This sign, erected in August on Highway 11 at the Grayshott Drive exit, sparked concerns among residents on the west shore of Lake Couchiching about a proposed development on land which includes a marsh. OrilliaMatters photo
‘Any time a wetland is developed it’s of concern because so little wetland is actually left in Southern Ontario,’ official says; Almost 200 homes have been approved
By: Abby Hughes Orillia Matters
When the big Bosseini Developments sign went up in August at the Grayshott Drive exit of Highway 11, it sparked a lot of questions among residents of the Westshore community.
The Lake Couchiching Residence project described on the Bosseini Developments website boasts 110 detached houses, 30 semi-detached houses, 48 townhouses and one management and security unit on the 92-acre plot of lakefront land.
A rendering of a dock featuring boat and jet-ski rentals, in addition to a clubhouse with an indoor pool, theatre, library and gathering facilities, are also featured.
Residents knew the area was slated for development, concedes Tracy Bourassa, but the developer’s sign was the “first true indication” that a project was on its way.
Bourassa was speaking with a neighbour about protecting the wetland, and he said his wife, Diane Fotopoulos-Wright, had started researching the development.
Bourassa and Fotopoulos-Wright teamed up with Joanne Morehouse, a member of the Bramshott Property Owners’ Association, and got to work gathering the concerns and questions of their neighbours.
The trio ultimately presented their concerns to Severn Township Mayor Mike Burkett, Deputy Mayor Jane Dunlop and Coun. Ron Stevens on Sept. 11.
The development plan
The Orsi Group, an Orillia company, filed an application to develop the land in 2004; a draft of the plan was approved by Simcoe County council, with conditions, in 2012. Those conditions included environmental protection, a call for a detailed engineering design, infrastructure capacity, and added planning of parkland and trails.
Orsi sold the land in 2019 to Bosseini Developments, though the plan has remained the same, according to consulting planner Eldon Theodore.
Theodore is somewhat surprised at the community’s concern about the development plan. He said a public meeting in 2010, where local agencies and citizens were able to voice concerns, was well attended by the public.
Cunningham Bay Marsh has been evaluated by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) and designated as a provincially significant wetland. The MNRF established that the homes in this development must be 15 metres from the boundary of the protected wetland.
The marsh composes almost half of the 92 acres of land Bosseini owns. Company officals say the ‘buildable’ area is about 42 per cent of the acreage.
As it stands, the area is treed, bushy, mostly flat and home to a variety of wildlife.
Joanne Morehouse’s property backs onto the portion of the developer’s property, which is environmentally protected.
“It’s virtually floodland behind us. It’s always wet back there, doesn’t matter how dry the season is,” said Morehouse.
The buildable area is low as well and will need to be raised using “massive amounts of fill,” according to Morehouse. She worries raising the area will put the new builds on Turnbull Drive five or six feet above existing homes on Grayshott Drive.
“All of that paving over and raising of land is obviously going to create a lot of runoff issues. How is that going to affect the adjacent properties, how is that going to affect the wetlands and how is that going to affect the lake?” Morehouse asks.
White foam already lines the shore of Lake Couchiching, visible when Morehouse takes her daily walk along the lake. Morehouse says this foam signals high levels of phosphorus in a lake; she worries that encroaching on wetlands, which act as water filters, will cause further harm.
The community has worked hard in recent years to preserve the local turtle population, which includes some endangered and at-risk species, notes Bourassa.
She says a diverse population of local wildlife shows the natural ecosystems are very strong. Red-headed woodpeckers, foxes, coyotes, moose, deer and the odd bear have been sighted by residents in the area, Bourassa said.
Development on Grayshott Drive
The clubhouse and boat dock featured on the Bosseini website would be built on a separate plot of land on Grayshott Drive.
According to Morehouse, the plot runs about 300 feet along the road, but is only 100 feet deep. She says the scale of the clubhouse is “pretty outrageous,” given the size of the lot.
The property backs onto Cunningham Bay — part of Lake Couchiching — which Bourassa says she doesn’t think is suitable for the advertised dock with boat/jet-ski rentals.
“You might be able to walk straight across that bay. It’s extremely shallow,” said Bourassa, who often kayaks in the reedy bay.
According to Theodore, the approved subdivision plan doesn’t include the Grayshott Drive property, meaning a separate proposal would have to be submitted and approved before the clubhouse can be built.
“So right now, it’s (just) an idea,” Theodore said.
An ‘alarming’ trend
Mark Bisset, of the Couchiching Conservancy, said wetlands are “critical green infrastructure” that provide flood control, water purification and wildlife habitats. Despite this, he said developers often don’t give wetlands the credit they’re due.
“Any time a wetland is developed it’s of concern because so little wetland is actually left in southern Ontario,” Bisset said.
According to him, more than 80 per cent of wetlands that once existed in southern Ontario have disappeared due to development.
Margaret Prophet, the executive director of the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition, warns developing near marshes can be harmful as the health of wetlands is determined by what flows into them.
“You build near a wetland and then (it) starts to decline and become a swampy little area that nobody likes. It was once a functioning ecosystem, and as soon as you ruin it, it gives you more reason to pave over the rest of it. It’s a domino effect,” said Prophet.
Both Bisset and Prophet say they’ve been inundated with calls and emails from concerned residents across Simcoe County saying new development projects are popping up in their communities. Bisset says the trend is “alarming.”
“The question I always have is when does it end? At what point do we realize that we’ve done enough damage (and) that we now have to start doing better?” Prophet asked. “My concern is that we’ll get to that stage when it’s already too late.”
When asked to comment on the community concern, Bosseini Developments officials say they’ve been working with planners, engineers, environmentalists, and local government to ensure protection of the marsh.
“Let us assure you we have not taken any shortcuts,” a company representative wrote in an email.
Severn Township officials said the developer is working to meet the conditions set out in the approved 2012 plan.
Mayor Mike Burkett said he welcomes the investment by Bosseini Developments, and also noted the importance of the township’s natural environment.
“Severn has a number of important environmental features that contribute to the sense of place felt by many of our residents,” said Burkett. “We’re committed to protecting these valuable natural attributes, such as woodland and wetland areas that support diverse wildlife.”
Bourassa is hoping the developer will consider donating the Cunningham Bay Marsh that can’t be developed to a local conservation authority, which would give it added protection in the future.
For now, Bourassa is continuing to research the development and attempting to understand the changes that are coming to her neighbourhood.
Morehouse has also created a website that will be updated with additional information on the project and further ways community members can get involved.
While the trio understands from their meeting with Severn council that the development can’t be stopped, they hope the concerns they brought forward will be considered in future stages of this development’s approval and planning.
“(We will) keep nagging both our local and our provincial politicians,” said Morehouse. “Maybe someone will listen before it’s too late.”