Updated: Oct 30, 2021
Most residents along Orillia’s Victoria Crescent have “Save Orillia Wetlands” signs on their front lawns.
Now, Victoria Point homeowners are looking to the entire city for support as they fight to stop the proposed development of a retirement residence near provincially significant Lake Simcoe wetlands.
“We need to push our message a little bit beyond our neighbourhood,” Gerry Metzger, head of the Victoria Point Ratepayers Association, said Friday. “But it was important for us to solidify and gel our neighbourhood, so we are all speaking with one voice.”
Over a two-week period, the association has collected 3,000 signatures on a petition opposing development on or near the wetland due to environmental concerns.
“To us, as a ratepayer group, it’s not so much a zoning issue, as it might be to the city. To us, it’s an environmental issue,” Metzger said. “On that basis, we’re opposed to it. That’s why we get support from the community.”
River Oaks Group, a development firm in Don Mills, plans to build a 140-unit retirement residence on a small portion of its 150-acre property near Victoria Crescent and Heyden Avenue. In the deal, the developer would donate about 140 acres to a local conservation authority.
The developer needs a portion of the property rezoned to a higher density to permit seniors’ housing.
The company is working on completing its zoning application, which involves completing an environmental-impact study, said Marvin Green, president of River Oaks Group.
Metzger said the ratepayers association needs the entire city’s support to convince city council members to help find a solution.
One option could be a land swap between the city and River Oaks Group, Metzger said. The city would then own the provincially significant wetland and the developers could have a property more suited for a seniors’ residence, like one of the city-owned school sites, he said. Another option would be for the federal and provincial governments to work together with the city to purchase the land.
“It requires a little vision,” Metzger said.
The ratepayers association has been raising money to put out awareness brochures and signage and to hire an environmental lawyer and a planning lawyer.
“We recognize that this issue will have to be debated on a scientific basis, not on an emotional basis,” Metzger said.
He would not say how much money the ratepayers association has collected, but noted there are 150 households in the association and each pay a $20 membership. The association raised more than $1,200 to support the efforts through a neighbourhood yard sale Aug. 16.
“We’re well underway. I feel confident. And we haven’t started seriously fundraising,” Metzger said, adding the group is looking at online crowd funding.
The ratepayers association has set up one bank account for its day-to-day operations and a second account to related to its development concerns.
The petitions have been placed in 20 to 25 Orillia businesses, Metzger said.
“We don’t want another environmental disaster. We recognize that something needs to happen to protect the wetland,” he said.
The ratepayers association was created more than 10 years ago when River Oaks Group planned to build 678 condominiums on the property. It was defeated at the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) in 1999. At the time, the OMB permitted zoning for the development of single-family dwellings and townhouses on about 10 acres of highland near the wetland.
Metzger said the ratepayers association would support the existing zoning.
“The single-family dwellings, quite frankly, will not impact the wetlands as much as, let’s say, a seniors’ residence, where you need to take down all these trees to provide a parking lot and runoff. That would certainly affect the wetlands more,” he said.
The association would prefer to see the entire property sold to a conservation authority.
Green said he is hoping for an opportunity to speak to the ratepayers association.
“To some extent, there is always a kind of issue that people have concerns about change. Sometimes there are things that can be worked out,” he said. “I actually would be quite interested in talking to a representative.”
In January, River Oaks Group held a public meeting to engage nearby residents in the project. At the meeting, River Oaks Group was told the ratepayers association would contact the company.
“I left my card with a few people, but none of them ever called me,” he said.
When asked why no one contacted Green, Metzger said the ratepayers association has been busy educating itself on the matter.
To learn more about the Victoria Point Ratepayers Association and its concerns, visit vpra.ca.
“Save Orillia Wetlands” signs are available for $10 by calling Metzger at 705-812-0831.