The battle to demolish the iconic Glen Abbey golf course has landed in court.
At the heart of the battle is whether the Town of Oakville can use the Ontario Heritage Act (OHA) to designate the property as a “heritage landscape” and thus prevent the owner, ClubLink, from making any changes or redevelop it with 3,222 residences.
The existing historic structures, including stables and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame and Museum in the historic RayDor Estate and long designated under the OHA, will remain but the fight is over whether the golf course itself can be designated under the act. If so, the question becomes whether a municipality can deny an application for demolition under Section 34.
Things have sliced into the rough, says Robert Visentin, senior vice-president of ClubLink, with lawyers involved on several fronts for both sides.
It’s similar to a battle being waged in Vaughan, Ont. over the Toronto Board of Trade course which is also being similarly blocked. It’s an issue raising concern by groups like the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD), representing 1,500 member companies in the Greater Toronto Area home building, land development and professional renovation industry. The Oakville Chamber of Commerce has also expressed their opposition.
BILD says a bylaw passed in January opens the door for Oakville to define almost any geographical areas as a heritage landscape, severely impacting land owners from future development without much legal recourse.
ClubLink says the Glen Abbey course, built in 1978 and home to the Canadian Open, is no longer fit for the purpose because it is too small, doesn’t have enough parking and the course itself is not a high-quality design commensurate with international tournaments.
According to court documents filed this February, ClubLink initiated a plan in 2015 calling for a mix of residential, commercial and open space use, dedicating some 54 per cent of the land (approximately 124 acres) for the public.
In November 2016, ClubLink filed a redevelopment plan with detailed reports and supporting materials. However, the lawsuit says, Oakville improperly denied the application and demanded additional information.
ClubLink went to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) three times with mixed results but did win a ruling that the application was complete and should proceed. Still, Oakville dug in its heels and now ClubLink is heading back a fourth time.
Provincial politics has also entered into the fray with the Ontario Liberal government proclaiming Bill 139, the Building Better Communities and Conserving Watersheds Act in April. It dismantles the OMB and replaces it with a Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT).
The ClubLink application was filed before December 2017 and will be heard by an LPAT under the OMB regime.
Concurrently, the town also designated the course as a “cultural heritage landscape” under Section 29 of the OHA.
Their assertion of a cultural landscape is pretty well anything they want to it be
— Robert Visentin
“The phrase cultural heritage landscape is not found in the OHA yet, it is being used to attempt to thwart development within Oakville’s built boundary,” ClubLink says.
While it’s found in the Provincial Policy Statement and Growth Plan, it generally refers to an area “modified by human activity and having cultural heritage value or interest by a community, including an Aboriginal community.”
The intent was to cover “structures, spaces, archeological sites or natural elements that are valued together for their inter-relationship such as villages, parks, gardens, battlefields, mainstreets and neighbourhoods, cemeteries, trailways, viewsheds, natural areas and industrial complexes of heritage significance.”
Applying it to a golf course is beyond Oakville’s legal authority, the lawsuit claims, and a bylaw passed in January essentially supplants the municipality as the sole authority to direct how the property is managed right down to the tee locations.
“The bylaws were enacted in bad faith and for improper purpose,” says the lawsuit.
The town had initially gone to court last fall to block ClubLink’s application for demolition under Section 34 and the company counterclaimed to strike the designation and order the redevelopment plan to be accepted and processed.
The matter is due in court July 16 and 17.
“Their assertion of a cultural landscape is pretty well anything they want to it be, a main street, a vista, anything, it is limited only by geographic dimension,” Visentin says, noting the second court application was initiated in February 2018 to strike the broad powers council granted itself to designate a cultural heritage landscape.
Visentin says the fight is representative of a broader battle being waged by municipalities like Toronto to use heritage designations for a purpose they were never intended.
“This is a big deal and there’s also a third piece in that Halton Regional Council wants to designate 100,000 acres of white belt mostly in the Milton area,” he says, referring to the land between developed areas and designated greenbelt lands.