Cart goes before the horse at Aquaworld

Around the Nation

A column by Tom Van Dusen

Well, now… isn’t this an interesting turn of events!

I’m talking about controversial Aquaworld in Augusta Township just west of Prescott which has been caught in a tussle with local residents who took developer Stefano Ferrante to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) — formerly Ontario Municipal Board — because of traffic as well as drinking water quality and quantity concerns.

That small clutch of opponents believe  there’s no place in farm and residential country for a mega waterpark on 254 acres including 140-room hotel with convention centre, bar and restaurant. So guess what’s close to the top of the COVID-19 hit list around the world? Waterparks!

It looks like what opponents haven’t yet been able to accomplish – nuke Aquaworld – the world pandemic has pulled off… for at least the time being. With so much uncertainty as to the duration and extent of C-19, Ferranto decided to rearrange the project.

Very local residents think Merwin Lane should be reserved for agricultural and residential uses. That may be exactly what they’re going to get for now… with a waterpark still possible if and when the world flows back to something approximating the old normal!

Last month, Ferrante went to Augusta council and explained his plight. He requested, and unanimously received, a zoning change permitting him to build rental housing, condos, villas and cottages on the Aquaworld site, in addition to local food production facilities, medical services, and a broader range of recreational activities.

It remains to be seen if opponents will like this arrangement any more than the one that put the waterpark at the top of the list. It’s not much of a stretch, simply flipping the options. Ferrante always intended to look at other development opportunities on the site after installation of Aquaworld; with global uncertainty in the waterpark industry, it made financial sense to put the cart before the horse and bring back-end projects up front.

The whole ball of wax was supposed to be sorted out Sept. 30 by the LPAT. But when all parties got together on Zoom, the tribunal chair soon realized she couldn’t hear the case because it didn’t exist anymore. Lead opponent Mary Peterson had appealed Augusta’s Aquaworld (AQW) zoning which had been changed to Rural Destination Holding to accommodate Ferrante’s new approach.

Technically, the case was gone and Peterson would have to re-appeal against the new zoning… which she told the hearing is exactly what she plans to do. While Ferrante representatives asked if the matter could be expedited, all concerned including the municipality are in a holding pattern, not even sure if the panel will reconvene before the end of the year, said Augusta CAO Ray Morrison who represented the township on the Zoom get-together.

While council, like Ferrante, wants the matter resolved as soon as possible, it understands the technicality confronting the panel chair, Morrison observed. Until resolution occurs, the 254 acres can only serve its current use… farming.

Aquaworld representatives have promoted the new approach as equally beneficial to Augusta… and council agrees. Just as if the waterpark went first, diversification of permitted uses on the site will permit “unique and vibrant mixed commercial-residential uses which will help the financial wellbeing of the township,” according to Ferrante planner Tracy Zander.

In addition, Zander said, the development even back-ended will attract tourism and long-term jobs… in addition to the workforce needed during construction and operations.

When he finally gets rolling, the zoning alteration hasn’t given Ferrante free-rein, Mayor Doug Malanka has emphasized. The “holding” designation requires the developer to come back to council for site plan approval of each project; and part of the property around Bradley’s Creek will be contained in an Environmental Protection Zone.

When the dust finally settles, let’s hope something good comes from all of this, for the majority of Augusta residents and others living in the area… if which – full disclosure – I’m one.

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