New development in Cameron sees protests at public meeting
Current plans include over 100 estate homes, cottages, and a golf course, among other ideas
Flato Developments was given a rough ride by Cameron residents at a public information session today whose residents were worried about plans for a big new residential and commercial development.
But founder and president of the building company, Shakir Rehmatullah, said he was glad they did the event and said he would have asked “the same things” if he were in Cameron residents’ shoes.
The community information session held by Flato on Thursday in Cameron was set up to explain the builder’s preliminary plans. Current plans include over 100 estate homes, cottages, a golf course, and a recreational resort off the shore of Sturgeon Lake. Flato has said they will be “keeping environmental considerations top of mind.”
However, the event had many local residents expressing passionate pessimism on such expansion ideas. Complaints included a possible increase in traffic commotion, to drying out the water supply, and putting endangered plants and animals at risk.
As well, protestors said the company has a history of using ministerial zoning orders (MZOs) from the Ontario government for prior projects. A pamphlet was circulated at the event which linked to two stories, one from The National Observer and Toronto.com, both discussing the company getting MZOs.
The pamphlet said that shortly after purchasing local land, Flato sent in an excavator to start illegally clearing environmentally sensitive areas of the property, something Rehmatullah says never happened.
“We would be stupid to send out an excavator on the site when we’re doing our studies. Why would we do that when we don’t have the permits?” said Rehmatullah.
According to Environmental Defence, whereas 71 MZOs total have been given across Ontario between 1991 and 2019, averaging a little over two a year, 33 MZOs were given in 2020 alone, something that has accelerated under the development-friendly Conservative government.
Rehmatullah was unequivocal on zoning plans for Cameron. “We will not be applying for an MZO on these lands, ever. We are going to go through the normal planning approval process.”
Brian Henshaw, CEO of Beacon Environmental, is to lead the assessment of the land. He was asked by local resident Brian Walsh what would happen if Beacon found the land Flato wanted to develop to be environmentally sensitive.
Henshaw said there are different levels of importance. Some things are protected outright, others can be changed as long as there’s compensation for an affected species, and others the province of Ontario allows to be removed if they’re not deemed important. Henshaw said an environmental report on their findings would be sent, and that it would be public.
He also added that while Flato is paying him, “there’s no one who tells me what to write. I am not the easiest person to work with because I call it as I see it. So, you can be assured regardless of where that report sits, if it has my name on it, you can be assured it’s true.”
School bus driver Brian Gill, expressed concerns at the event that there is currently little room on the roads to drive his bus safely, and extra construction plus extra traffic would make driving more dangerous, unless Flato also had plans to widen the roads.
A local sheep farmer, Leslie Dyment, also had complaints about the plans. “We are simple farmers, and a simple community of hardworking people. We don’t need people telling us our way of life isn’t any good. We are devastated by the idea of our farmland gobbling up to this urban sprawl,” she said at the public meeting.
Dyment, who has 100 sheep, said she barely has enough water to feed her sheep. “We need water. We don’t have a shower every day and sometimes have to use rainwater. The people of Cameron know that but outsiders won’t know that.”
She also said a golf course would require “millions of litres of water every week.”
Jacqueline Coughlin of Azimuth Environmental Consulting said research still has to be done, but possibilities to remedy this could involve further well drilling, or drawing water from Sturgeon Lake.
Rehmatullah said he talked to got to know the concerns and wishes of Cameron residents, saying he “made lots of friends who support and trust the project,” and that “about 98 per cent of the people at the end of the day had a positive view of their cause and wanted to work with them.”
He said someone suggested the idea of a park, something Cameron doesn’t have, and Rehmatullah said he would bring the idea back to his team.
The owner also said it is unknown when the next information session will be, but it will most likely take several months, as they now have research to do and comments to consider.