LETTER: Flashpoint for Council’s integrity on the horizon

I went to high school at PECI, and now my wife and I are part owners of Lost Lake and the forested escarpment which spans the Cressy peninsula. The forested escarpment is a designated Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI).

The county has long been a tourist draw because of its natural spaces, slower pace of life, and the amazing local craft industries in an idyllic corner of the province. However, I can see that there is a risk of undermining what makes the county special through inappropriate development. Specifically, over development, particularly in environmentally sensitive areas, threatens to undermine what makes the county special.

A case in point, a neighbouring property owner is proposing a hotel and spa called IRTH above and below the aforementioned forested escarpment that has been designated as an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA). To proceed with this development, a zoning change from rural residential to tourist commercial must be approved by council. This is a proposed zoning change which has sparked unanimous local opposition, and for good reason. The Council’s official plan (OP) stresses the need to protect wetlands and ANSIs which together form a part of “what makes the County special and unique” (Existing OP, 2.2.2).

Operating Plan aside, local residents are not keen on having their own lifestyles upended. They do not need thousands of annual visitors bringing traffic and disturbance into the heart of a natural setting adjacent to their properties. There is a an intact ecosystem in the ANSI which would be highly vulnerable to the numerous forms of disturbance such as light, noise, land clearing, and various other impacts from the hotel infrastructure. Moving the goal posts on local residents who have invested their livelihoods in an area zoned rural-residential would be a profound betrayal.

That said, the developers have pushed on despite clear opposition. They have created inroads for parking lots, felled trees, and cleared beaver dams with consequences for landowners downstream. They have commissioned professional reports playing up their project’s virtues.

In short, IRTH appears quite confident the critical zoning change will be approved. Their confidence juxtaposed with the council’s expressed principles for development in the OP is more than a bit perplexing.

Ultimately, this flashpoint is a test of Council’s integrity. The quality of life for neighbouring landowners and the integrity of an ecosystem hang in the balance. If council overrides their own OP which stresses the need for environmental protection to maintain the unique integrity of the county, this short sighted planning approach can be visited on other areas of the county. As a kid who used to ski along the escarpment, I never could have imagined such a peaceful setting being torn apart.

Douglas Smith

North Marysburgh