Ecocommunity vs ski / golf resort: council hears conflicting grounds for former Talisman site
The Municipality of Gray Highlands has received two official delegations regarding the Talisman property, which is located in the Beaver Valley near the village of Kimberley.
Talisman lands are 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 very opposing presentations on what the future of property might look like – one from Westway Capital, a Greater Toronto Area capital management firm and another from the Talisman Property Action Coalition, a group of local residents and organizations. .
Shortly after the announcement of the joint venture agreement, the Municipality also launched the Beaver Valley Vision Sessions, which invited community members to voice their concerns and visions for the future of the Valley. the Beaver, where the Talisman lands are located.
As the Beaver Valley vision sessions unfolded, MPs around the Talisman properties began to flock.
The first delegation came from the Talisman Property Action Coalition at a special board meeting held on May 21.
The Talisman Property Action Coalition includes participants from a number of community groups, including the Friends of the Beaver Valley, the Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy, Sustainable Livelihood Canada, Elephant Pansies and the Kimberley Safety Group.
“The lands of Beaver Valley, formerly known as Talisman Mountain Resort, abut the UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve and are highly valued and far-reaching public property,” said Dr. Mary Ferguson, resident de Gray Highlands, EkoNomos Senior Partner and Coalition Member.
“Our objective is to protect and preserve ecological integrity, the wildlife corridor, the watershed and the natural sites [within the Valley]. We are engaging a coalition of people and organizations in developing a workable plan for the site, ”she continued.
The coalition proposed the concept of bringing together natural conservation, education and service organizations to develop a plan for the properties.
The group also asked the board to consider a three-month reprieve on the sale of the property, to give 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: activities low-impact recreation, such as hiking, snowshoeing, fishing, camping; wildlife corridors; incorporating creative housing options that include affordable home ownership and long-term rental options; Made in Gray Highlands Handicrafts, Craftsman, Mini Crafting Space; living / working art studios; community gardens; ecological training of farmers and pollinators; satellite campuses for post-secondary education and an outdoor education center.
“We offer a sustainable and income-generating development option from a possible ecological economic center, to a community agency supporting environmental education studies as well as environmentally friendly business opportunities on developing land”, said Linda Reader of the Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy. (EBC) and member of the coalition.
In an effort to convey the importance of good to the community, prior to 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 central portion of Talisman lands is prime development property, but we would like to see the development there reflect the values of EBC, the municipality’s own strategic plan and the wishes of the people of Gray. Highlands, ”said Robert Barnett, executive director of EBC and coalition member.
“Basically there are two possible directions that report to the board. The first is basically to manage that public asset and have the entire property sold to a private company for – as stated in the joint venture agreement – a one-time maximum profit, which the people we worked with consider this as an indication of a lack of vision and leadership on the part of the people we choose to be responsible for our well-being and the 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 the Gray Highlands councilors were back at the council table with another presentation for the same property on May 28th. This time from the Westway Group, a Toronto-based investment firm.
The Westway Group presented their vision for the Talisman properties to board members, which included revitalizing the Talisman Resort with the hope of “bringing Talisman back to what it was at one point.”
“What is our goal 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 other than showcase and improve it, ”said Nick Simone, CEO of Westway Group.
During the presentation, group representatives repeatedly mentioned their intention to work with and not fight council or community groups through property development, and that the company’s philosophy is “Not to challenge but to work together to achieve mutual goals”.
“I firmly believe that if you engage with constituents and stakeholders at a very early stage, and bring a collaborative attitude to the table, and listen to what people are looking for and wanting, you can really create a win-win for everybody. Said Paul Mondell, senior planning consultant for the Westway Group.
The presentation included high-level plans to redevelop the property’s resort, golf course and spa areas to capitalize on the changing landscape of local tourism.
“The pandemic has really changed people’s perceptions. And I think we have a great opportunity to restore tourism and promote local tourism to the people who are close to this area and who are willing to spend their hard earned money on tourism and leave them in Canada and beyond. support the local economy. I think it’s really important that the Talisman can play a role in this revitalization, ”Mondell said.
Representatives from Westway have also expressed their intention to keep the resort’s compact development as only 20% of the Talisman property is suitable for development. The remaining 80% would be left in their natural state with low impact recreational uses.
Following the business presentation, Gray Highlands board members asked a number of questions, including examples of similar properties or developments they have been involved in that were of size and size. rural location similar to those of 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 does not have specific examples, he reassured board members that the firm has an abundance of expertise in a wide range of developments. .
However, according to Mondell’s online footprint, or more specifically his Linkedin profile, Mondell is heavily involved with many resorts across 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 that was incorporated in 1998. Currently, Skyline has approximately $ 700 million in assets, including high cash flow hotel and resort properties.
According to its website, Skyline owns 50 percent and manages 100 percent of all retail properties in the Village of Blue Mountain.
In addition, Skyline owns the remaining three development sites in the center of the village and plans are in place to significantly increase Blue Mountain’s residential footprint while expanding the retail business in the center of the village.
But that link was not mentioned during the group’s presentation to the Gray Highlands board. Instead, Mondell listed his title as Senior Planning Consultant 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 the Blue Mountain Resort, but was unclear to what extent.
Following the presentation, the board members received the delegation for information.
“It will be up to the board to determine how it wishes 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 directly benefits everyone. What we have seen over the past few months, especially during the Beaver Valley vision sessions, shows us how much not only our residents, but people everywhere, appreciate the importance of the Beaver Valley, ”he said. McQueen continued.
He added that maximizing profits will not be what defines any decision made by the board.
“Council will seek to ensure that all future activities or undertakings respect the ecological integrity of the valley and meet 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 nourishing natural environment while respecting the heritage of the community ”, he declared.
“We also recognize that there is an opportunity to attract responsible and sustainable investments that will provide long-term economic stimulus to Gray Highlands and encourage the addition of new local amenities to meet the needs of the community. I think these considerations echo a lot of what we’ve heard from the community over the past few months.
McQueen said the board has received 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 regarding the Talisman lands and that securing a plan for the future of the site will likely be a long process with plenty of public consultation opportunities.