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Strawberry Island ripe for development?

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In Agencies
Sep 25th, 2014
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By Sara Carson, Orillia Packet & Times 

An Alberta-based development company is pursuing plans to build a community including up to 120 units on Strawberry Island in northern Lake Simcoe.

Trans America Group, based in Edmonton, acquired the 25.6-acre Ramara Township island in 2007 with plans to build mixed-use seasonal residential and resort accommodation.

“There’s not a lot of islands left in this world that you can do anything with and it had a number of interesting things,” said Phil Usprech, senior vice-president of marketing for the Strawberry Island project. “The size was about right for a small concept, it was surrounded by beautiful water, had history of being used and utilized for camping, resorts, accommodations — things of that nature.”

The concept plan includes 52 estate cottages, manor cottage flats, manor cottage terraces, central green space for recreation, a village centre, a general store, a community pool, tennis courts, a trail system, a community building with a clubhouse, administration and service centre, a main dock, two resident docks with 15 to 20 slips and gazebos.

Usprech envisions the village operating eight to 10 months of the year.

“It’s a village where people could walk around, know all their neighbours like the old days. And it would be small — no more than 100 to 120 units in total,” Usprech said.

The developer would install septic/sewage systems, hydro and water.

“It wouldn’t be a burden on the township. We would be maintaining, so there will be no financial drain on … Ramara,” Usprech said.

The developer plans to keep and refurbish a rock shrine built by the Basilian Fathers.

There would be a helipad for emergency use.

When Samuel de Champlain visited the area in the summer of 1615, the island was Huron native territory.

Originally, Strawberry Island was named Anatari, a Huron-Wyandot word meaning:a meeting place of the villagers.” It was also called Papush-Quan, which means Strawberry Island.

Strawberry Island was used as a resort for locals beginning in the late 1800s.

“They would have a few thousand people at a time on the island from these trips and excursions,” Usprech said. “So, it was used as a hotel with cabins, a resort — that type of an idea.”

More recently, the island operated as a retreat run by the Basilian Fathers. In 2002, then-pope John Paul II, who died in April 2005, stayed at Strawberry Island during his visit to Toronto for World Youth Day events.

“They had a hotel there. They had accommodations, all sorts of things,” Usprech said.

Over the past two years, Trans America Group has been working with Ramara, the Ministry of Natural Resources, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority, “going over what we could do, what we couldn’t do, what worked within the current boundaries … to make sure we weren’t going to be stepping on toes and doing something which wouldn’t make sense or wouldn’t be passed or wouldn’t be appropriate,” Usprech said.

“We tried to be as transparent as possible in what we did.”

Trans America Group has an official-plan amendment and a zoning application before the township. The application is to create a new official-plan designation called island accommodation that would apply only to Strawberry Island.

As required under the planning act, Trans America Group held a public meeting in the summer to inform Ramara residents of its plans.

“There were a lot of people, a lot of questions asked. There were more questions than answers,” said Mayor Bill Duffy.

Residents are curious about increased boat traffic, how garbage would be handled, noise and fish spawning off of Strawberry Island, he said.

“We’re not either in favour or in opposition to it at this stage. It was an information meeting,” Duffy said.

Duffy said due to a lack of information, it is too early for him to comment further.

David Wellman, Ramara’s chief building official, said Trans America Group must now respond to questions posed by residents.

There should be another public meeting to address the issues and concerns, Wellman said, adding a date has not been set.

“It’s all dependent upon when the appropriate responses can be provided for those questions,” Wellman said.

A date as not been set to vote on the official-plan amendment and zoning application.

Lake Simcoe is part of the Trent-Severn Waterway, a 386-kilometre route through central Ontario, Usprech noted, referring to the boat-traffic concerns.

Trans America Group plans to install a sewage system that would put less phosphorus into Lake Simcoe than the island’s former system.

One restriction is the developer cannot build within 30 metres of the shoreline and none of the trees in that area can be removed.

“What happens is you will have, in essence, a fence of natural shrubbery and trees. Everything will be set behind it,” Usprech said.

The village community would be “almost hidden away” from view, he added.

The developer has been fielding residents’ questions and concerns, Usprech said.

“We want to work as good neighbours and we want to work with everybody and we’re looking forward to a beautiful project,” he said.

Usprech estimated the development would bring millions of dollars into the local economy. The construction itself would cost $20 million to $25 million, he said.

“I would say that the economic benefits over the project’s life would be $25 million to $50 million. I don’t think that would be a stretch,” Usprech said.

Locals would be hired as part of the development of the village and ongoing maintenance. Staff would be needed to run the day-to-day operations. And residents of the island would shop and eat in the Ramara and Orillia areas, Usprech said.

There would be no vehicles allowed on Strawberry Island other than motorized golf carts. Residents and their guests would arrive by boat. The developer owns property at 4123 Glen Cedar Dr. in Ramara , near Marina Del Rey, which would be used for vehicle and boat parking. They would use neighbouring marinas to house boats, Usprech said.

There would also be a water taxi running for residents who do not have their own boats, Usprech said.

One Response to “Strawberry Island ripe for development?”

  1. Richard Handy says:

    Concerning the future health of the lake ..Im not sure that all thee islands…on lake simcoe or lake couchiching …have nearly as compitent septic systems as this new development is going to have…given the fact that the majority of any residential homes/cottages on all other islands have old outdated systems….perhaps this new development could set a new standard of quality and long term reliability when addressing this major concern….Then other islands could follow suit……now THAT could help change the quality of the lake water

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