After two years of consideration, Bracebridge council voted unanimously to approve the official plan and by-law amendments for the Muskoka Royale College development on Wednesday evening.
Muskoka Royale Inc. submitted their application to allow for a school complex containing an elementary school, a secondary school and related buildings in October 2018 and concerns from the public followed soon after. Many concerns revolved around the wetlands contained on the property, leading to hundreds of comments and questions from the public, many studies and peer reviews, and two public meetings. The Bracebridge Planning and Development Committee, which is composed of all members of council, voted unanimously to approve the amendments on Jan. 13 and ratified their decision a week later in council.
Murray Snider, project coordinator for Muskoka Royale, said property owner George Chen intends to start work on the site plan stage of the process following council’s approval.
“Naturally, we are very pleased with last Wednesday’s Committee vote and the strong support for the project shown by the Mayor and Councillors,” Snider said in a written statement to Muskoka411. “We respect the vigorous and comprehensive review process untaken [sic] by the Town and are confident the approval of our applications will be confirmed through an LPAT hearing, should opponents of our project choose to appeal the Town’s decision.”
Michael Appleby, director and president of the South Bracebridge Environmental Protection Group, said prior to the council vote that their group would be pushing for a deferral as well as a third public meeting. Along with others in opposition, the group also continued to push for an evaluation through the Ontario Wetland Evaluation System (OWES).
“The public interest would have been better served had the committee recommended a demand for an OWES and a deferral,” Appleby said. “The public has been clear about its concern and the necessity of an OWES. Council needs to recognize the public’s need to better understand the risks and potential for harm to species at risk.”
Appleby presented his thoughts as one of 11 delegations during the council meeting. Tensions ran high during portions of the meeting, which lasted until nearly 11 p.m. and focused primarily on Muskoka Royale College, but ultimately, council voted down motions to complete an OWES evaluation and an Economic Viability Study. Appleby would not comment on the possibility of an appeal, but should his group decide to file an appeal, it will come as no surprise to Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith.
“I don’t think we’re at the end of this road,” Smith said during his closing comments at the committee vote on Jan. 13. “Much like others, I think this is bound for an appeal, which is somewhat sad that we’ve gone through all this and our decision may be rendered moot, but I understand, again, that passions run high and beliefs run high and that people will do what they feel they need to do within the bounds of the system.”
Despite a great deal of criticism from the public, Smith thanked constituents for their contribution before the council vote, saying that the decision was “immeasurably improved by the input of the public.” He also emphasized the diligence and care staff took while evaluating the application.
“It’s probably easy for people to say I’m being insincere when I say we’ve listened to the community and appreciated those comments but voted in a way that some people in the community don’t support, but such is the life of folks on council,” Smith said. “Inevitably, there are people that don’t support the decisions, but as has been explained tonight and as I’ve explained, no decision is taken lightly, but especially this one.”
To learn more about the project, read our past coverage or visit the Town of Bracebridge website. Watch the video below to hear Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith’s closing comments before the planning committee vote on Jan. 13.