In a stunningly disappointing decision in October 2004, the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), which hears municipal land use planning appeals, ruled that the first phase of the Castle Glen resort community on the Niagara Escarpment near Collingwood, on Georgian Bay of Lake Huron, will be allowed to proceed.
The hearing dealt only with the lands below the Escarpment face instead of considering the entire property (620 hectares or 1, 530 acres) owned by the Castle Glen Development Corporation. The Castle Glen Ratepayers Association (CGRA), the only opposing party, had argued that the application should be dealt with as a whole, but in spite of compelling arguments by CGRA’s planning witness that splitting the application in two represented poor land use planning, the OMB disagreed.
What has been approved, subject to satisfactory completion of the environmental assessment for the water and sewer servicing for the site, are 543 homes, 150 hotel units, 1,500 square meters of commercial uses, and a number of golf holes. If and when Phase 2 is allowed to proceed, the total development would be 1,600 homes that would house 7,000 people, 300 hotel rooms, three golf courses, 54,000 square feet of commercial space, civic and institutional uses, professional offices, schools, a healthclinic, a gas station, and even a wedding chapel. This amounts to an “instant town” that has no precedent on the environmentally fragile Niagara Escarpment.
The Castle Glen property is of high ecological value. On it are headwater watercourses for significant coldwater streams, headwater wetlands, headwater woodlands, a lake (Lake of the Clouds), karst aquifers, areas of steep slopes and the dramatic Escarpment cliff, fish habitat and spawning grounds, two provincially significant wetlands and locally significant wetlands, numerous coldwater springs of which many have substantial year-round water flow, and provincially and nationally rare species.
What happens next is anyone’s guess. The alternative to proceeding with the development is a buy-out of the developer at an as-yet unknown but certainly large sum. Significant government and/or corporate support would be required. It is hoped that talks towards a land acquisition strategy are successful so that a costly Phase 2 OMB hearing does not need to proceed, and so this property including prominent, forested Escarpment slopes is protected entirely as a public park in the Niagara Escarpment Parks and Open Space System.