and will be well screened by existing trees and additional landscaping.
Parts of the site are zoned EP, or environmental protection, now modified to Special EP, and include the escarpment and some wet lands. Those sites are respected in the plans for the resort with adequate setbacks.
Alan Hirschfield, well known in the County for his prominent role in four years of public consultations and plans for the former Fields of Wellington project, is one of the owners. He stressed that the intentions are genuine. The resort’s plans feature low-density and low-profile designs. Integration into the natural landscape is a key feature.
“We are aiming at people interested in the rural remove, in the natural aspects of the County and in the wildlife. We were told we must use a light touch to develop a property like this and that is what we are using.”
In his deputation to Council, Mr. Hirschfield noted that 29 STAs surround the property. “That gives some insight into what is actually happening in the area.” He suggested dedicated tourist accommodations are precisely what the County needs to both sustain its tourist economy and potentially free up more housing for residents.
He also noted the scale is intimate and all of the buildings have a small footprint. ”All of the proposed buildings all together, clubhouse, spa, cabins, all of them, total just 28,000 square feet. That’s the size of a single golf clubhouse.”
“I believe it is fair for a developer in the County who follows the Official Plan objectives, and crafts as modest and responsive a development proposal as is economically viable, to have that proposal approved,” he said.
Nonetheless, near neighbours of the resort will be bitterly upset with the decision. An online petition garnered 300 signatures from residents opposed to the project and a door-to-door campaign another 90.
Councillor David Harrison, who represents North Marysburgh, took some heat from residents for his support of the project.
“If I were a farmer,” he said, “this is the last piece of land I’d be interested in.” He noted the resort would generate at least 100k a year without needing any major infrastructure. “It looks reasonably low density to me, a small cottage development. We used to have lots of those in Cressy.”
David Fast presented the petition at Council. The main argument across all deputations was the incongruity. “The Official Plan also notes that development has to be compatible with the surrounding context,” said Daniel Wigdor, a neighbour whose old growth forest is continuous with that on the TRAE property. “This land use is totally unacceptable and incompatible with what is already there. If approved it would totally transform the entire area.”
“This resort should be somewhere primed for commercial development,” said another. “TRAE Light? Or should TRAE just be somewhere else?”
Councillor John Hirsch also supported the project. “Whether the neighbours like it or not, our Official Plan promotes this kind of development. It would be a sure loss for us at the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) if we did not approve it.”
Ed. Note: This article has been updated from the print edition to note that Councillor Engelsdorfer opposed the motion.