Mark Clairmont |

GRAVENHURST — By most accounts yesterday The Rosseau Group’s bid to build a “monster” condo/commercial development on “the last undeveloped waterfront lots” at the Muskoka Wharf in Gravenhurst should be dead in the water.

A planning council meeting overflowing with more than 100 mostly inquisitive residents weighed in with overwhelming opposition to zoning amendments, which would allow more than 150 condos in a seven-storey condo building, a micro brewery and a couple dozen boat slips — 10 of them in a tall covered boathouse for residents.

The overwhelming majority of residents, cottagers and lake associations on hand and speaking and applauding, expressed concerns TRG’s “Starboard” proposal was too large, too tall, too intrusive, environmentally unfit and wouldn’t be in keeping with the community character of the town.

Chris Thain, a nearby lake resident, who said “this is not South Beach Miami,” questioned the magnitude of the project and its commercial square footage of almost 16,500 square metres.

Nancy Beal, who lives nearby on Mary Street, said: “I am asking that this development be relocated to a more suitable location or downsized to one tenth its size. And that environmental conditions be more stringent.”

She said “many municipalities are doing the exact opposite” and not developing their dwindling waterfronts and enclosing water courses.

MLA spokesperson Liz Lundell speaks to council about what she said are “difficulties and inconsistancies” in the town and proponent’s reports, as more than 100 people attended Tuesday’s planning council meeting on TRG’s application for zoning changes to its condo-commercial development proposal for at the Muskoka Wharf.

She said the town should do what it did that on other side of the Wharf where it “successfully converted the previously enclosed water course into an open marshy area that is teeming with wildlife and delivers natural water into Lake Muskoka.”

Beal believes building on a wetland and draining the property can certainly be done with a lot of money, she remarked sarcastically, but at a cost to the waterfront as sediment ends up in the lake threatening species at risk, fish habitat, turtles and small animals including deer frequently seen eating hostas in neighbouring backyards.

She joked that the two underground level parking garages could become boathouses.

She also addressed the “character of our community.”

In doing so she cited the Provincial Policy Statement that “asks municipal planners to consider cultural planning and conserving features that help define character.”

“We are fortunate to have a lot of character in Gravenhurst with our arts community, our heritage, lakes, granite shield outcrops, cliffs, dark sky preserve and a plethora of wildlife species.

“Yet instead of trying to fit in,” she said “the Starboard development brings its own character by ignoring ours in a number of ways. The first is by its massive size and height, which not only doesn’t fit in with the surrounding buildings, but also interferes with our current residents. In the city condo upon condo towers rise up to darken the sky; there are no expectations that a city resident will retain their view.

“Here in Muskoka, we’re much more respectful about allowing others to enjoy their view. Our view is part of our culture and gives us a sense of place. It’s part of the reason we have chosen to live here. We treasure our view of nature, the lakes, trees, rocky shores and the sky. We even have a bylaw — No. 2012(135) — that protects our dark sky environment so that we can see the stars and conserve the wildlife that flourishes under dark sky conditions.

“One might think the developer simply doesn’t understand or relate to our desire to have a view. But wait, the development has a feature lookout room perched on the very top, so they must understand how important it is to us as they want it, too.

“I must ask, should their wants be at the sacrifice of our current residents?”

TRG’s planner Stefan Szcerbak, of Planscape in Bracebridge, talks with developer Scott Moffat after the council meeting. Moffat said the public meeting went “better” than he thought it would and that they would make some minor adjustments.

Beal also noted the town report says the condo tower will reach in height the three-storey Alexander retirement residence above it, blocking some of its future residents’ views. Owner Leonard Ojha did have a letter of support for Starboard read into the record by Cathleen van der Post.

She said views from Lookout Park overlooking the Segwun and Wenonah II will be obstructed by the back of new boathouses, which one lake association claims could be as much as four storeys high when factoring in the depth of piers, then several metres of steps up to the initial grade at which the two-storey boathouses would be built with the brewery and restaurant above it.

Concerns have also been raised about whether the property, whose shoreline once extended in as far in as the proposal site, is full of sawdust could sufficiently support the development.

Beal calls the boathouses “another massive over-build” that should be reduced in size “so as not to interfere with park-goers and not to appear so massive.”

She concluded saying the project “is clearly designed for those in the high income bracket. The good news is they will certainly be paying property taxes to our town that could surely use it. …

“Council you are faced with the age-old question: ‘Does the end justify the means?’

“If the taxes can help pay for things like the construction of low-income housing units, can we endure all the environment effects, the massive unsuitability and nuisance factors it comes with? Can we ask our residents to give up Lookout Park and the character and charm of our town to an unsightly monster buildings?

“There are other options. Can the developer step back and look at a business case study for a much smaller development that preserves the environment and cultural character? And the town will still benefit from a tax win that just not be as generous.

“And if we say yes to the full-scale version, we can’t take it back. We will be stuck with a monster that detracts from our community in many ways except financially.

Said Beal: “I ask council to consider this very carefully, as the decision they make today will have repercussions for decades to come.”

John Miller, president of the Muskoka Steamships, said he’s been in talks with Moffat for a couple of years, but still has reservations relating to parking infringement. He says no account has been made for the 55,000 annual boat passengers now and up to half that number more predicted in years to come.

He fears that any new development will threaten the existing open parking concept at the Wharf for all businesses to use and he would like to see the closest parking lot to the ships reserved for steamship passengers.

The last undeveloped piece of land at the Muskoka Wharf could see on the horizon a seven-storey condo building, a two-storey boathouse along the ridge and another boat dock protrucing out between it and the old federal wharf where the Segwun and Wenonah II ships operate each summer with 55,000 annual passengers.

Others like Keith Duncan, a cottager at Parker’s Point supports the lake association submissions calling the late summer timing of traffic studies unreliable.

Bob Chant, who lives on Sunset Bay, says his neighbours are in agreement in opposition to the application as submitted now. He lives at the Narrows and has seen seven boating accidents there in recent years.

Syd Aldred, too, noted the bottle neck and traffic jam through the Lake Muskoka portal. But he wanted to know if the water lots being built on are actually owned by the proponent. His research may put that in doubt as he claims the original federal conveyance was only for temporary use by lumber mills back in the late 1800s.

Robert Clecoff, owner of the Home Building Centre and president of the Chamber of Commerce along with former chamber president Eric Daly showed their support on behalf of the business group. Glecoff says it is “vital” to the town and that a grocery convenience store there would benefit area residents.

Chain, who is head of an informal group of 28 neighbours who reside between Lookout Park and Ungerman Park on the Gravenhurst Bay where the project is proposed, said most have signed a letter of concern to the town.

He said recommending a 9 km/h restriction on boat traffic within ‘Area A’ (inside Greavette Island) would impede events like the Antique and Classic Boat Show and the summer ski shows.

Frank Jaglovich, a board member at the Greavette condo, said allowing seven storeys would set a prescident for future condo building at the Wharf, including a third one still on the books with its developer still in talks with the town.

And he said it could open the door to the “Tin Boathouses” adding second and third storeys one day.

Cheryl Poitras, who lives on Winhara Road, has “large concerns.” Among them jobs and wages. She says restaurants don’t pay well, so don’t expect an economic boom there. She added many residents have to work outside town.

“When are we going to stop encouraging people to come here when there are no living wages or affordable housing?”

Kristin Budney, one of the youngest speakers in her 40s, supports the proposal, saying her friends often leave Gravenhurst for “Port Carling and Huntsville” because “there’s nothing here.”

She and her family build homes in Gravenhurst and thinks it would help kick-start the local economy. She read a letter from her mother, Mary Gauthier of the Gauthier Group and a real estate agent, who said Starboard offers hope for younger generations.

Cheryl Poitras says a brewery and restaurant that could be part of the proposal won’t be the economic boom promised by providing jobs, liveable wages and enough for affordable housing.

Ed Fey, a Walker’s Point cottager, who has long owned a water lot next to the steamships office, considered building a gin brewery there with his daughter who produces cranberry gin. And he thought he had the only right to a brewery/distillery at the Wharf.

Natalie Archer, event manager at Sawdust City Brewery, welcomes Starboard and says more growth and competition are positive. “It’s not perfect,” but change is possible she hopes.

Former town councillor Bruce Schulz is “strongly opposed.”

Sherry Thompson is “totally opposed,” due largely to boat traffic.

Steph Heibein, who says she is “very passionate about the Bay,” agrees and says Lake Muskoka is “unsafe some days.” She also says the town needs more affordable housing.

“It sounds great on paper, but it needs more diligence.”

Lake associations, including representatives of the MLA, the Muskoka Bay Property Owners, the Gull and Silver Lakes spoke separately in opposition.

Joanne Smith, of the Gull Silver Lakes, said they were “in complete agreement with the MLA’s many concerns.

“Granting exemptions the size requested by the applicant is not consistent with intent of the town’s official plan,” which she read aloud from the 2016 OP: “The intent of this official plan is to guide development to areas where it is most suited to foster and protect the health, well-being and quality of life of its residents and visitors. And to protect the environment of the town to preserve and protect and enhance and protect the economy of the town.”

She said her group is not opposed to TRG’s development rights, “but in view of the numerous variances requested, we urge council to insist that significant changes to the developer’s proposal be made before the Gravenhurst council considers the approval of this development.”

They were among numerous concerns including discrepancies in dock lengths and height.

Liz Lundell, of the MLA, started off the two-hour portion of the meeting (which included a density debate over a Glen Echo resort farther up on Taylor Island in Lake Muskoka), said her group saw “difficulties and inconsistencies” in the reports provided by TRG and the town and peer reviews.

Like the number of units: 151 or 165; 101 metres, 107 metres or 130 metres for the new centre boat dock?

She falsely claimed that when built the total condo height could amount to nine storeys with HVAC and an observation deck on top. However, the developer has agreed to 30 metres in  height (100 feet), which given an average standard of 14 feet per floor would be just over seven storeys.

The condos would be right on the lakeshore, which to the MLA is environmentally unsustainable and aesthetically unpleasing. Lundell says typically heights rise the farther back the building is from the waterfront.

The plan is to provide an extension of the Muskoka Wharf, which is already zoned for mixed residential and commercial use.

According to MLA studies the covered boathouse could be four storeys high from the bottom of the piers to the top of the second storey distillery.

The brewery would also add a huge load on District of Muskoka water services, the mostly seasonal resident group warned.

Lundell told Gravenhurst councillors that in Baysville when Lake of Bays Brewing was built a few years ago the district’s treatment plant was so overwhelmed that effluent from its sewage plant had to be hauled away by truck.

She also noted there would be no public parking, however the plans shows 39 spaces.

See the MLA’s comprehensive review of the project at

Undeterred, a smiling Scott Moffat — TRG’s driver — told after the meeting that it “went better than I expected.”

He wasn’t surprised by the overwhelming opposition.

“Everyone who spoke against us was a member of the MLA,” he said incorrectly, “even if they weren’t representing them officially. I expected an even larger army. Frankly, I think they have bigger fish to fry.”

What he was surprised at was the smattering of support.

“Well, I think the most important feedback we’re going to work on is some discrepancy in the numbers. So the dock length. We absolutely agreed with the steamships a long time ago, about the summer of 2021, to strengthen that. We have every intention of making them the same length as the steamship dock. That’s just logistical, a clerical error that caused a lot of confusion. So we’ll take care of that.”

Asked if the scale of the project could be cut back and still be financially viable, as some suggested, Moffat said “that’s just people speculating about the project who have nothing to do with the project and just want us to shrink it. So I’m not going to comment on them making their opinions about our financial model.”

He says his door is always open.

“We’ve been very open and received a lot of feedback. We have tremendous public support for this. But most of our supporters, in general, at these meetings — let’s put it this way I’ve never heard a support letter before. We had five people speak on our behalf tonight. It doesn’t happen. The only ones who show up are the ones who hate the project.

“I’ve never had that much support for a project,” says the developer who has had other successes and failures building in Muskoka. (TRG also owns the Muskoka Springs water distributor in Gravenhurst.) “A lot against it, but that’s why they came.

“Our supporters are at work. They have other things to do at 3 o’clock on a Tuesday. The fact is the people who support things are busy at work. They can’t come. They don’t care enough to come and support it. It’s the people who don’t have to work that come.”

Moffat said: “Most of the comments tonight seemed related to the commercial aspect, very few people seemed to have anything negative to say about the condos themselves. I guess the big picture is that the commercial activity is there strictly for the benefit of the community. And most of the people are big fans of the commercial component.”

He appreciated the support of Natalie Archer, the event manager at Sawdust City Brewery, and possibly Fey.

“I think it would a wonderful thing to have more than one (brewery). Then you would have a distillery district. But the point is that we just asked for the permission to put a brewery or distillery in there. It’s just zoning.

“And we’ve been working with Sawdust City, just talking. They’re interested, but our discussions haven’t proceeded very far, because we don’t even know if we’re even allowed to. So there’s no point in getting in to too much detail.”

Moffat said several concerns about water drainage are “completely irrelevant for here. That’s a provision of it. You can’t build one of those things without taking care of the discharge. It kinda goes without saying. It’s like saying we have to have doors and windows. It’s part of the building code. Of course we do. It’s just people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

“But what I did think was hilarious was a lot of talk about the boat traffic. And since we only have 10 (covered) slips for residents (and “15” open slips), they must think it’s going to be very, very popular. So they must know how much support we have, in order to think that we’re going to create so much traffic.

“So I took that as back-handed compliment.”

Moffat said “it’s impossible to say” when the project would start. “This process can take a long time.”

Town staff didn’t make a recommendation in their report, but Melissa Halford, director of development services earlier this week called it “very exciting.”

She also said yesterday afternoon that 16 people, who she didn’t identify, had previously written in support and one person she was opposed calling for the property to be parkland.

Halford also said the matter won’t be on the March town council agenda.

“I don’t want to speculate as to when it would be brought forward.”

But she said those who are interested can sign up to receive email updates by going to and clicking on Receive Email Updates.

A council decision would start a 20-day appeal to the Ontario Land Tribunal.

To watch the full meeting, go to the town’s website here at

See related story from earlier this week at


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