To Promote Resort Development, Look Beyond Waterfront

Photo shows Outlet Beach at Sandbanks Provincial Park

The following is second set of comments submitted to the municipality on the new Official Plan which will be considered by Council in February.

The County has a long-standing and acute shortage of roofed accommodation which is constraining further development of tourism and creating pressure for the conversion of residences into Short-Term Accommodations.

The current (2006) Official Plan and the draft under consideration both encourage the development of resorts to increase the supply of roofed accommodation and to encourage 4-season visitors.

Under both the current and the draft plan, resort development is to take place on lands designated as Shore.

In my assessment, this approach has proven to be ineffective: I am not aware of significant development of new resorts in the County since this approach was first initiated two decades ago. I likewise expect that the County is unlikely to see meaningful resort development under the new Official Plan if development remains limited to lands classed Shore.

Two years ago, I carried out a site selection study for a client considering the development of a resort in the County.

Given the requirement for resorts to be sited on Shore, I reviewed every single parcel of land so designated and learned that the sites suitable for resort development are extremely limited.

Over the years, most of the lands designated as Shore have been sub-divided into hundreds of residential-sized lots, especially in the designated Tourist Corridor in the northwest part of the County closest to Toronto.

In many areas, the County’s roads are situated quite close to the water, and the lands designated as Shore lie between the road and the water. As a result, many of the parcels designated as Shore have a depth of 60 meters or less.

There are a limited number of larger parcels which have remained intact, but several of these have Environmentally Protected zones which limit development potential.

The draft Official Plan contains further restrictions on the Shore lands which are available for resort development.

The strengthened protections for Natural Core Areas mean that development in excess of 500 square meters is prohibited in such areas. One knock-on effect of this policy is to exclude from resort development a significant fraction of the lands designated Shore.

Finally, in my opinion, the continued emphasis on Shore as the focus for resort development is based on outdated assumptions about what is attracting high-value tourists and commercial visitors to the County.

In the past, the County attracted mainly tourists who were looking for waterfront. However, I believe that this is no longer true. Many of today’s high value tourists are attracted to the County for other reasons including wineries, fine dining and shopping opportunities and spend only a small portion -if any- of their time on water-related activities.

In fact, I believe that proximity to wineries, fine dining and shopping opportunities will be much more important in attracting high-value tourists than water-based activities.

Earlier in my career I had an opportunity to work closely with a leading Canadian hotel chain as a management consultant. At least at that time, there was strong evidence that their clients did not want to eat more than one meal a day in the hotel or resort where they were staying. To the extent that this remains true today, proximity to fine dining will be essential for the success of future resorts in the County.

Finally, if our goal is to develop 4-season travel to the County, we need to be aware that our rural waterfront is not a particularly attractive environment for many tourists during winter when temperatures are low and winds are high along our exposed shores.

Perhaps in recognition of the limited Shore land available for resort development, the draft Official Plan proposes that the municipality should be able to designate additional lands as shore without the requirement for an Official Plan Amendment.

I strongly believe that to minimize uncertainty and conflict, developers and citizens both need to know in advance what the rules are, and that it would be a serious mistake to enable the municipality to create new Shore land without the scrutiny of the Official Plan amendment process.

There is a management saying to the effect that “insanity is doing what you’ve done before and expecting a different outcome”. If the County wants to have resort development in the future which makes a meaningful contribution to year-round visitors, then the potential locations for resort will need to be broadened beyond lands designated Shore.

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