New development in Cameron sees protests at public meeting

Current plans include over 100 estate homes, cottages, and a golf course, among other ideas

By William McGinn

Shakir Rehmatullah of Flato Developments speaks to Cameron residents. Photo: William McGinn.

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.”

Shakir Rehmatullah, president of Flato, said it was good for him to hear the concerns of local residents. Photo: William McGinn.

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.

Leslie Dyment, a local sheep farmer, expressed concerns with Flato’s development plans. File photo.

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.

3 Comments

  1. Judy Kennedy says:

    Lies, lies and more lies. Rehmatullah is probably using the list of names and phone numbers we had to sign for Covid contact for his 98%.
    Perhaps he personally didn’t send in the excavator to remove trees, but he knows the someone who works for him that most certainly did . How can we trust a man like him to know, or even care to do what is right for our community and the environment? Putting an urban type development into the middle of farmland, miles away from established communities is like dropping the Covid virus into a big city and we all know how that turned out. We all say NO to FLATO.

    • Brian Walsh says:

      Indeed. 98% support? Not only is this patently untrue, but I can’t understand why Mr. Rehmatullah would make such a ridiculous overstatement. Surely integrity matters in public discourse. Surely he knows that no one at that meeting would agree with his assessment of support. Or maybe by the end of his time at that meeting, there were very few people left and 98% of them supported the project. It is hard to fathom what exactly he is thinking.

  2. Brian Walsh says:

    Mr. Rehmatullah responded to the claim that an excavator was sent to the site shortly after Flato acquired ownership by saying: “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?” Well, that is precisely the question. Why would he do such a thing? And if he didn’t, then who did send that excavator onto the land? The pictures, the eyewitnesses, and the name of the excavator company are all available. If Flato did not send that excavator, then I assume that they will be taking legal action against the company that sent that excavator on site for no apparent reason other than destruction for the fun of it. Something is pretty fishy about all of this. And someone isn’t telling the truth.

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