The South Bracebridge Environmental Protection Group (SBEPG) was formed in spring 2019 in response to a rezoning request for the land development of a large international private school to be built on 443 acres of untouched wetlands, forest, and rock barrens.
The proposed site is just across from Stephens Bay on Lake Muskoka, between Stephens Bay Road, Stagecoach Road, Muskoka Beach Road and Beaumont Drive. Henry Marsh, several other wetlands, and the Great Canadian Trail are part of the proposed development property. The Muskoka Conservancy Cross Family Reserve abuts the developers’ lands of which Henry Marsh drains into. Muskoka Royale Development Inc. has made an application to the Town of Bracebridge to seek permission to rezone the Subject Lands in order to build a five precinct private boarding school that would allegedly house up to 1,800 elementary and secondary students, plus staff.
Wetlands have the ability to mitigate large flood events, protect and improve water quality, provide natural habitats for many species and recharge underground aquifers. Wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems in the world, comparable to rainforests and coral reefs. SBEPG is deeply concerned about the environmental impact and the issues that will arise if this proposal to build a five precinct, four storeys high, large school complex on these environmentally sensitive lands is approved. Proposed zoning is from the current zones Open Space Two and Environmental Wetland Protection One to Institutional Special in part and Open Space One Special in part.
Michalski Nielsen Associates Limited’s (MNAL) is an environmental consulting firm retained by Muskoka Royale Development Inc. MNAL has mislead the public by claiming there is no precedent for a planning authority to require a formal wetland evaluation in relation to this development application. There are many precedents across Ontario where wetland evaluations are carried out under the Ontario Wetland Evaluation System, which is governed by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, for land-use rezoning of the scale and scope proposed for the Muskoka Royal Development property.
The Town of Bracebridge’s Environmental Impact Study peer review firm Hutchinson Environmental and the developers’ environmental firm MNAL have falsely concluded that there is “no basis” for requiring a wetland evaluation. Toronto based legal firm Thomson Rogers LLP has confirmed in writing to the town that they are ignoring their legal duty and requirements under the Provincial Policy Statement to conduct a wetlands assessment on the Subject Lands, prior to considering this application.
SBEPG strongly believes that if the proposed property were evaluated under the Ontario Wetlands Evaluation System, it would most likely be designated as a Provincially Significant wetlands complex. A recent Species at Risk evaluation conducted by Dougan and Associates environmental firm has concluded that 4 reptiles and 14 bird species are at risk and that this development should not be located on the proposed lands. These at-risk species include recent documented sightings of the highly protected Blanding Turtle on the adjacent lands.
As part of the next step for the rezoning application, the Town of Bracebridge will hold a second public meeting in regards to this proposal, once the COVID-19 guidelines enable an in person public meeting. SBEPG looks to the meeting as a huge opportunity to educate the community on the latest facts regarding wetlands science and the key role the environment plays in overall community health, and the impacts that this school will have on the proposed location.
For more information on the South Bracebridge Environmental Protection group, wetlands, and the proposed development by Muskoka Royale, please visit: https://www.bracebridgewetlands.ca/
Disclaimer: The opinions of the writer of the above letter does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Muskoka411.