Port Burwell beachfront townhouse condos a go despite rejection by local council

Whether residents of Port Burwell are for or against it, including local politicians, plans for beachfront townhouse condos have been given the go-ahead by a provincial development watchdog.

The 13-unit complex rejected by a vote of 4-1 in January by Bayham council, instead recently received interim approval by the Ontario Land Tribunal.

Council turned down the proposal by Barry Wade Homes Inc. for a few reasons, but most notably its proximity to the public beach.

Some residents are concerned about the location of the proposed development.

Tracy Farmer, who lives nearby, said Wednesday that building a 13-unit townhouse condominium in front of the beach will mean more people and traffic.

“A lot of people live here because it's not Port Stanley, it's quiet," she said about the beach town about an hour drive southeast of London. She’s also worried the units will be rented out or become Airbnbs.

Resident Christina Crumb likened constructing townhouses at the proposed site to building a hotel in the middle of a ski slope in Whistler, B.C.

“You have a beautiful natural resource that is being used and enjoyed . . . Why would we ruin it?” she said.

Crumb also shared Farmer's concern the condos will become investment properties, and potentially "change the nature of (Port Burwell's) quiet family beach."

Developer Barry Wade, who ran unsuccessfully for council in the last municipal election, said he thought some of the opposition to the development stemmed from "personal biases.”

“Thank goodness the (tribunal) is out there to sort through these,” he said. “It was a sound proposal, and we were very confident in our position on it."

At the January council meeting where the plan was rejected, reasons ranged from the number of units (density), to parking issues and protecting the public beach.

William Pol, a registered professional planner, and the planning consultant for Bayham who oversaw the planning reports that were presented to Bayham council, was summoned by Barry Wade at the tribunal hearing, and felt the development’s appeal for 13 units, as well as the location of the development, was a practical fit for the community.

“The applicant addressed all of the safety issues in terms of the flooding and the slope,” Pol said. “They addressed the number of units by decreasing them, and in my opinion, is a reasonable fit for this location in the municipality."

Dan Froese, the lone councillor who voted in favour of the project, said he supports businesses that try to grow the municipality, and make it a better place.

Mayor Ed Ketchabaw said he expects the municipality to comply with the ruling. “The community at large may have concerns, but I mean, at the end of the day” the tribunal has made its ruling, he said.

The tribunal will give its final approval to the development once amendments to the community’s official plan and zoning bylaws are complete.

Wade is hopeful construction will begin in about a year.

Brian Williams, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press