Heritage status won’t stop golf course development

TORONTO — An Ontario town voted this week to designate one of Canada’s most famous golf courses a heritage site, but one expert says the status doesn’t necessarily protect Glen Abbey’s greens from being turned into a housing development.

Paul Dilse, a heritage planning consultant in Toronto, says Oakville, Ont., town council’s vote of intent to designate the Glen Abbey Golf Club a heritage zone means that it is immediately protected under the Ontario Heritage Act.

The designation, which was voted on Monday night, comes one month before the town council is set to decide whether it will approve or block a housing development that Glen Abbey’s owner, ClubLink, has planned for the course.

ClubLink has said it wants to turn the course into a mix of 3,200 residential units, office and retail space — a plan that has drawn considerable opposition from locals who say Glen Abbey is worthy of preservation.

The course was designed by golf legend Jack Nicklaus and opened 40 years ago. It has hosted the Canadian Open 29 times and is slated to host it again next year. The Canadian Golf Museum and Hall of Fame, and Golf Canada offices are also housed on the site.

But despite the heritage status now granted to the prestigious course, Dilse said the area could still be developed.

ClubLink still has 30 days to appeal the heritage designation to the Conservation Review Board, he explained.

Even if ClubLink loses its appeal, its development could still proceed, depending on what guidelines Oakville decides to introduce to preserve the site’s heritage. Those guidelines could theoretically be as lenient as requiring parts of the golf course to exist alongside the new housing development, he said.

A spokeswoman with Ontario’s Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport said any appeal by ClubLink on the heritage designation will trigger a hearing, the result of which will be sent to Oakville’s town council. Denise Balfour said, however, that whatever the appeal hearing’s findings, “the final decision will ultimately be made by the local council.”

Oakville’s mayor noted that the heritage designation and ClubLink’s development proposal are being treated as two separate issues by the town, despite the fact that one will affect the other in some way.

“It’s not clear yet how the one could influence the other, it’s too soon to say,” said Burton, who acknowledged that the heritage designation doesn’t mean the ClubLink’s development can’t go ahead.

“We have to wait for the planning staff’s report in September on whether or not they recommend (ClubLink’s development) application.”

Oakville’s efforts to establish the course as a heritage zone have been in the works for eight years now and were recently expedited, while ClubLink’s proposal for the development came in 2015, Burton said.

Burton said that he’s heard from people who are both for and against the development proposal, but said that he’s seen more people against the development than people who are in favour of it.

ClubLink’s vice president Robert Visentin came out against the heritage designation, calling it a “blunt tool” that was being used to “block our proposed real estate redevelopment.”

Visentin went on to call it a “troubling precedent” for the business of golf in Canada, and said the company will be reviewing its options before taking its next step.

One coalition of Oakville residents, called the Save Glen Abbey Coalition, said it has over 7,000 signatures of residents who are opposed to the course being destroyed, and runs with the slogan “If Glen Abbey isn’t heritage then what is?”

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