A local group determined to protect the Niagara Escarpment has asked The Blue Mountains council to consider requesting a Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO) to stop a massive potential development on the Castle Glen lands.
At council’s meeting of the whole meeting on Aug. 30, Bruce Harbinson and David Donnelly representing the Escarpment Corridor Alliance spoke to council about Castle Glen and urged town officials to take steps to prevent development on the environmentally sensitive lands located in the escarpment.
“Does anybody think tearing up the escarpment for a mega-development is a good idea?” Harbinson asked.
The Castle Glen property was on the meeting agenda as town staff delivered a report about the history of the property and its current status. Prior to the staff report, the Alliance representatives spoke to council about the possible development of those lands.
Castle Glen is a 620-hectare property on County Road 19 near Osler Bluff Ski Club. Although there is no current development application for the property in front of the town, historical approvals dating back to the late 1960s allow a maximum of 1,600 residential units, 300 hotel/commercial accommodation units, 5,000 square metres of commercial usage and golf course and other recreational uses.
Ownership of the property recently changed hands and town council requested historical information about the property to be prepared in advance of any formal proposals coming forward.
Harbinson and Donnelly argued that “sunset” clauses should have been included in all previous approvals on the property and the continual “great-great-great grandfathering” of approvals that are now decades old should end.
“Fifty-one years later this is still on the books. Castle Glen is not just another development in The Blue Mountains,” said Harbinson, who said the development would be the largest in the town’s history and would represent a new urban area larger than Thornbury if it was ever fully realized.
Donnelly said the town could seek an MZO from the provincial government to erase the current approvals on the property.
“It can be reversed,” he said. “Stopping this development is not only possible, it’s in the public’s interest.”
Following a staff report that delved into the history of the property and the various approval processes it has gone through over the years, council was left to decide its next step.
Coun. Rob Sampson suggested the town reach out to the property owner now, before an application comes forward, to start talking.
“I want to thank staff for doing this, it is the first time we’ve had a report on a development before the developer comes forward with a proposal. The thrust of today is: a lot has changed from way back when the original approvals were given,” said Sampson. “Instead of waiting for a proposal, we should start discussion with the developer now and mould their processes and thoughts more in line with where the community would like to go. Or at least try.”
CAO Shawn Everitt said starting discussion was a step staff could take. He said over the past couple of years the town has tried to be proactive when dealing with larger proposals.
“We’re taking it very seriously,” he said.
Coun. Paula Hope suggested the town should make an effort at public engagement on Castle Glen as soon as possible.
“It’s more important to find out what the public wants,” said Hope, noting that her sense of the issue is that the public would not support any development at Castle Glen. “It does get us into a challenge. I’m getting a sense of why we need a public process first.”
Coun. Andrea Matrosovs suggested the town should also be reaching out to other organizations such as the conservation authority and the Niagara Escarpment about the process.
“At what point can we reach out to these agencies and say we want to have a larger dialogue? Do we wait until an application? Is there an opportunity to discuss it in advance?” she said. “It’s important to understand where the limits are, where the non-starters are. We are in an unusual situation here. Are our hands tied until a formal process is triggered?”
Members of staff explained the town is in a unique position. There is plenty of interest in the future of the Castle Glen property, but no formal application to date has been received for review.
“I don’t want to start guessing in terms of what kind of development application is going to come forward,” said Senior Policy Planner Shawn Postma.
Everitt also noted there are opportunities for dialogue between the parties, but they would be limited in scope without an application.
“We can’t force a developer to come in and pre-consult,” said Everitt.
Council voted to receive the staff report and request a subsequent report on next steps for public engagement and pre-consultation.
“The goal is to get everybody on the same page and find out what the playing field looks like,” said Mayor Alar Soever.
Chris Fell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca