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Ontario developer's plan to build golf course on farmland has some worried it will 'destroy' their village

Cameron, Ont., residents Margaret and Robert Carroll are concerned about the impact a proposed golf course resort and seasonal housing development will have on their community. (Laura Pederson/CBC - image credit)
Cameron, Ont., residents Margaret and Robert Carroll are concerned about the impact a proposed golf course resort and seasonal housing development will have on their community. (Laura Pederson/CBC - image credit)

Some residents of a small village in Ontario's cottage country are speaking out against a proposed development that would see farmland turned into a golf course resort and housing.

The Kawartha Bay project in Cameron, Ont., located approximately 150 kilometres northeast of Toronto in the City of Kawartha Lakes, is being proposed by Markham-based Flato Developments. It would feature an 18-hole golf course interspersed with 339 seasonal homes, 84 rentals, a clubhouse, restaurant and a refurbished marina.

Flato is asking Kawartha city council to rezone 156 hectares of land it owns — most of which is currently designated for agricultural or rural uses  — to "tourist commercial" to allow the resort to operate. The development would be serviced by privately-owned facilities for treating drinking water and wastewater.

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"Flato looks forward to expanding tourism and supporting this idyllic community, while preserving the natural beauty and heritage of the area," the developer's website reads.

"The introduction of a recreational resort will provide sustained economic growth, enhance the infrastructure in the community and offer diversified tourism with four-season appeal."

Flato Developments is proposing to transform 156 hectares of mostly farmland into a golf course with seasonal and rental housing.
Flato Developments is proposing to transform 156 hectares of mostly farmland into a golf course with seasonal and rental housing.

Flato Developments is proposing to transform 156 hectares of mostly farmland into a golf course with seasonal and rental housing. (Laura Pederson/CBC)

But Margaret Carroll, a 66-year-old retiree who grew up in the same home she now lives in with her husband in Cameron, disagrees with that vision.

"Personally, I think it will basically destroy our life," said Carrol. "The life that we have now will totally be gone."

Concerns project will hurt community

Carroll said life in the village is "very quiet, nice and serene." She said she worries the resort will increase pedestrian and vehicle traffic along the two-lane road that runs outside her house alongside Lake Sturgeon and that an increase in short-term rentals could disturb the peace of the community.

According to a conceptual design of the proposed development, the 16th hole of the golf course would be right behind the Carrolls' backyard. Carroll said she worries that runoff from pesticides, herbicides or other chemicals that could be used on the golf course could contaminate her well water or pollute the lake, both of which are downhill from the golf course's proposed location.

"There's there's really no plus to this resort for us," she said.

Falto Developments has submitted this design concept for the development, which could change over time.
Falto Developments has submitted this design concept for the development, which could change over time.

Flato Developments has submitted this design concept for the development, which could change over time. (City of Kawartha Lakes)

At a meeting of the City of Kawartha Lakes planning committee on Sept. 13, planning consultant Matthew Cory of Malone Givens Parsons appeared on behalf of Flato and said the "world-class" golf course will be designed by Doug Carrick — who he called a "pre-eminent" designer of golf courses in Ontario.

Cory said at least 25 per cent of the land would be designated as environmentally protected.

"The reason we've only submitted a zoning amendment at this time was to codify and look at the principle of development and, more importantly, to establish the areas that can be developed and the ones that cannot. And the ones that cannot are the ones that need to be protected for natural heritage protection," Cory told the meeting.

A majority of residents who spoke at that meeting opposed the development, raising concerns about the loss of farmland, possible harm to delicate ecosystems and that the resort will cater to rich customers, rather than locals.

Silvia Keesmaat is a member of the grassroots advocacy group Say No To Flato, which is opposing the development.
Silvia Keesmaat is a member of the grassroots advocacy group Say No To Flato, which is opposing the development.

Silvia Keesmaat is a member of the grassroots advocacy group Say No To Flato, which is opposing the development. (Submitted by Silvia Keesmaat)

Sylvia Keesmaat, a University of Toronto professor and permaculture farmer who's lived in Cameron for 19 years, is one of those who spoke against the proposed development at the meeting.

"This piece of land includes a drumlin and an alvar, both of which are unusual land formations in Ontario and provide perfect habitat for a number of at-risk species," Keesmaat told CBC Toronto.

Keesmaat is a member of a grassroots group called Say No To Flato, which has started a petition opposing the rezoning application that she said has garnered almost 300 local signatures.

"These kinds of golf courses have enormous green fees. They're not green fees that are affordable for most of the people who live in the area," said Keesmaat.

"It also will drive up land prices in the area ...  people who grow up here, kids who grow up here can't afford to live here."

Shakir Rehmatullah is founder and president of Markham, Ont.-based Flato Developments.
Shakir Rehmatullah is founder and president of Markham, Ont.-based Flato Developments.

Shakir Rehmatullah is founder and president of Markham, Ont.-based Flato Developments. (Flato Developments/YouTube)

Kawartha Lakes Coun. Mike Perry, whose ward includes the village of Cameron, said he's heard the concerns of the community loud and clear, and that he'll be working to address them through the development application process.

"We're facing a huge wave of growth up here the next few years and we need to grow responsibly, which means assessing applications on a case-by-case basis," he said.

"Right now, I'm working with my constituents here on the ground to address all of those concerns and get as much information about this at this stage as we can."

Company has 'overwhelming' support, says its lawyer

While Keesmaat said environmental concerns are among the most important to her, she also raised concerns about the developer's role in the Greenbelt controversy.

Flato Developments' founder and president, Shakir Rehmatullah was behind three successful requests to remove land from the Greenbelt last fall, according to the province's integrity commissioner's report into the Greenbelt controversy, before Premier Doug Ford announced a reversal. Rehmatullah's a friend of Ford and of Kaleed Rasheed, the Progressive Conservative MPP who resigned this week after news reports raised questions about their time together on a trip to Las Vegas.

In a statement to CBC Toronto provided through its lawyer, Michael Fenrick, Flato Developments said the company has received "overwhelming" support for its work in Cameron.

The statement said the company has worked with "industry leading" environmental consultants who have conducted a number of studies and is working to satisfy all municipal requirements to ensure the development provides a "net benefit" to the community.

"There will always be people who resist growth and change in their communities. The path to community building takes time and care and it is a job Flato takes seriously," the statement said.

A motion before the Kawartha Lakes council on Tuesday would direct Flato's zoning change request back to staff for more study and to address the public's concerns.