The person behind the proposed Harburn Holdings in Dysart et al has come forward for the first time to tell his story. 

Paul Wilson and his plan for a possible 88 units off of Peninsula Road have come under scrutiny by a grassroots organization calling themselves Friends of Grass Lake (FGL).

Wilson, who brought the Haliburton County Huskies to town, said, “I’ve lived here all my life. I’m a community-minded person.” 

He purchased the property in 2003 and said that he had filled land in and dug a pond, “making a pretty nice piece of property out of something that was not very desirable.” 

However, he said he had permission from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ministry of the Environment at a time pre-dating the County’s tree preservation bylaw. 

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He added that detractors need to realize it is a two-phase planning process so things they believe are missing are premature but come in the second phase. He’s not even sure he wants to build the actual condos or apartments himself. “I’m not a condo builder.” He said he might sell or partner with somebody. But before that, he said they need to get official plan and zoning approvals. 

So, it’s too early for a design because they are determining the design specifications such as the maximum number of units, setbacks, and steps to protect the wetlands, for example. “So, all the guy has to do that wants to build the condos is prepare a site plan and a site plan agreement … he will show the exact size and location of what he proposes. 

He will have to do a stormwater management, grading and probably an erosion control plan. Those are all things that are normal at the building stage.” “If I knew exactly what we were going to build right now, then we could do that, but this is only step one of two steps. This is to get it so the land has been approved for such development but the specifics of the development have to occur in phase two.” 

Wilson said he wants to control what happens with the property and “be proud of whatever goes there so (if I do sell) I’m not selling it to somebody until they show me what they’re going to do generally speaking and convince me that they’re going to do it properly.” 

As far as timelines go, if he can get municipal approvals, “it could happen in a few years.” And while he’s hoping for that, he added if the township says no, he won’t fight it. He feels he has been unfairly targeted, being called a “greedy developer” on social media. 

However, he pointed to a number of concessions that he has made including his donation of one of the lots to Places for People, estimating the property is probably worth half-a-million dollars. 

He said he is also concerned about the lack of housing in the County, and its effect on the ability of businesses to attract workers. “I talked to some restaurant owners, one in Minden and one in Haliburton, who both say they can’t stay open the hours they want because they can’t find anybody to work. 

I talked to a guy at a lumber store the other day, he said he really likes the job, he just started there, but he’s driving from Lindsay. I asked him ‘why are you doing that?’ and he said ‘there’s no place I can live up here’.” 

Wilson said plans such as the one he is proposing have to be on municipal sewer lines and there is not a lot of that developable land in the Highlands.

Donation to Places for People could add 15 units

Places for People Haliburton Highlands Inc. president Jody Curry said they’re “incredibly pleased” that Paul Wilson has donated one of the lots of his proposed Harburn Holdings to the not-for-profit affordable housing organization.

 Curry said while it is dependent on Harburn Holdings getting its official plan and zoning bylaw approvals from Dysart et al, it could equate to 15 new affordable housing units one day. “We’re incredibly pleased. 

We’re desperately trying to provide affordable housing within the County,” Curry said. She added, “it’s come to the point where we really can’t afford to buy anything any longer. The numbers don’t really work. So, to have someone make such a generous offer is pretty outstanding.” 

Dysart et al has also offered a piece of land on Wallings Road and an affordable housing project is in the works for that site.

“Between the two, if the Paul Wilson piece happens, we’re pretty excited about being able to provide more affordable housing in the County,” Curry said.

 She added that with their architect, they have been working on standardized plans that can still be tweaked for lots, rather than starting from scratch every time they have a proposal. 

“We’ve been preliminarily planning all along for the lots on Wallings Road. Our plan always was to create one pod of 12 units and then replicate that pod as many times as possible so that we wouldn’t constantly be reinventing the wheel,” she said. 

The model they are looking at is based on being powered by solar energy, to attain efficiency. And while more expensive upfront, she said in the long-term it will pay itself off. 

Places for People will continue to own and rent the units. In the case of the Wilson lands, Curry said they could take a pod of 12 and add something to it. The lot has sewer connections and a drilled well and is on a road, all of which are “huge,” according to Curry. 

It’s “massively generous,” she said. Curry added the lack of housing in the Highlands, and affordable housing in particular, is now clearly on the radar as a huge problem that is preventing employers from being able to find and keep workers and students from coming to Haliburton School of Art + Design.

 “It just goes on and on,” she said but added if Harburn Holdings gets its approvals, “there’s 88 new units that weren’t there before so I only see that as good. “I just pray the approvals go through and it happens because he’s (Wilson) done so much work up front … we could be developing a lot sooner than we thought we would be. “We’re very happy about it. Very thrilled. We believe in environmental issues as well, but we also believe very much in affordable housing. We have to wait and see what happens but all of us are bowled over by the generosity, too.

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