Golf resort

Eco-community vs. ski/golf resort: Council hears conflicting arguments for former Talisman site

The Municipality of Gray Highlands received two official delegations regarding the Talisman property, which is located in the Beaver Valley near the village of Kimberley.

Talisman’s land is currently owned by both the municipality (two-thirds) and a private numbering company (one-third). Earlier this year, the municipality announced that it had entered into a joint venture agreement with the owners of the private number company to continue the sale and development of the land.

The municipality has since received two formal but sharply opposing presentations on what the future of property might look like – one from Westway Capital, a GTA capital management firm and another from the Talisman Property Action Coalition, a group of residents and local organizations. .

Shortly after the announcement of the joint venture agreement, the municipality also launched the Beaver Valley Visioning Sessions, which invited community members to express their concerns and their visions for the future of Beaver Valley, where the lands of Talisman.

As the Beaver Valley visioning sessions took place, the deputations around the Talisman properties began to arrive.

The first delegation came from the Talisman Property Action Coalition at a special council meeting held on May 21.

The Talisman Property Action Coalition includes participants from a number of community groups, including Friends of the Beaver Valley, Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy, Sustainable Livelihood Canada, Elephant Thoughts and the Kimberley Safety Group.

“The lands of Beaver Valley, formerly known as Talisman Mountain Resort, are contiguous to the UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve and are highly valued and far-reaching public assets,” said Dr. Mary Ferguson, resident of Gray Highlands, Senior Partner of EkoNomos. and member of the coalition.

“Our goal is to protect and preserve the ecological integrity, wildlife corridor, watershed and natural landmarks [within the Valley]. We are engaging a coalition of people and organizations in developing a workable plan for the site,” she continued.

The coalition came up with the concept of bringing together natural conservation, education and service organizations to develop a plan for the properties.

The group has also asked the board to consider a three-month stay on the sale of the property, to allow the group time to conduct due diligence on the property and develop a formal strategy.

Although the group is in the early stages of developing a plan for the property, they were able to provide a number of examples that they would like to see included in the future Talisman property, including: low impact recreation , such as hiking, snowshoeing, fishing, camping; wildlife corridors; incorporate creative housing options that include affordable ownership and long-term rental options; Made in Gray Highlands craft, artisan, mini maker space; live/work art studios; community gardens; training of ecological farmers and pollinators; satellite campuses for post-secondary studies and an outdoor education centre.

“We offer a sustainable and income-generating development option ranging from a possible economic eco-center to a community agency supporting environmental education studies as well as eco-friendly business opportunities on land to be developed,” said Linda Reader of the Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy. (EBC) and member of the coalition.

In an effort to express the importance of the property to the community, ahead of its delegation, the coalition circulated a petition, which garnered 661 signatures as well as 17 private offers to help with the project.

“We know the middle portion of Talisman land is prime development property, but we would like to see development there reflect EBC’s values, the municipality’s own strategic plan and the wishes of the people of Grey. Highlands,” said Robert Barnett. , Executive Director of the EBC and member of the coalition.

“Essentially, there are two possible directions that fall to the board. One is basically to manage this public asset and have the entire property sold to a private company for – as stipulated in the joint venture agreement – a one-time maximum profit, which the people with whom we’ve worked really consider this an indication of a lack of vision and leadership from the people we elect to be responsible for our well-being and stewardship of the assets we have,” Ferguson said. “Or the municipality supports and works with the coalition to manage the property.”

Following the presentation, the board members received the delegation for information.

Fast forward a week and councilors from Gray Highlands were back at the council table with another presentation for the same property on May 28. This time from the Westway Group, a Toronto-based private equity firm.

The Westway Group presented its vision for the Talisman properties to council members, which included the revitalization of the Talisman Resort in the hopes of “returning Talisman to what it once was”.

“What is our objective here? Well, we believe in the site, we have been to the site, we know the site very well, we understand the natural beauty of the site, we understand the heritage of the site, and we don’t want to do anything but improve and make it better,” said Westway Group CEO Nick Simone.

Throughout the presentation, group representatives repeatedly mentioned their intention to work with, and not fight, municipal or community groups through property development, and that the company’s philosophy is not to “challenge but work together to achieve common goals”.

“I really strongly believe that if you engage with voters and stakeholders at a very early stage, and bring a collaborative attitude to the table, and listen to what people are looking for and want, you can really create a win-win. for everyone. said Paul Mondell, senior planning consultant for Westway Group.

The presentation included high-level plans to redevelop the property’s resort, golf course and spa areas to capitalize on the changing local tourism landscape.

“The pandemic has really changed people’s perceptions. And I think we have a tremendous opportunity to restore tourism and promote local tourism to people who are within a short driving distance of this area and who are willing to spend their hard-earned tourist dollars and leave them at Canada and support the local economy. I think it’s really important that the Talisman can play a part in that revitalization,” Mondell said.

Westway representatives have also expressed their intention to keep the development of the compact resort as only 20% of the Talisman property is suitable for development. The remaining 80% would be left in its natural state with low impact recreational uses.

Following the company presentation, Gray Highlands Council members posed a number of questions, including asking for examples of similar properties or developments they had been involved in that were of a similar size and rural location to those of the Talisman.

The Westway Group provided a number of generalizations, but could not provide a specific example of a similar project.

Mondell said he has been involved in development projects across Ontario and North America for the past 40 years, and while he did not have specific examples, he reassured council members that the company holds an abundance of expertise in a wide range of developments. .

However, according to Mondell’s online footprint, or more specifically its Linkedin profile, Mondell is heavily involved with many resorts in Ontario, including the Blue Mountain Resort and Village, Deerhurst, and Horseshoe Resort and Village.

Mondell’s profile indicates that he is currently employed at Skyline Investments as a Senior Vice President leading the Skyline Communities Development Team.

Skyline Investments is a Toronto-based investment firm incorporated in 1998. Currently, Skyline assets total approximately $700 million, including significant cash flow from hotels and resort land .

According to its website, Skyline owns 50% and operates 100% of all retail businesses in Blue Mountain Village.

Additionally, Skyline owns the last three development sites in the Village Center and plans are in place to significantly increase Blue Mountain’s residential footprint while expanding Village Center retail.

But this link was not mentioned when the group was presented to the Gray Highlands council. Instead, Mondell registered its Senior Planning Consultant designation with the Westway Group.

In a follow-up interview, Gray Highlands Mayor Paul McQueen said he knew members of the Westway Group were involved in the development of Blue Mountain Resort, but did not know to what extent.

Following the presentation, the board members received the delegation for information.

“It will be up to the board to determine how they wish to proceed following the delegations that took place last week and this week,” McQueen said.

“We are delighted that there is so much interest in the Beaver Valley, and the Talisman properties in particular. We know that carefully planned community development through public engagement provides direct benefits to all. What we’ve seen over the past few months, especially in the Beaver Valley Visioning sessions, shows us how much not only our residents, but people everywhere appreciate the importance of Beaver Valley,” McQueen continued.

He added that profit maximization will not be what defines any decision made by the board.

“The council will ensure that any future activity or undertaking respects the ecological integrity of the valley and meets the needs of the community for generations. As we identified in our strategic plan, the municipality values ​​its shared responsibility to leave a legacy of a clean and nurturing natural environment while respecting the heritage of the community,” he said.

“We also recognize that there is an opportunity to attract responsible and sustainable investment that will boost Gray Highlands’ long-term economy and encourage the addition of new local amenities to meet community needs. I think these considerations echo much of what we’ve heard from the community over the past few months.

McQueen said the board received the delegations, but there are currently no plans to discuss the presentations at a board meeting unless a board member presents a related notice of motion.

He added that the council plans to take its time with any decisions about the Talisman lands and that getting a plan for the future of the site is likely to be a long process with plenty of opportunities for public consultation.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Conversations are the opinions of our readers and are subject to the Code of conduct. The Star does not share these opinions.