Mark Clairmont |

GRAVENHURST — It took only one vote.

But four votes opposing The Rosseau Group’s condo project at the Muskoka Wharf leaves it dead in the water.

At least for now — pending the possibility of an appeal within 20 days or a new and different application.

Tuesday’s stunning turnaround vote at town council was being greeted by those opposed — to 161 condos and a crowded waterfront on Cherokee Lane — as a victory for the environment and Gravenhurst Bay.

Four councillors — Penny Varney, Joe Morphy, Sandy Cairns and Peter Johnston — voted no to official plan and zoning changes. And four — Erin Strength, Michelle Robinson, Randy Jorgenson and Mayor Heidi Lorenz — said yes.

Christina Hunter was absent — missing the biggest vote of her short term on council. Her vote could in total have swayed the vote. Not to mention whether or not the mayor should have only voted to break a tie. Deputy clerk Jonathan Gilston — who counted the votes in a recorded vote asked for by Morphy — said said indeed yes it was fair for her to vote.

In the end one way or the other her voted didn’t matter.

Town staff had recommended it in their “professional opinion.”

A proposal for a large condo and docking project next to the Muskoka Wharf was surprisingly rejected in a 4-4 split vote by Gravenhurst town council who had given all indications leading up to it that it looked favourably on the project.

Those on council, like Varney, turned it down mostly due to waterfront concerns.

“I like the condos, but not what docks and boathouse,” she said reflecting the opinion of those against at least half the project.

Jorgenson spoke for the pro-side claiming, futilely, that rejection would send a negative “signal” to other developers.

“Gravenhurst needs development,” he said, despite major a massive apartment, hotel and retail projects underway at the south end of downtown, along First Street and the large retirment home being constructed overlooking the Wharf.

Gord Locklin, a nearby neighbour to the project and tireless opponent, said “yes” he was happy to see council’s vote.

The council had appeared in favour of the proposal for the past several years.

So the last minute reprieve for the opposition was surprising.

Gord Locklin, a leading opponent of the TRG project, cited “congestion” and “navigability” challenges in the Gravenhurst Bay as one of the prime reasons for his goup’s opposition.

Locklin said it may have helped that his final appeal to turn it down at Tuesday’s meeting may have convinced them.

And in acknowledging that he was surprised to be even able speak again before the vote was another pleasant positive.

Councillor Johnston said it spoke to council’s efforts to provide fairness in the process by offering both sides negotiating opportunities.

Rosseau Group representatives were on hand, but didn’t speak.

Locklin said whether TRG launches an appeal in the next three weeks his group of “a half dozen” opponents are “well prepared” to continue their fight at the Ontario Land Tribunal.

His latest argument again focussed on the “congestion” and “navigability” within the “small bay” from Greavette Island into the shoreline, where several docks, a two-storey boathouse and a large pier are proposed.

Locklin’s group claimed the extra boat traffic from condo owners would lead he implied to further unwanted and dangerous “congestion” on top of the existing busy watercraft use from boat slip renters, boating visitors to the Wharf, houseboat rentals, para-sailing, ski shows — and of course the Segwun, Wenonah II and next summer the Wanda III.

The proposal would have seen more than 150 condos, a two-storey boat facility and more outside boat slips. The Alexander retirement home can just be seen outline in the top left of this TRG rendering.

There was little to no talk about the aesthetic impact of a six- or seven-storey condo tower or its environmental fallout as opponents have claimed throughout the application process.

But there was negative from Locklin talk about the new Alexander retirement going up above the planned TRG site. He spoke some about how tumbling rock may affect drainage into the bay from above.

He also reiterated concerns about the public view overlooking the bay from the Lookout at the end of George Street, which he added would be restricted negatively in terms of sightlines of the Muskoka Fleet of ships.

TRG had made some back-and-forth concessions recently after negotiations with those opposed in both its condos and the removal of a second-floor boathouse restaurant.

But the official plan amendment and zoning bylaw bid, said Locklin, would have allowed the proponents to “piggyback” on to the Wharf at large by using the entire 70 acre property size and numbers to be worked into the formula calculating the density of condo use rather than on a fractionalized part of about two acres and a little more on some submerged water lots.

Passing the two changes would have meant making it part of the Wharf and thus eligible for larger, easier considerations.

Past objectors have also expressed concerns about the ability of the shoreline to absorb extensive development— notably a two-storey underground parking garage — including what Locklin described as being located on land historically full of “sawdust and chunks of wood,” which TRG planners Planscape simply call “rich organic deposits.”

Recent revisions by TRG took away a boathouse restaurant, but opponents still wanted a reduction in the roof height of the remaining two-storey boathouse so as to avoid impeding a view of the Muskoka Steamships from the Lookout.

Laurie Thomson, a representative of the Friends of Muskoka, was among the relatively small group of people on hand to watch the vote. In at least one other meeting on the project more than 100 showed up spilling out into the hallway at the back of the council chamber. Tuesday’s meeting was half as well attended.

She spoke first saying her group had “grave concerns,” most of which Locklin outlined, but also the “changing climate due to flood.”

She, too, wouldn’t like to see anything in front of the Lookout that obstructs public view — unlike massive tree growth to the north the town has shamelessly allowed to grow out of control and impede once scenic westerly sunsets.

For some reason she feared storage of toxic chemicals on ground floor property, though there has been no known reference to that in the past.

Speaking on behalf of FOM, the MLA and Muskoka Bay Property Owners Association, she said they want “environmental safeguards in place.”

Both she and Locklin referenced the water lots and said many waterfront owners with water lots would be watching closely to see how council handle the issue and they wondered aloud whether council would not be setting precedent as to future like uses of their own.


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