BY LINDA MONDOUX
When plans for the Big Bay Point Resort on Lake Simcoe were first rolled out in 2002, the chances that the ambitious project would ever see the light of day appeared slim.
After all, a resort of this scale — covering 590 acres of land off the tip of Kempenfelt Bay across from Barrie — would require massive infrastructure and pile a huge planning and engineering workload onto the modest municipal staff in Innisfil, a town of about 32,000 permanent residents. Most important, it would require the blessing of three levels of government, a conservation authority, several environmental groups and Innisfil ratepayers, including cottagers in rural Big Bay Point.
One decade and an Ontario Municipal Board hearing later, the Big Bay Point Resort dream is alive and well. In fact, a massive earthmoving program is set to begin in spring, setting the wheels in motion on one of the most ambitious resort projects in Ontario.
Like its name, the resort is BIG. Think Donald Trump big.
Here’s what’s planned:
• Resort marina with access to Lake Simcoe and a maximum of 1,000 boat slips;
• A 74-acre residential village with a maximum of 1,600 resort residential units, primarily in apartment form on the eastern portion of the site, plus waterfront townhomes on newly constructed islands at the marina;
• An 18-hole Doug Carrick-designed championship golf course and clubhouse;
• Hotels and conference facilities with a minimum of 400 rooms;
• Up to 8,000 square metres of commercial space;
• A recreation centre with pool on the lake;
• A theatre;
• A large environmental protection area (EPA) in the central portion of the resort lands.
Toronto-based Geranium Corporation, the developer, won approval from the OMB in 2007 for a mixed-use, recreation-based resort development on the huge site it had acquired. Bounded by Big Bay Point Road to the north and west, Thirteenth Line to the south and Lake Simcoe to the east, the site was home to an existing marina, farmland and a forest. As part of the development, a public road crossing the site through the 200-acre EPA will be built, connecting Big Bay Point Road to Thirteenth Line.
Design inspired by southern France
The marina village portion of the development has been designed by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company to be an active pedestrian-friendly urban waterfront, featuring a mix of residential, commercial and civic space. “The lake’s edge serves as a focal point for the project, and the design of the marina itself drew inspiration from Port Grimand in southern France,” the design company says. “A wide waterfront promenade curves along the lakefront, offering a gathering place for pedestrians and a place for visitors to enjoy the area’s scenery. The promenade is lined with mixed-use buildings fronting the lake, and is anchored by two waterfront plazas. In addition, two narrow islands, which are lined with townhouses and a boardwalk, extend into the lake itself, offering residents scenic, waterfront accommodation and direct interaction with the boats of the marina.”
In the centre of the resort is the environmental protection area — about 200 acres — and adjacent to that a championship golf course of similar size.
Along with many construction jobs, the developer has estimated the project will create 850 permanent jobs and contribute to a net annual surplus to the town of between $1 million and $4 million.
While Big Bay Point Resort will be a four-season destination, all residential units will be non-permanent, lessening the burden on local infrastructure. To sweeten the pot, the developer has also agreed to pay for a new sewer line which will allow more than 1,000 homes on septic tanks to be hooked into the system should their owners desire, and to upgrade the sewage treatment plant in Alcona to the south.
As part of a pre-development agreement, the town has granted the developer permission to clear trees and install erosion and sediment control measures — work that is now completed — along with other preliminary site works including marina basin excavation, golf course shaping and haul road construction.
Wayne Pinkney, the Town of Innisfil’s development project engineering technologist, says construction on the haul road that will allow for the transportation of massive amounts of soil taken from the marina site to the golf course area will be carried out this winter, with major earthmoving works beginning in the spring.
“There will be lots of activity and the work will be more visible than up to now,” he tells MyNewWaterfrontHome.com.
All work on site is proceeding according to an approved staging schedule, with everything reviewed as it goes along. Because of the sheer size of the project and the review involved, the town has hired an independent professional firm — MMM Group — to monitor work by Geranium and its contractors and to ensure all planning, engineering and environmental rules and regulations are being followed according to approved plans.
While such an overseer can often frustrate developers, and lead to higher costs, the Big Bay Point Resort has been cited as a good example of peer review “promoting positive results.” But as MMM Group’s Jamie Bennett writes in a commentary in the Ontario Planning Journal in an article titled The Case of the Big Bay Point Resort: In praise of peer review
, success did not happen overnight.
Approval process a 'wild ride'
“Faced with this massive proposal and an application package that included 17 technical supporting studies, draft official plan and zoning by-law amendments, draft Resort Code and Resort Management Plan, town staff turned to consultants for support in the form of peer review,” explains Bennett. “This involved analysis of the technical studies and advice to council regarding project issues and disposition of the applications.
“The peer review process was a wild ride at times. The first of multiple public meetings was so well attended that many residents could not be admitted to the hall, and featured a long lineup of people to speak in support of the project. A subsequent public meeting featured a police presence. There were lawsuits launched by the developer against area residents, a ratepayer group and the town’s consulting solicitor, and counter lawsuits. There were allegations that the developer was applying Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) techniques to quell dissenting views, and the non-governmental organization Environmental Defence weighed in on this issue.
“There were three council resolutions over three years that provided increasing levels of support to the project, culminating in the adoption of a detailed set of implementing planning documents. There were appeals of the applications to the OMB by the developer (county OPA) and the province (zoning). There were settlement discus-sions coordinated by the Office of the Provincial Facilitator among the developer, town, county, province and resident associations. There were 11th hour inputs on issues of Aboriginal rights, including archeological resources and traditional hunting and fishing. Ultimately, the project was approved by the Ontario Municipal Board, in a form supported by the town, five years after the applications were submitted.”
Despite the long, often adversarial journey, Bennett says the process can be termed a success because the town gets a downsized and improved “high-quality resort with a greater proportion of commercial assessment, a vacationing population that will spend money in the town without placing major burdens on town services, recreational and cultural amenities for area residents, the opportunity to service hundreds of existing residences on private services and comfort that the water quality of Lake Simcoe will be protected.”
While a small of group of landowners remains opposed to the development, letters are on record proving overwhelming support. In fact, people are already writing in to ask when they might be able to buy one of the resort condo units and when they can apply for a job. Unfortunately, they will likely have to wait another five years or so.
Resort completion still years away
According to the preliminary work schedule, 2012 will be taken up with excavation of the marina and resort area — a job that will continue into 2013 because of the sheer size of the job — and then hauling the materials to the golf course lands for shaping. Installation of underground services likely won’t begin until 2013. That’s when the marina and resort features, such as dock anchors, landscaping and the boardwalk, are scheduled to be installed.
With a project of this size, delays are bound to happen, however. It’s in Phase 2 when up to 800 resort residential units are to be built, along with one of the hotels, at least 4,000 square metres of retail space, a recreation centre, internal roads and pedestrian trails and bicycle paths. The multi-year plan contains four phases.
If you just can’t wait and want to pre-register for resort residential sales, you can send your name and contact information to the developer at firstname.lastname@example.org. As for resort jobs, positions will be posted on the Geranium Corporation website at www.geraniumhomes.com over the next few years as they become available.
MyNewWaterfrontHome.com — February 2012