Golf developer opts for MZO over Tiny’s normal planning process

Greenbelt designation of West Shore Drive area requiring Tiny Council support to rezone finds opposition in Thunder Beach

If some of the region’s wealthiest citizens were expecting a Par 3 for the expansion of the Thunder Highlands golf course, they might instead be faced with an albatross and a vocal gallery.

Members of the recently organized Thunder Beach Alliance (TBA) provided open deputations to the small committee of the whole in opposition to the proposed community project, moments before the scheduled deputation of Frank Morneau and associates who gave their reasons why a multi-dollar million dollars the clubhouse and golf course expansion would be good for the community.

Minister’s Zoning Orders (MZOs) are a tool used by the province to override local land use policies to meet critical infrastructure needs such as hospitals, long-term care facilities and affordable housing .

The proposed development of the “Morneau Community Project” includes: the redevelopment of the five-hole Thunder Highlands Golf Course into a nine-hole championship course; 23 lots built on the west side of the course; construction of 14 lots on the west side of West Shore Dr.; a community clubhouse with “dining and other country club amenities”; as well as various upgrades and additions.

In official deputation, a request was made to Tiny council to pass a motion supporting Morneau’s request for an MZO of the property, as “is necessary for this project to proceed since the land in question is not within a development zone as defined by the province.” The property is listed as Rural, Rural Exception, Greenbelt, Greenbelt Exception and Environmental Protection Three in the township’s zoning regulations.

Prior to their scheduled deputation, HGR Gignac Partners LLP provided three property images with the subject of 360 West Shore Drive, outlined in what TBA MP William Inwood described as a “magic marker”.

“During my career, I’ve been involved in financing real estate development in every major urban center across the country,” Inwood said. “I’ve never seen a developer use a two-page letter and sketches with a magic marker on it to kick off 40-batch development. It’s an insult to this committee and the planning staff.

Frank Morneau, father of former federal finance minister Bill Morneau, explained the development project – but not before addressing the over-involvement he and the Morneau family have had in area charities and in the small community of West Shore Drive, including “encouraging and succeeding in bringing Canada’s richest man to Thunder Beach” as a resident of the area.

According to Morneau, after purchasing the roughly 190 acres of Naylor’s former waterfront residence, saving the five-hole, 150-member golf course from bankruptcy and closure was of the utmost importance.

“We bought it because we wanted to do what was best for the community; just that and nothing else, Morneau said.

“If we went to nine holes, and these are the best designed holes in Toronto down to our area, … and put a clubhouse in, we would be able to support the whole setup on a position of balance by our analysis.”

Morneau is also committed to supporting the Thunder Beach General Store.

The application stated that “the development enjoys broad public support” from residents of West Shore Drive who own the waterfront, which other TBA deputies objected to. Inwood claimed a rushed meeting of the golf course’s 150 members was held on Sunday to be called “public support,” which also became the catalyst for the creation of the opposition Thunder Beach Alliance a day later.

MP Peter Stubbins, a former councilor for Tiny, commented that council in the early 1990s opposed development of the original golf course.

Additionally, Stubbins noted that the requested MZO support would require a natural heritage study, environmental impact study, drainage study, and consultation with the Indigenous community; none of the ones he had heard of were complete.

Connor Houston, project supporter and resident of West Shore Dr., confirmed that some studies were forthcoming and that contact with indigenous representatives had not yet taken place.

TBA MLA Diane Robinson said it is in the interest of the municipality to preserve the protected woodlands of the environmentally sensitive Nipissing Ridge. Inwood described the clearcutting and various infractions caused by the rushed development once Morneau purchased the land.

“At every level we went and did anything, there were conversations before (development),” Houston explained. “Sometimes I contacted the wrong part of government to ask these questions and was told it was not a problem until I was informed by other levels.

Houston added, “A lot of these conversations started because we hope to have an open line of communication, and we’re as open and transparent as things evolve.”

Council members expressed concern that Morneau is avoiding Municipal Planning Act procedures, with Director of Planning and Development Shawn Persaud explaining the use and requirements of an MZO.

According to the definition: “The Minister has also publicly stated that he expects council zoning by-law applications to include a supporting resolution of council. As council meetings are generally open to the public, this expectation is intended to ensure public awareness of a request made to the Minister to consider making a zoning ordinance.

Persaud added that “an MZO would not follow the normal planning application process.”

The council thanked all MPs and told them the matter would be discussed further at the August 31 council meeting.

Information about the Morneau Community Project, as well as written deputations from members of the Thunder Beach Alliance, can be viewed on the agenda page located on the Tiny Township website.

Archives of council meetings can be viewed on the Tiny Township YouTube channel.

Louisa R. Loomis