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Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Oro Lakeshore housing plan has residents worried

A plan to develop housing on the shore of Lake Simcoe is moving ahead without adequate consideration for potential impacts on the environment, an area naturalist has warned.
"It is one of the last pieces of natural shoreline in the area," said Jim Woodford. "It should be preserved."
A request by the Moon Point Corporation to rezone waterfront property at Four Mile Point for residential use was initially turned down when Oro-Medonte Township council decided against holding a public meeting on the proposal, resulting in an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board.

In a vote held in November, council adopted an amendment allowing the municipality to consider requests for residential shoreline development in rural-restricted areas, such as the one at Four Mile Point.

Moon Point Corporation has since dropped the OMB appeal, and submitted a revised proposal for 14 waterfront homes.

"That is a big step," Woodford added of council's decision.

Deputy Mayor Harry Hughes agreed, and said the move marks a sharp shift away from Oro-Medonte's earlier promise to protect specific portions of the township from future development.

"It is opening the door," he added.

By agreeing to consider future expansions of the shoreline designation for residential use, council has paved the way for the developer to proceed with an application, Hughes said.

"If you vote at council, you have to assume a councillor has done due diligence and done the research and asked the questions," he added. "To change your mind means that there should be new information, and I didn't see anything that would change my mind."

The property was designated as a restricted-rural zone in the early 1990s as part of a larger effort to create a buffer between Oro-Medonte and the cities of Barrie and Orillia, noted Hughes, who along with Coun. Ralph Hough opposed the recent amendment. "Oro-Medonte had held rigidly to that," he added.

Before council can vote on an application for development, all environmental studies related to the project must undergo a peer review.

Only then can council grant the necessary rezoning, Hughes said.

"There is a possibility that this development, when it comes forward, council could turn around and say 'no', even if the requirements were met," he added.

Toronto resident Janet Bumstead has cottaged at Four Mile Point for 25 years, and fears the development could ruin the delicate ecosystem that exists there.

A natural, treed berm located along the shoreline of the property plays a crucial role in protecting fish habitat and controls water flow into the lake, she said.

"It is just a perfectly balanced system that has not been touched," she added. "It would be nice if it was left that way, because I don't think Lake Simcoe can tolerate more sediment and nutrient loading. "That piece of land should be a buffer between Orillia and Oro Medonte," she added. "If Oro Medonte wants a buffer of its own, that is it."

Hughes agrees, and said he was surprised by council's willingness to consider additional shoreline development.

"The restricted rural zone had been adhered to very strictly," he told The Advance. "I believe you have a plan in place for a reason. We had already turned down several applications for severances in the rural restricted area."

Woodford believes the township is ill-equipped to perform the detailed analysis needed to determine the impact such a development would have on local wildlife.

An Environmental Impact Statement prepared for the developer falls short of providing a comprehensive accounting of the many species of birds, fish and plants living in the area, he added.

Not until all aspects are studied should the environmental impact statement be considered by the Lake Simcoe Regional Conservation Authority, he said.

"If they do approve it (as is), it would make a mockery of their mandate to protect Lake Simcoe," he added.

Mayor Neil Crag said the municipality has taken a leadership role in protecting the environment, and pointed to the township's moraine policy as proof of that commitment.

"We are the only municipality I know of that has done a natural heritage study on a feature like the Oro Moraine," he added. "Unlike the province, which comes in and changes the Oak Ridges moraine area, we had to go through the public planning process. That shows our leadership and fortitude to protect our natural heritage."

Council will be looking to the Lake Simcoe Regional Conservation Authority to provide unbiased comment on the developer's proposal, and any impact it might have on the environment, he said.

"They are not working for this developer or this home owners' association, they are, to my mind, a scientific and neutral body," he said. "We would definitely be relying, at least at the outset, on what they tell us."

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