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Sunday, May 07, 2006



Georgina council last week approved an "historic" waterfront development in Keswick.
The $70-million Crate's Landing project at the mouth of the Maskinonge River in Keswick won unanimous support from council members after Monday night's final public meeting in front of a packed council chamber.

"This project will be a diamond in the heart of Keswick," Councillor Ross Jamieson said, adding there will be a huge boost to the local economy and praising the developer for involving members of the public in every step of the process.

"It's an historic moment for the Town of Georgina," Mayor Rob Grossi said.

"While there may be some construction impacts, we'll do everything in our power to mitigate them."

Deputy-mayor Danny Wheeler said Crate's Landing has led the way with their project plans.

"They have shown people how developments can be done properly," he said, "I'm thrilled to see this."

If all goes according to plan, construction on the foundations will begin in late summer with completion in about two years, developer Brookfield Millhouse partner John Blackburn said after the meeting. He said he expects the development will be attractive to affluent Baby Boomers looking for lakeside lifestyle as well as moneyed tourists.

The project, with its all-suites hotel and convention centre component, is crucial to attracting more visitors to Georgina, Briars Resort vice president of sales and marketing Hugh Sibbald after the meeting. "I think this is great. For Georgina to become a destination of any sort, we need rooms. It's quite exciting to see Crate's Landing opening up," he said. The prestige Briars has 91 rooms, but that isn't enough to satisfy the growing need to handle potential convention goers and tourists who stay overnight and longer, creating economic spinoff for such businesses as restaurants, he said.

A minor stumbling block could be the region's recent policy requiring water and sewer allocation be set aside for new hotels. With the allocation used up in Keswick until the expansion of the sewage treatment plant in two years, the hotel lacks the 220-person allocation it needs.

While the town could draw that from the industrial supply available, planning director Harold Lenters cautioned that it may be needed for the future Keswick business park. Mayor Rob Grossi said he and Deputy-Mayor Danny Wheeler will lobby their regional collegues to exempt the Crate's Landing hotel from the new requirement. "We've got two votes already," Mr. Grossi said. "We just need nine more." But without regional approval, it is likely council will shift allocation to the hotel, Mr. Wheeler said.

The project manager is Evanco Corp., which is also handling Muskoka Wharf, a larger, but similar development in Gravenhurst. The hotel planned for that development is a Marriott.

In addition to the hotel, Crate's Landing will include a convention centre, upscale retail shops, restaurants, professional offices, a public boardwalk over a protected wetland, townhouses and condominium apartments. Adult lifestyle condos are planned for the second phase and are not included in the $70 million price tag for the first phase.

An even larger proposal called Crate's Harbour will be constructed directly across the river and will come before council in the near future.

Mr. Blackburn said talks are on-going with an undisclosed major luxury hotel chain for Crate's Landing.

Crate's Landing drew praise for its "green" approach that will see a large portion of the property set aside as protected wetland. Mr. Blackburn said an advisory committee of interested residents will be set up and that Paul Harpley, president of the Lake Simcoe Naturalists has agreed to take part. Among the plans for the natural area, is for a public boardwalk with educational displays along it, outlining the flora and fauna the wetland contains.

The Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority as set a number of strict guidelines the developer must follow to ensure the neighbouring environment is protected, town planner Karyn Stone told council.

The use of pesticides and fertilizers will also be banned at Crate's Landing, the audience was told. Annabel Slaight, who spearheaded the Wave program promoting natural alternatives to fertilizers, said she was very happy with that decision and hopes other developers will follow the lead taken by Brookfield Millhouse.

Neighbouring residents expressed some concern over potential noise and vibration from possible pile-driving during construction. Bob Pollock asked that hours of pile-driving be restricted to certain hours of the day. He also asked that construction traffic be routed away from homes. Cameron Crescent will be dead-ended with a cul-de-sac to prevent through traffic.

Jim Hougham said he wanted assurance that the project will go ahead with its promised upscale Cape Cod type architecture and not scale back. Brookfield Millhouse partner Chris Mullin said the success of the project rested on that design and the numerous potential buyers who have already paid a deposit for a residence or business in the development, will insist on that.

Future lakeshore plans could incorporate the derelict federal wharf just north of the project, Mr. Grossi said, adding the town has been in talks with the government about the future of that wharf.

Looking on with approval in the audience was Crate Marine patriarch Lloyd Crate, whose family founded and grew the marina into one of Canada's largest before embarking on this newest venture that will become the most ambitious in Georgina's history.


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