Developers in the City of Kawartha Lakes caught up in bureaucratic nightmare


KAWARTHA LAKES- 80 year old Mac Lewis had a dream for developing a piece of property he owns in Fenelon Falls. That dream has become a nightmare after ten years of being stuck in a bureaucratic quagmire with the City of Kawartha Lakes. “This is what I’ve done all my life is develop different properties.” Lewis told Kawartha 411. “I was sold a bill of goods by council that the town really needed it.”

Lewis is known as a seasoned developer and purchased the 500 acre property on County Rd 121 in 2008. He planned to build 365 units including a mix of single family homes, semis and triplexes. He called it Fenelon Trails. “Our client is beyond frustrated and upset, just not knowing where to turn. We’ve tried various ways with trying to assist The City in moving forward but that hasn’t been successful.” Heather Sadler told Kawartha 411.

The developer hired Heather Sadler, a professional planner with EcoVue Consulting Services in Peterborough to help him navigate the approvals process. Everything seemed to be on track until 2014 when the process came to a grinding halt. The City brought forward for adoption a General Plan amendment and a number of secondary plans, called Official Plan Amendments (OPA)for five urban settlement areas which include Lindsay, Bobcaygeon, Omemee, Woodville and Fenelon Falls.

Almost any time the city wants to make changes to the Official Plan the public must be given an opportunity to weigh in on it, but it appears that process wasn’t followed by the city “There were a number of procedural delays and appear to be a number of incongruities with the way some of the notices were sent out.” Sadler told Kawartha 411. “There was a notice that was put in the paper explaining what the process for appeals was and there was some confusion about what that date was and then when the the appeals came in there was a difference between the date they arrived and the date in the newspaper and as a result it appears those appeals were never sent to the province or the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) to be considered.” Sadler recalled. That caused a number of delays and numerous appeals were ultimately filed.

In 2015 The City tried to rectify the problem by repealing those Official Plan Amendments and coming up with new ones. Council chose to “endorse” revised OPA’s in July 2015 and refer them directly to the OMB rather than “adopting” them and opening it up for public review and comment. That seems to have created more chaos. “Essentially the issue is that by endorsing and referring these OPA’s the statutory right of appeal has been removed” said the OMB in a letter to the City. Mayor Andy Letham says that wasn’t council’s intention. “We weren’t trying to cut anybody out on purpose, it was just a technicality” according to Letham. “Obviously that was our leagal advice we had at the time from our consultant who was working on it.”

Three people appealed the decision by council to repeal OPA 8 for Fenelon Falls and endorse the revised version called OPA 15. One of them was the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. The Ministry says the new plans don’t follow the “Growth Plans” as outlined by the Province. “The basis for this appeal is that the decision of Council allows for the expansion of the urban boundary of Fenelon Falls in absence of sufficient justification through a comprehensive review as required by the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe.” noted the Ministry is a letter to The City in July 2015.

Mayor Andy Letham blames the province for the delays. “The province has appealed our settlement boundaries and Fenelon Trails is part of that settlement boundary that they’ve appealed. That’s what been holding it up from our perspective until we get those settled with the province obviously that development can’t proceed.”

“The Ministry didn’t appeal OPA 8 but did appeal OPA 15, so, had the city not rescinded OPA 8 our clients would be in the process of getting those lands developed now.” Sadler says “Because the process involved so many different plans and so many amendments Fenelon Trails got dragged into the drama.”

Lewis also partially blames the province for tying up his property by appealing the second offical plan emendment put forth by the City.

The Ontario Municipal Board held a hearing on the appeals in June of 2016. According to insiders the hearing didn’t go well, with a number of groups showing up to voice concerns and the OMB saying they could’t hear the appeals, so they put it off to give The City time to resolve some of the issues.

A special council meeting was held in May 2017 to update Council on the revised timelines and to try to sort out the issues before the Ontario Municipal Board on all of the OPA’s. At that meeting Sadler said she was unhappy with the process calling it “disjointed and convoluted”. “The main problem is the Fenelon Falls property stradels the former village of Fenelon Falls and Township of Verulam municipal boundaries, now all part of CKL so the are trying to resolve the way the lands were intended to be treated at that boundary location and that has been the complication for the Fenelon Trails property”

Council then decided all decisions must adhere to the Growth Plan and once again reversed course recommending that the plans that were previously “endorsed” by council now be “adopted” by council instead, opening them up for public review and comment.

The Fenelon Trails Development isn’t the only one caught up in the “drama”.

Mason homes, who was to develop the Jennings Creek property is also mired in the tangled web of the proposed revised OPA 16 for Lindsay.  Gordon E. Petch the Lawyers for Mason Homes sent a letter to The City on June 26th, 2017 via email, practically begging The City not to implement OPA 16 and keep the previous amendments approved by the OMB in 2014, saying, “It is critical to Mason that these amendments not be repealed or modified in any way with the adoption of a by-law approving the new proposed Lindsay Secondary Plan.” One of the many arguments made by Mason was that some of the changes would be a “significant deterrent to the City’s desire to expedite the development of the JCCDPA (Jennings Creek) especially when there is currently a secondary plan in place to guide the development.” Mayor Letham disagrees with that assessment. “I don’t believe that’s the case, like I say Mason had his approvals under what he wanted to do out there.”

On June 27th council went ahead with the adoption of OPA 16.  Lawyers for Mason filed an appeal on July 13th, 2017. A few months later, on November 16th, Kawartha 411 learned Mason Homes had pulled out of the development entirely, selling out to Craft Development Corporation. Craft notified the Ministry they would be continuing with the Mason appeals.

The Horizons project, as it was called, was part of a residential/commercial development that was hoped to bring a Walmart to town and included up to 500 homes.

Representatives from the City of Kawartha Lakes first told Kawartha 411 they knew nothing about the fact that Mason Homes had pulled out but later the Planning Department told Kawartha 411 that the property has changed hands and was now owned by the Craft Development Corporation.

Mayor Andy Letham said at the time, “Plans are moving ahead quickly to fill, prepare and service the land as required in order to facilitate construction. Commercial occupancy is targeted for early 2019.”  Read the full story here:

At the time Mayor Letham said the commercial developer wanted to move more quickly than Mason Homes.

We now know the project was plagued by missteps and appeals.

A Bobcaygeon Development is also stalled after having similar issues with the City. Comhold Investments, Medlaw Corporation and Mason Burch are the owners of a 9 acre property located in Bobcaygeon, just off of Kawartha Lakes Road 36 south of Little Bob Drive. In December 2003 The Biglieri Group submitted applications on behalf of the owners for an Official Plan Amendment, zoning Bylaw Amendment and a Draft Plan for a subdivision to allow for an expansion of the existing Pinecrest Nursing Home and development of 49- single family detached units.

In 2011 they say they revised the plan to reflect the “ongoing municipal review”. The revised proposal included five, four story condo’s totalling 280 units. According to Biglieri, after submitting the revised applications The City advised them to consider putting the applications on hold until the municipality had an opportunity to complete the Official Plan Review and Secondary Plan review process. Which they did. According to a letter sent to the OMB, staff said the subject site would be included in the Urban Settlement Area of Bobcaygeon.

However in April 2015 they say they were notified by city staff that a portion of the subject site would be proposed to be removed from the Bobcaygeon Settlement Area through an amendment. “Since the original application was submitted in 2003, Comhold Investments and TBG have worked with the City of Kawartha Lakes through a lengthy process to conduct an Official Plan Review, by waiting over four years to make a submission, only to have the subject site removed from the boundary in 2015.” Biglieri Group said in a letter of appeal to the board. “We respectfully disagree with this action, it is our opinion that the Subject Site be included within the Bobcaygeon Urban Settlement Area.” Furthermore they say the site represents a vitally needed piece of infrastructure to the community.

It was all part of a possible misunderstanding according to Mayor Letham. “Some of these places thought they were part of it (the OPA) but really they were just part of the discussion. There’s quite a few properties that were part of the initial boundaries that, as part of the Settlement Areas, they got cut out with the final version.”

Sadler says the mess is affecting the entire city. “It’s really having quite an impact on development moving forward in the city on those lands. Now that development isn’t permitted outside those urban areas, it really has quite an impact on what’s happening with the city.”

Letham says the City has had some discusssions with the province on the issue of settlement boundaries and have made some progress moving forward. “It’s not really realistic sometimes with small communities,we need to not just grow in Lindsay but we need to grow in some of our other communities as well to keep them going.”

There’s another OMB hearing scheduled for March 22nd in Lindsay. Sadler says her clients are growing more weary.”Unfortunately he’s an older gentlemen he wants to get his affairs in order.” Sadler states.  “They had a dream for this property and it’s been nearly ten years that I’ve been involved,  when the time is extended as this one has been, all your calculations go out with window, interest on the money you are using is much greater than they anticipated and cash flow is affected.”

Letham admits the process has been fraught with problems “It’s been a mess but I know people aren’t happy and I don’t know if there’s a better way to do this process, I’m sure there is if we had to go do it again.  At the end of the day this is where we are but we are starting to pile throught he fog a little bit and hopefully we can get some of these things settled for people.”

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