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Flared residents cooled down at public Fox St. design charrette

Penetanguishene residents divided on whether planners truly listened to concerns during public meeting, but appreciated group interactions

Emotions ran so high that one resident choked back her words of frustration.

More than two dozen Penetanguishene residents had their opportunity this week to contribute to the next round of ongoing planning discussions over the proposed 30-acre subdivision for 221 Fox Street.

A design charette, involving a host of many key planners and developers for the project, addressed tables full of residents at the Brian Orser Hall to see what concerns and adjustments could be offered within the planning process.

However, some residents came in with a chip on their shoulder as big as a woodlot.

“Before breaking us up into groups, I think it’s pertinent to understand what the room is thinking right now,” said Sue Wilson of the social media organization Preserve and Protect Penetanguishene.

“We’ve been along for this whole ride--,” she continued before Wilson becoming overwhelmed and needing to step back.

The organizers once more insisted that the crowd gather around tables, where representatives for the subdivision would come up with large-sized draft plans for the residents to sketch on and write down their concerns.

221 Fox Street is a 30-acre parcel of woodlot bound between Church Street, Broad Street and Hunter Road, nestled within houses on each stretch of road. For years, residents have built trails in the woodlot, used the steep slope near Church Street as a toboggan hill, and constructed forts within the private property.

A wetland is located on the western portion of the property, close to the proposed Fox Street road access that developers had drafted.

In 2018, residents successfully petitioned the town of Penetanguishene to reject the development, where an appeal was made by developers Queen's Court Development to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT). 

“This property is designated community living, so development is intended for these lands,” said Celeste Phillips, owner of Celeste Phillips Planning Inc.

“A previous application was turned down by council. This is an opportunity for the public to come and look at new opportunities for these lands.”

A 10-metre buffer of undisturbed woodland around the full property has been incorporated into the new draft, and a promise was made that over 50% of the property be protected by a land conservancy.

Five tables with approximately five residents and one representative each were stationed in the hall, with a projection of 221 Fox Street illuminated on the large wall to the side.

It was at that visual that Graham Coulter of Preserve and Protect Penetanguishene hammered his fingers against brick, pointing out in frustration where the wetland portion was located.

“At this meeting, that (old withdrawn) plan was gone and this one presented, and our key interests to protect this woodland were run over with the (Fox Street access) road and destroyed,” said Coulter after the meeting. “We were blindsided by that today and that’s why we got fired up.”

Coulter and Wilson faced off against the planners, and were matched by Brandon Donnelly, development representative for the owner, who calmly addressed the pair with the key understanding of flexibility in the meeting phase of the process.

“Our agenda is to find a compromise, a middle ground, on where we can come up with a development that the community will support, but that will also achieve as many of the community objectives as possible,” Donnelly explained.

Donnelly noted that the proposed road network access at Fox Street, seen on the draft designs, was of particular concern to residents and that the organizers would take those concerns and suggestions back to the drawing board before the next public meeting, tentatively scheduled for early in the new year.

Affordable housing was another concern for several residents attending. Resident Cathy Murton discovered that Simcoe County were the ones most responsible for remedying the important issue, and not the developers directly.

“I think a lot of people were able to voice their concerns,” Murton said at the end of the meeting. “Whether they (the organizers) really truly listened, or if they’re just trying to appease them (the attendees) by having this meeting… we’ll have to see.”

On conclusion, the crowd was quieted.

Coulter apologized to the organizers for the heated exchanges. He explained that cooler heads prevailed with the planners after “talking things over, coming up with compromises, not just throwing stuff down our throat, and actually listening to us.”

Edna Marchand of Penetanguishene held reservations at the beginning of the meeting, but appreciated the table groups and interactions with the organizers at its end.

“It was better than I anticipated it would be,” said Marchand. “Very informative. There are still a lot of things I think need to come out of this meeting, as far as the wetlands and looking after our wood ducks and all the other animals in that forest.”

Another mandatory public consultation addressing residents’ concerns for 221 Fox Street is anticipated to take place early in 2022.