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Golf developer swings for MZO over normal Tiny planning process

Greenbelt designation of West Shore Drive area requiring Tiny council support to rezone finds opposition in Thunder Beach
Project proponent Frank Morneau (bottom row, right, under name Connor Houston) addresses Tiny council to request support for a minister zoning order (MZO), which would bypass normal planning act procedure to build a multi-million dollar golf course expansion in a greenbelt zone.

If some of the region's wealthiest citizens were expecting a Par 3 for the Thunder Highlands golf course expansion, they could instead be facing an albatross and quite a vocal gallery.

Members of the recently-organized Thunder Beach Alliance (TBA) provided open deputations to Tiny committee of the whole in opposition of the proposed community project, moments prior to the scheduled deputation by Frank Morneau and associates who gave their reasons why a multi-million dollar clubhouse and golf course expansion would be good for the community.

Minister zoning orders (MZO) are a tool used by the province to override local land use policies to build critical infrastructure needs such as hospitals, long-term care facilities and affordable housing.

The proposed ‘Morneau community project’ development includes: Redevelopment of the Thunder Highlands golf course from five holes into a nine-hole championship course; 23 lots built on the west side of the course; the building of 14 lots on the west side of West Shore Dr.; a community clubhouse with “dining room and other country club amenities”; along with various upgrades and additions.

In the formal deputation, a request was asked for Tiny council to pass a motion supporting the Morneau request for an MZO of the property, as “is required for this project to move forward since the subject land is not within a development area as defined by the province.” The property is listed as rural, rural exception, greenbelt, greenbelt exception, and environmental protection three in the township zoning regulations.

In advance of their scheduled deputation, HGR Gignac Partners LLP provided three property images with the subject area of 360 West Shore Drive, outlined in what TBA deputant William Inwood described as “magic marker.”

“In my career, I’ve been involved in financing the development of real estate in every major urban centre in this country,” said Inwood. “I have never seen a developer use a two-page letter and some sketches with magic marker on them to launch a 40-lot development. It is an insult to this committee and the planning staff.”

Frank Morneau, father of former federal finance minister Bill Morneau, provided reasoning for the development project – but not before addressing the excess involvement he and the Morneau family have had in area charities and in the Tiny community of West Shore Drive, including “encouraging and managing to bring in the wealthiest man in Canada to Thunder Beach” as a resident to the area.

According to Morneau, after purchasing the approximately 190-acres of the former Naylor waterfront residence, saving the 150-member five-hole golf course from bankruptcy and closure was of utmost importance.

“We purchased it because we wanted to do what was best for the community; simply that and nothing else,” said Morneau. 

“If we went to nine holes, and these are the best designed holes from Toronto up to our area, … and put in a clubhouse, we would be able to support the whole facility on a break-even position by our analysis.”

Morneau also vowed to support the Thunder Beach general store.

The request stated that “the development has broad public support” from waterfront-owning West Shore Drive residents, which the other TBA deputants took exception to. Inwood claimed that a rushed meeting of the 150 golf course members was held on Sunday to qualify as that “public support," which also became the catalyst for creating the opposing Thunder Beach Alliance a day later.

Deputant Peter Stubbins, a former Tiny councillor, remarked how the council of the early 1990s opposed development of the original golf facility.

Additionally, Stubbins noted that support for the requested MZO would require a natural heritage study, environmental impact study, drainage study and consultation with the Indigenous community; none of which he had heard was completed.

Project supporter and West Shore Dr. resident Connor Houston confirmed that some studies were forthcoming and that contact with Indigenous representatives had yet to occur.

TBA deputant Diane Robinson stated that the protected woodlands of the environmentally-sensitive Nipissing Ridge was in the municipality’s best interest to uphold. Inwood described the clear-cutting and various infractions incited by rushed development once Morneau had purchased the lands. 

“At every level we’ve gone and done anything, there have been conversations prior to (development),” explained Houston. “At times, I’ve contacted the wrong part of the government to ask those questions and was told it wasn’t an issue before being informed by other levels.” 

Houston added: “A lot of these conversations have begun because we hope to have an open line of communication, and we’re being as open and transparent as things develop.”
Council members showed concern of Morneau avoiding municipal planning act procedures, with planning and development director Shawn Persaud explaining the usage and requirements of an MZO.

As per the definition: “The minister has also publicly stated that he expects that council requests for a zoning order include a supporting council resolution. As council meetings are generally open to the public, this expectation is meant to ensure public awareness of a request being made for the minister to consider making a zoning order.”

Persaud added that “an MZO would not follow the normal planning application process.”

Council thanked all deputants and told them the matter would be discussed further at the August 31 meeting of council.

Information on the Morneau community project, as well as written deputations from members of the Thunder Beach Alliance, can be viewed within the agenda page located on the Tiny Township website.

Archives of council meetings are available to view on Tiny Township’s YouTube channel.

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Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Derek Howard covers Midland and Penetanguishene area civic issues under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada.
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