Letter: Response to ‘A day at the Spa’

Editorial note: The following is a letter to the editor regarding the proposed Unity Inn and Spa. The views and opinions expressed in this letter do not necessarily reflect those of Kingstonist.

It is with some angst that I take the time to write a reply to the article recently written by my colleague Robert Kiley, Councillor for Trillium District for our City. His thoughts on ‘A day at the Spa’ are of a concern to me and my Countryside District. As the Councillor for this district, I will attempt to bring light to many of the concerns that we as a rural community have regarding the potential approval this development from City Council on August 11th.

In writing this reply, it is not my desire to discourage proper land development, or excellent and visionary land use planning. This proposed development, as my community has been saying all along, is completely unacceptable at THIS location. This development proposal is so full of knots and red flags that it is difficult to know where to begin to unravel this tangled web.

To be clear, I too want to see this city grow and experience positive economic development. I understand how valuable a spa does look and sound economically. It is a beautiful setting, and I see the allure. Despite these things it is my opinion, as well as the opinion for many living in the site’s surrounding location, that the long term negative consequences of such a business far outweigh its positives. We have “skin in this game”. This development as proposed threatens the fabric of our countryside lives. While this development may envision and purport to be an all in one place of tranquility it truly is anything but that in the mind our community.

To begin, let’s remember that this is a relatively small piece of property, that with all the proposed uses will quickly exhaust the land and the natural ecosystem above ground and in the groundwater below.

To seriously expect any location to handle this type of multiple land uses baffles me. I seriously wonder why Planning didn’t require substantially more acreage. For those who read this and don’t understand this concern, St. Anne’s Spa (a comparable development) is a property approximately 10 times the size. It is a serious matter and seems like a “forced fit” situation which is anything but tranquil and compatible.

If my fellow Councillors truly bring a constructive and critical lens to the decision making on the 11th, they will give serious pause to consider and even reconsider these concerns. The article writes of being supportive of the development, and the position that it is good land-use planning is simply unacceptable on so many fronts.

Noise and the natural peace and quiet of the rural area is also being compromised with this present proposal. So much more can be said about this one issue. Light pollution issues can be mitigated, but it remains to be seen whether effective measures will be acceptable. Even if the above legitimate concerns are mitigated there still remains the biggest topic of concern.

Water… where do I begin? On this one topic alone, this development shouldn’t have gone beyond the discussion stage. Water is the life-blood of the rural community. My community has spoken very clearly about this issue, and forgive us if we get “emotional” about it, it IS an emotional issue. Having two questionably-completed Hydrological studies is simply mind-numbing to have to write about it again. It is well-known that hydrological studies at best are a guess.

It has been calculated that this proposed development will use slightly less than 50,000 litres of water a day. This data has been questionable to our community. In order for this development to use more water than this, a special permit for high water volume use must be taken out with the provincial government.

For a statement to be made that there is “plenty” of water for this development is really the biggest red flag of all. Once again, let me paint the picture; if you are from the urban area, turning on your taps is NEVER a concern. Plenty of water could be labeled on the big Lake we have on our city’s southern edge. Now that is what I call “plenty of water”. And yet the funny and not so funny thing is that when there is a declaration of a drought in our City, an imposed water restriction is put in place. Even though the City’s source of water is Lake Ontario! Seriously, something is wrong here.

So… if there is a water restriction in the urban area, what can we, as a rural community, expect for protection of our water reserve? We, as a rural community, have been told that we can “trust the science and technology” that is proposed to be used should this development proceed. This is foolishness to us out in the rural area. We in the rural area are declared by the Cataraqui Region Conservation Authority to be a vulnerable water recharge aquifer zone.

If City Council believes in this development, they should have no problem putting up a bond that will absolutely guarantee potable water for our entire community forever. Any development that requires this level of technology in order to function is completely out of place as proposed and located. This development is a square peg in a round hole… it doesn’t fit…

So picture this… in a year or two, when this development gets completed, and people from far and near are living it up in the spas and using the entertainment venues and raising glasses of celebration, we in our nearby homes will be living endlessly worried about our wells and environment being compromised. What is wrong with this picture? For the rural community this is a tragedy unfolding if Council gives this development approval.

It has been asked why is the “spa” an essential part of this development when it is such a threat. Why can we as a Council not require that this development only use water that is taken from a different source?

I have tried to be clear on the obvious communal reasons why this proposed development should not move forward. I want to be very clear why from a “land planning” perspective this development should not move forward, and where my community believes our Planning Committee has erred in its interpretation of the Official Plan. This may be the most important point to make, as in the end it may be the only point that speaks directly to the problem.

To the best of my knowledge the Provincial Policy Statement has the following statement embedded in it: “…recreational tourism and other economic opportunities should be promoted” in rural lands. What I believe is missed and requires renewed scrutiny is the next line that says, “it must be compatible and sustainable”!! Clearly this is not the case with the present proposal.

It is the sum of all the parts of this proposed development that is the concern of my rural constituents and myself. Taken together, the existing policy is intended to retain the rural character, while allowing some flexibility for adjacent land uses. Clearly, this development proposal goes too far, and the purest evidence of this is all the required science and technology required to be successful and sustainable.

So the question of why the Planning department did not limit the possible uses of this development must be asked again. An event venue or a spa..? Why both? It is the combination of these allowed land uses that makes the proposed uses incompatible with our rural landscape. These uses limit the adjacent lands, and cannot be sustained by the present rural service levels. Remember that the area farms, animals, existing homes, churches, and schools already require significant amounts of water. Thankfully there is enough for everyone at this time with responsible usage. The possibility of overuse and abuse is a clear and present alarming concern for area residents.

So…this is why, amongst many other concerns, I am asking Council to not support this present proposed development at this location.

Please understand that there are even more concerns that our community has… we have not even brought up wastewater management… don’t get me started… The science and technology presented in support of this development was not intended to protect a community but the development itself.

Thanks for the opportunity to write on behalf of my community. My comments are without prejudice and only in a sincere effort to fully represent my constituents concerns.

Gary Oosterhof is the Councillor for the Countryside District in the City of Kingston. He can be reached at [email protected] .

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