Places for people ‘divorces’ Dysart et al over housing project

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Haliburton County non-profit Places for People (P4P) has pulled the plug on its planned development on land facing Wallings Road. 

Serving notice to Dysart et al staff Oct. 24, P4P president Jody Curry said the decision marks the end of a disappointing two-year journey of miscommunication, bureaucratic red tape and NIMBYism. 

“We have given divorce papers to the township… it’s a disappointing outcome, especially after how much work our team has put into this. In the end, our board, decided that, with all the changes that have been made and the resistance we’ve seen to the project… it’s just not possible for us to move ahead,” Curry said. 

She added, “the goalposts have changed on several occasions.” When P4P entered into a verbal agreement with the township in November 2020, plans called for the construction of 60 units across five buildings, all with access onto Wallings Road. Dysart was to sell the land to P4P for $2. 

Following initial negotiations with staff, P4P agreed to lower the number of units to 48. Council initially expressed hope a final agreement could be reached to break ground in June 2021. It didn’t happen. Curry believes the main hold-up was an issue between Dysart and Haliburton County over the Wallings Road and County Road 21 intersection. 

The County believed it couldn’t handle the extra traffic, while Dysart felt issues could be mitigated by making changes to the intersection. 

It remains unresolved. 

Curry and colleague Fay Martin presented a plan to council that would have seen 48 units on a smaller, 0.92 acre plot, fronting Halbiem Crescent. The Haliburton by the Lake (HTBL) property owners’ association formed to object last November.

Meanwhile, P4P was still working with the township on a letter of intent, outlining details of the deal, that satisfied all parties. After more than a year, Curry thought there was a breakthrough this summer, with both sides happy to sign. 

But when she was presented with an agreement of purchase and sale, found there was a clause P4P could not agree to. “They added an ‘as is, where is’ clause, which means we agree we’re taking the property as it is, regardless of what we might find down the road. That hadn’t been there before, so I was a little worried,” Curry said. 

After discussing this issue with the P4P board, they decided to pull the plug. Curry said she wanted an assurance that if they found contaminated soil, they would be able to walk away as remediation costs would make it impossible for them to proceed. 

Asked if the recent announcement that Paul Wilson, owner of Harburn Holdings, planned to donate one of four potential plots of land on Peninsula Road to P4P had any bearing on their decision, Curry said they could have done both projects at the same time.

Dysart deputy mayor Pat Kennedy said, “one of my biggest failures was not seeing shovels in the ground on this.” He did a lot of legwork before it was brought to council, and said he was disappointed to hear it wouldn’t be moving forward. “I think this was a slam dunk, a great news story for the community, the township and P4P. It was a property that fit within their mandate and the location, with access to the schools and downtown, I thought it was perfect. I thought we had checked all the boxes. Apparently, we didn’t check any,” Kennedy said. 

Mayor Andrea Roberts expressed her disappointment but said she understood why P4P was walking away. “Until the road access issue gets resolved, I think any development [on Wallings] is going to be met with a lot of opposition. I fought for the County to take this issue on, to fix the intersection at Wallings… it didn’t quite go that way,” she said. 

The outgoing mayor was surprised to hear the ‘as is, where is’ clause was the final nail in the coffin, stating that clause is included in every municipal land transaction. 

NIMBYism ‘too much’ 

“Things got very nasty, very quickly,” Curry said, noting she received dozens of unsavoury emails from people opposed to the project. 

Roberts said she had been targeted too, stating “last November, there were some pretty dark days for me personally.” 

Neither was willing to share emails but Roberts indicated some had come from neighbours along Halbiem. 

Martin said NIMBYism was the “stake through the heart of this project.” “Making housing happen is really, really hard. I don’t want us to blame Dysart council… the truth is well-meaning citizens can kill [development],” Martin said. “We need places for people that we need to hire to live in. All I hear is, ‘why doesn’t somebody do something about it?’ 

Every single citizen needs to look deep within themselves and say, ‘am I part of the problem? Or am I part of the solution?’ “Unless everybody puts their shoulder to the wheel, you’re not going to find solutions. Not in this small community