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Proposed hotel and spa development brings more questions than answers

Proposed cabin

By Sharon Harrison
While no decision was made on the proposed Irth Landscape Hotel and Spa project at Wednesday’s virtual planning committee meeting, the applicant’s deputation did bring more questions to light than answers.

The proposed development, located at County Road 8 and Rock Cross Road in North Marysburgh, sits on a site consisting of 79 acres.

Being considered is an Official Plan amendment (OPA) and zoning bylaw amendment for the property where a four-season, year-round hotel with 12 forest rooms and 12 off-grid cabins are proposed.

The maximum number of daily guests is set at 48, and the average daily occupancy projected for peak- and off-seasons is to be between 43 to 35 guests. The development intends to have an operational goal of being “completely regenerative and net positive”.

The hotel and spa has a target opening date of summer 2022, and hopes to create 30-plus full-time jobs.

The OPA looks to re-designate the lands from Rural and Environmental Protection to Special Rural and Environmental Protection. The zoning bylaw amendment application looks to re-zone from Rural 2, Rural 3 and Environmental Protection, to Special Tourist Commercial Zone and Environmental Protection.

Three-and-a-half hours was devoted to this agenda item which saw 23 members of the public make comments on the proposal, with 19 against, and four in favour.

“It’s not just about bringing new business into the County, it is about bringing new business into the County in an environmentally responsible way,” said Jeff Andeeson, who was in favour of the application. He also spoke to how the site, which is being described as pristine, is not.

“There was invasive species everywhere, there were ATV trails, and refuse from partying.”

To those indicating thousands of visitors each year, he reminded the small footprint of 12 cabins across 80 acres of land.

Patricia Secord, owner of Fifth Town Artisan Cheese, is a close neighbour to the proposed development and is in support of the proposed Irth project.

“I am a stakeholder of a business that relies heavily on tourist traffic, to the much less travelled east end of the County,” said Secord.

As a four-season operation, Secord said they would benefit greatly from the existence of a hotel and spa.

“It would provide employment and services customers in the traditionally off-seasons, as well as any partnerships that would arise through our businesses,” she said

Secord also spoke to how another employer in the area would be beneficial where shared work shifts or work could potentially be shared and would be an added benefit.

Biologist Renata Claudie also noted how the land is described as pristine, and stated that is not the case.

“It is picturesque, but it has been used for agriculture and has been left fallow; one of the wood lots was left fragmented, a road has been cut into escarpment, and there has been some excavation of gravel,” said Claudie. She also noted a large number of invasive species on the property, both in meadows and forests.

“One of the biggest losses to species at risk and to biodiversity is invasive species and habitat disturbance which has already happened,” she said. “The Irth project is a really good alternative for a very nice piece of land which I think could support really wide biodiversity and also be there for the species-at-risk.”

Jonathan Kearns noted the small scale of the project with its 12 hotel rooms and 12 forest cabins for a total of 24 rooms and a maximum of 48 people on a site of 79 acres.

Put into context, Kearns noted the Irth Hotel was smaller by far than Isaiah Tubbs Resort (74 rooms and 12 cabins), the Waring House (49 rooms) and the Picton Harbour Inn (32 rooms).

“Speaking to the Irth family, their vision, their sincerely, their honesty and their commitment to doing the right thing has been simply outstanding,” Kearns said.

“Irth rescued a neglected and inaccessible landscape and is in the process of restoring it. The Irth Landscape Hotel has defined the magic that is Prince Edward County and is giving people an educated glimpse of the beauty of that landscape on a very small scale.”

Marko Cekic, lead land use planner for the applicant spoke to the 2020 Official Plan adopted by council in February (awaiting provincial approval) as it relates to this application.

“Since the Official Plan Amendment and zoning bylaw amendment applications were deemed completed prior to the approval of the 2021 Official Plan, the application should be evaluated based on the OP in force and in effect at the time they were deemed complete,” Cekic said. “It is clear the 2021 OP echoes this thought as it provides an application submitted and deemed complete before July 6, 2021 and should be reviewed under the existing 2006 OP.”

“Under the 2021 OP, major development requiring an OPA is not permitted within the natural core area. However, it is anticipated this proposal would not require an OPA under the 2021 OP as the use is permitted in the designation and therefore despite qualifying as major development would be permitted within the natural core area,” said Cekic.

Melanie Hazell, Irth founder, and Alexander Daprato, Irth partner.

Melanie Hazell, founder of Irth Landscape Hotel and Spa noted how the project has evolved over the last four years with various configurations and reduced sizes of site plans have been developed as a result of input from numerous sources and studies, including public feedback.

The Irth team consist of five partners, three of whom are family members.

The daily guest count has been reduced from 120 to 48 and a number of significant changes have been made to accommodate concerns.

Six rooms have been removed from the main lodge, along with the conference space and parking requirements will correspondingly shrink too, thereby retaining the trees that were to be removed for parking.

“Every off-grid cabin has been equipped with grey water systems and freshwater holding tanks,” said Hazell. “A water re-use study submitted with our report outlines sustainable practices we plan to implement.”

She noted water requirements have been reduced from 24,000 litres to below 10,000 litres per day.

“The upper escarpment septic system has been removed, berms have been removed from all but two cabins, the wetland boardwalk has been reduced in size, and the outdoor spa circuit has been situated in a previously disturbed open escarpment area,” explained Hazell. “None of the spa is in the forested escarpment, and none of the pre-existing forested escarpment was ‘denuded’ by us.”

A significant amount of land work has been completed on the site since 2018.

“Given the value we place on land restoration, three years ago, we started tilling and prepping the three fields which were overrun with wild parsnip and giant hogweed for a native grassland and wildflower seeding this fall,” stated Hazell.

She noted no pesticides were used in the removal of the invasive species.

“Last spring, a section of a beaver dam was removed to manage the flooding in the front and back fields,” she said, noting, “the main dam wasn’t touched and evidence of beaver activity was seen on site walks last fall.”

In summer 2020, approximately 10 acres of escarpment, both top and bottom, covered in dog strangling vine was bush hogged and mowed to avoid further seeding.

“Two weeks ago, the first of 10,750 mixed native trees were planted in the third field, with another 700 mature native trees scheduled for planting this fall along the property line by the vineyard.”

Cekic noted the development was being proposed in an area of existing tourist infrastructure.

“The proposed development provides a unique type of tourism that levers its natural assets while increasing direct employment opportunities and providing direct and indirect economic opportunities,” he said.

“The proposed development will be appropriately serviced by private water and wastewater services and has been designed to be compatible with the rural landscape, including limited views from County Road 8, incorporation of cabins into the landscape, and integration of facilities in the natural environment.”

The storm water management brief notes that post development peak flow rates are restricted to pre-development rates.

“The key here is there are no changes proposed to the overall drainage patterns of the site,” he said.

Cekic noted the submitted EIS (Environmental Impact Study) concludes that negative impact on natural heritage features are not anticipated, providing mitigation measures are implemented.

He further noted a number of land restoration initiatives are being undertaken to protect and enhance the natural environment.

“Steep slopes have been identified and geotechnical sub-surface investigation reviewed the slope’s stability on the escarpment and found there were no issues,” Cekic said.

“It is important to note that the intent and purpose of the 2021 OP would generally be upheld by the proposal because Irth is a unique destination and tourist use within the County and supports the County’s vision for the future by ensuring compatibility within the surrounding area, protecting and enhancing the natural environment and strengthening the County’s tourism sector and economic fabric,” Cekic said.

He noted several initiatives proposed by the owner aim to maintain and improve the ecological integrity of the area and where possible maintain the ecological health of the County.

Scott Reynolds, environmental planner with Ainley Group said natural heritage features were identified at the site, notably the Lost Lake wetland complex.

The wetland is located on the east side of Rock Cross Road and is approximately 24 hectares with one hectare of the overall wetland extending onto the Irth property.

“The Lost Lake basin and escarpment forest which is a provincial significant ANSI (Area Natural and Significant Interest) is 240 hectares and stretches across Cressy Point to County Road 7 and includes the Lost Lake wetland as part of the ANSI features,” outlined Reynolds.

An escarpment is also situated on the southern portion of the property and habitat and species at risk and significant wildlife habitat were identified.”

He noted among the recommendation in the EIS were made to avoid development within 30 metre of the Lost Lake wetland for any buildings and a 15 metre setback for the watercourse.

Objections to the project were noted by members of the public, including from numerous members of local groups, such as Prince Edward County Field Naturalists and PECSOHL (Prince Edward County Save our Heritage Lands), the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, and the Prince Edward Federation of Agriculture.

Concerns expressed included the environmental impacts on nature, water table issues as well as quality and quantity thereof, a lack of alignment with the OP was raised, traffic issues, error and gaps in mapping in reports and out of date reports, building on prime farmland, water and wastewater management issues, and more.

“I find there is a real irony in the project’s claim to be an eco-retreat connecting guests to the healing power of nature if there was any damage to the very natural environment which ostensibly its connecting its guests too,“ said Valerie Hussey.

“I don’t believe eco retreats that prioritize the human experience over the natural world, and a fragile eco system at that, are friends to the environment, or to this community,” she said. “What hasn’t changed is our need to preserve and respect the natural world; it is not there as our playground, it is there because we need it.”

Representing the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists, in opposition of the development were Sheila Kuja, Amy Bodman and Gerry Jenkison.

Kuja described the “rich diverse property” as a “living museum, an enclave of what the landscape was like before we changed most of it forever.”

“The current proposed OPA does not conform with the vision for Prince Edward County and clearly is not in favour of designating lands designated as Environmental Protection zone, wetlands, significant Great Lakes coastal, and possibly provincially significant, and ANSIs, especially in a location that will soon be recognized as part of the Cape Vessey core area in the new OP,” stated Kuja.

She was also concerned about the long-term impact of human disturbance with thousands of visitors per year and all that disruption entails.

“The location of this project at this site is incompatible with sustaining the biodiversity of this remarkable environmentally-sensitive property.”

Amy Bodman highlighted significant impacts to locating the development in an area that contains significant marshlands, grassland, woodland and escarpment, threatened and endangered species, and a multitude of other wildlife.

She was also concerned about impacts after construction, with up to 30,000 people and the associated vehicular traffic impact, including an increase of air, noise, light pollution at night.

“The narrow strip of land is incredibly diverse in terms of its habitats and therefore supports a lot of biodiversity; there not many places in the County like it.”

Murray Smith had three key points of objections which included health and safety, building on a hazardous site, taking an agricultural area out of production, and development on coastal wetland.

Kristen Rogers is co-owner of Cape Vineyards which is adjacent to the proposed development.
“Our future is uncertain,” said Rogers, who said they have invested millions of dollars in the farm business.

“This development may well end our farm livelihood and threatens our ability to expand our operations,” she said. “There is a direct risk of contaminated water supply and septic leaching onto our vineyard.”

“It demonstratably incompatible to have a luxury destination outdoor space and resort beside a farm,” she said.

“Lost Lake is aptly named and it should remain lost,” said Monica Alyea.

Councillor John Hirsch said more questions have been raised, than answered, and he noted he had about 10. His key questions included water sufficiency, suitability of well testing, slope stability and studies that need to be verified.

“Is Lost Lake wetland a provincially-significant wetland?” he asked.

Councillor Kate MacNaughton said there were lots of questions remaining.

“How do we manage tourism in our special places? asked councillor Janice Maynard.

Staff will bring a further report back to council for consideration within a couple of months or at the end of the summer.

This meeting is available for viewing on the County’s YouTube channel.


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  1. Don Montgomery says:

    Perhaps County Planning Dep’t. should NOT have a position called “Application Approvals”, but something more neutral and impartial-sounding, like, . . . “Applications”. Without any indication that those applications should expect to become ‘approvals’. Just sayin’ 🙂

  2. Michelle says:

    Would it matter. Using the recent tourist development at Salmon Point for example, there were at least 26 deputants online opposed. Council asked no questions and quickly approved. The decision had been made and the process was a mockery.

  3. Dennis Fox says:

    I have mentioned on this site and in letters to the editor in our local papers that Council is making many important decisions without giving the public a proper opportunity for input. Online consultation is not enough. I really don’t believe that such decisions as – the closing of boat launches, the approval of No Parking at Lake of the Mountain, our Official Plan, the Tourism Plan and other big decisions should have been made at this time. Given the County’s well known problems with internet access, as well as being on a pandemic has limited the publics ability to follow local politics. The idea that online participation is enough is totally ridiculous an din my opinion limits the democratic process. Council is proceeding without this community’s approval – the question is why?

  4. Teena says:

    Why is it that we only get the “Personal Touch”, so to speak, when it is time for an election, and then nothing until the next election? If they are to decide on what happens in an area, then ALL of the councillors who are to vote on a project should have the decency to get in touch directly with those affected. Covid notwithstanding, there are masks. And if they won’t do this, then stop Irth and other projects until they can deal with us properly.

  5. ADJ says:

    I agree with Dee that this proposal should never have gotten to Council chambers. This idea has been floated about the County before too many times and only wastes Council time. There needs to be some direction to “staff” before hours are spent and wasted.
    Council members are dictating our future here. Please ask for more recorded votes!

  6. CountyProud says:

    DEE you have a wonderful way of cutting to the chase on an issue. I agree totally that this proposal should never have seen the light of day let alone, several years in. It is starting to feel a bit like the wild west with developers requesting Official Plan amendments so they can get what they need and want to the exclusion of the community needs and wants for the quality of life and the detriment of the environment (not unlike another fresh in everyone’s’ mind proposal approved by Council yet many of the issues are the same). Thought-provoking question about the Cottage Development on East Lake too.

  7. Dee says:

    Just another long drawn out process to respond to an application that should never have been accepted in the first place. Maybe our staff should be directed by Council to spend more time attracting and working with developers that benefit the local needs, not just the needs of visitors. Perhaps focusing on affordable housing and looking to the future for business not housing developments.

    Wonder what the residents at East Lake Shores (formerly Summer Village) think of their development 10 years into it? Did it turn out like they anticipated and were promised? Was everything promised by the Condo Corporation delivered? Did the infamous site plan agreement deliver? We should be investigating our ability for enforcement before accepting applications for development and rezoning in sensitive areas of our county. It is okay to say “NO, this is not the type of development we really want”, before the application is filed and hours and hours of staff time are expended. Once the application is filed, staff has to check all the boxes and we end up where this application is today, with community against it, staff recommending it and council facing an appeal if they do not support staff’s recommendation. It is all political with no common sense involved. Pretty soon the entire County will be hollowed out just like Niagara on the Lake, with no local residents living there anymore. GENTRIFIED – and we were warned of this 20 years ago.

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