Burl’s Creek fined more than $200,000 after pleading guilty to bylaw violations
By Ian McInroy Barrie Examiner
Fines amounting to $250,000 were levied Wednesday morning in connection with the Spring Barrie Automotive Flea Market, held at the Burl’s Creek Event Grounds north of Barrie.
After a joint submission of Oro-Medonte Township and Burl’s Creek officials, the Ontario Court of Justice imposed fines of $75,000 for two zoning violations and $125,000 for five obnoxious use violations. There was also a $50,000 victim surcharge levied.
“There were seven guilty pleas entered, which the court accepted, as well as a joint submission as to sentencing,” said John Mascarin, counsel for Oro-Medonte Township.
“The agreement holds Burl’s Creek liable through their acknowledgement of the violations and agreeing to pay the fine for the offences,” said Oro-Medonte Deputy Mayor Ralph Hough.
When asked if the zoning violations related to improper parking and camping at the flea market, Mascarin said they did.
“They do relate to uses that are not permitted under the agricultural/rural zoning, yes. That’s correct,” he said. “Ninety-two acres of Burl’s Creek are zoned and do permit special-event types of uses. The other lands do not.
“These charges under the comprehensive zoning bylaw indicate you can only use those lands for agricultural/rural purposes,” Mascarin added.
The obnoxious use fines were all related to construction activities on the grounds to prepare the additional grounds that were not zoned for the special events uses to prepare those for the Barrie Automotive Flea Market uses as well as the WayHome and Boots and Hearts festivals.
“The obnoxious uses were related to construction such as fumes, vibration, noise and dust,” Mascarin said.
The charges, laid on July 28, did not relate to other events at Burl’s Creek, he added.
“To be absolutely clear, the Spring Barrie Automotive Flea Market was charged,” Mascarin said. “There were no charges brought against the WayHome or Boots and Hearts festivals or the Barrie Automotive Flea Market in the fall.”
But, he added, they were similar events and there was a potential for the contravention of the zoning bylaws.
“They did not occur with the permission of the municipality and there were aggravating factors that went towards the quantum (amount) of the fine that was imposed,” Mascarin said.
Burls’ Creek officials did not comment on the fines but issued a statement Wednesday afternoon.
“Burl’s Creek is satisfied that this matter, as well as any further prosecutions pertaining to 2015, are now closed,” the statement read.
Mascarin said the total fines imposed — and agreed to — “was a very substantial amount. The surprise is the quantum (amount).
“You do not see these amounts of fines imposed anywhere in Ontario. There are astronomical, significant amounts that show the severity of the offences that did happen at the Burl’s Creek Event Grounds. (The fines) are certainly one of the highest for these types of zoning offences.
“I think it does send a direct message and, quite honestly, I think it was acknowledged by the Burl’s Creek entities that what happened here was in direct contravention of the municipality’s bylaws with forewarnings,” he added.
Burl’s Creek has announced events for 2016 and has filed an appeal with the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) for the township’s non-decision on the 2015 temporary-use bylaw application regarding the 344-acre site. A decision on the temporary-use bylaw application now rests with the OMB.
An application for a permanent rezoning of the lands has also been filed with the township.
“In light of the guilty pleas and imposed fines, there will be no further prosecution by the township with respect to the use of the Burl’s Creek Event Grounds during this time period,” the township said in a statement on Wednesday.
“This was not an easy decision,” Hough said. “Township council and staff considered many factors that would significantly impact our residents and community.
“We took into consideration the substantial financial implications associated with legal costs that would result in excessive increases to the township’s tax base,” he added.
Hough said Burl’s Creek officials will have some decisions to make.
“They know that without some changes, they will be in the same situation as what our legal counsel advised them of this year — that they’re in contravention of our zoning bylaws. They certainly can’t hold the events that they had this year with 40,000-plus people on 92 acres and camping, parking and stages. They were notified that they would be in violation and they still went ahead,” he said.
“This is technically a first offence and the fine was significant,” Hough added. “If we get into a repeat next year, it will not be a first offence so one can only assume with any trial with convictions they’ll be going to court with previous convictions.
“That’s their business decision on whether the business expense is worth it.”