Waterfront property owner Catherine Swift is “shooting her last shot” after filing an appeal with the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) last week, protesting a proposed 88-unit development slated for land near Grass Lake in Haliburton.

The proposal, brought forward by developer Paul Wilson and his company Harburn Holdings in 2019, would see approximately 2.5 hectares of land along Peninsula Road repurposed into four lots each housing multistorey apartment and condo buildings, with one unit featuring a commercial component.

Dysart et al’s previous council expressed support for the project in September 2022, while County council ratified an amendment to its official plan in April, paving the way for the development to proceed.

Swift is a member of the Friends of Grass Lake advocacy group, which opposes the build. Speaking to The Highlander, she said the OLT is her final hope.

“I don’t feel the environmental issues presented throughout this process have been adequately considered. I want to present this information to an unbiased third party that can look at everything we’re laying out fairly and objectively,” Swift said.

She has retained Toronto-based environmental lawyer David Donnelly to argue the case.

The primary concern, Swift said, is the development will “drastically and permanently” impact water quality and animal habitats, including for the endangered Blanding’s turtle. She contends that a wetland area abutting the parcel Wilson wants to develop will be ruined if the build proceeds.

“Wetlands are almost like an added layer of protection for bodies of water – they help to filter junk out, but also provide habitats to all kinds of critters,” Swift said. “This proposed location is virtually right on top of a wetland area… it could destroy that wetland.”

Wilson has committed to keeping a 30-metre buffer between the wetland and any development. Environmental impact, wetland site assessment and hydrogeological studies have been completed, peer-reviewed and endorsed by Dysart staff.

Swift contends the project should be seen as a non-starter considering Grass Lake is already deemed to be over its recreational capacity.

“Dysart’s own plans show Grass Lake is 170 per cent over capacity. By adding another 88 units to the waterfront, that would take it to more than 300 per cent over capacity. This is a small, shallow lake. It’s vulnerable. Adding a development of this size is going to wreck this lake,” she said.

Swift said the implications of the build are already being seen – one couple has sold their property and moved. Swift said she’s considering selling too.

“I’ve been here for 20 years… I love this place. I have a real connection here, history too – my parents honeymooned at the old Deer Lodge. That’s only about a 10-minute boat ride from my place,” she said. “It would break my heart to leave but knowing what’s going to happen to the lake [if development proceeds], it’s something I’m considering for sure.”

She’s worried too about the precedent the project would set, potentially paving the way for other high-density development on the water.

Given the stated timelines at OLT – it’s estimated a hearing will be scheduled within four to eight months – Wilson expressed disappointment the issue will likely carry over into the new year.

“I started this process four years ago and still don’t have an answer. It’s unfortunate it takes so long to bring these things to fruition – we’re in dire need of housing in this community right now,” Wilson said.

Swift believes she has a 50/50 shot of success at the OLT.

“I know this isn’t a slam dunk. We feel these issues are real and deserving of further consideration. If the answer [from OLT] is the same, then OK. But I know if I don’t keep fighting, I’d regret it forever,” she said.

Editor’s note: A statement attributed to Harburn Holdings’ lawyer, Tony Usher, claiming the four lots along Peninsula Road aren’t considered waterfront lots has been removed. The lots in question are classified as waterfront.