Northeast Town approves Country Fest’s move to private property

by Robin Burridge

LITTLE CURRENT—The Northeast Town council passed a motion last Tuesday amending zoning by-law 2002-32, permitting Country Fest organizers Craig and Kelly Timmermans to hold their annual event on a 83 acre parcel of land on Harbour View Road, pending that they meet requirements from the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR).

The council reached their decision after hearing from the Timmermans and a Harbour View Road resident.

Karen McColman spoke to council, saying that she fully supported the idea of Country Fest and the benefits to the community, and Manitoulin, that it brings. However, as a resident of Harbour View Road, she did have concerns with the event being held on the Timmermans’ property.

“I’m quite close to it and I have a concern with the amount of noise,” Ms. McColman stated. “Last year with the camping that was there, people came back to their campsite between musical events and it wasn’t bad the first couple of evenings, but on the Saturday night it was really loud, going on until pass three in the morning. It was so loud that it felt like there was big speakers in my window and it was very disturbing. My concern is the amount of noise that would be generated throughout the four days of Country Fest.”

Other concerns Ms. McColman expressed were parking, pedestrian safety and lighting.

Mayor Joe Chapman thanked Ms. McColman for speaking. “Thank you so much for coming here this evening and expressing your valid points so eloquently and fairly,” said the mayor. He than handed the floor to Ms. Timmermans to address Ms. McColman’s concerns.

Ms. Timmermans agreed with the mayor’s sentiments, thanking Ms. McColman as well for her valid concerns. She explained the history of the property and she and her husband’s wish to have Country Fest moved from its Low Island location to their property on Harbour View Road.

Ms. Timmermans described the meeting they held with residents of the road and issues that were discussed. As for Ms. McColman’s concerns, she said they were concerns that she and Mr. Timmermans had as well.

She apologized for the noise at the last Country Fest’s Saturday evening camping, stating that she was unaware of the problem, but suggested it could have been due to another camping group staying outside of the realm of the Country Fest camping area.

She assured Ms. McColman and council they would be at the event, if the event was able to be held on their property, and would be better able to address noise concerns should they arise.

“Security is a primary issue to us,” Ms. Timmermans stated, “and something that we would certainly address so that those type of issues in the future would not present problems for the neighbours. I know as a citizen if I have issues with noise concern I would contact the OPP and I would encourage those neighbours to do the same.”

Ms. Timmermans addressed the parking concern by requesting to work with the town to eliminate roadside parking from Harbour View Road during Country Fest to ensure the safety of concert patrons and Harbour View residents.

“We have cleared some land for parking and our intention is to clear more, ensuring that there is adequate parking,” explained Ms. Timmermans, “so that parking, camping and the venue itself is all self contained. This would help make sure there are not pedestrians up and down Harbour View Road. We are very concerned about safety because it is our liability as well.”

Mr. Chapman thanked Ms. Timmermans for her comments and addressing Ms. McColman’s concerns.

Council reviewed a letter from the MNR to the planning board in which the MNR identified a problem with the zoning amendment due to the presence of Houghton’s goldenrod, a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, on the Timmermans’ property.

After some discussion among the councillors, they agreed to pass the motion, amending the zoning bylaw and granting permission to the Timmermans to hold up to three outdoor events, including Country Fest, on their Harbour View property, subject to meeting the requirements from the MNR.

Mr. Chapman noted the Timmermans willingness to work with the community and their wise decision to approach the residents of Harbour View Road. After council passed its motion, he told the couple he would help resolve their issues with the MNR if needed.

“If you need any assistance dealing with the goldenrod issue, please let me know,” concluded Mr. Chapman.

The Expositor spoke with Ms. Timmerman after the meeting about council’s decision and concerns from the MNR.

“In 2008 we spoke with the MNR and invited an independent biologist and a MNR biologist to inspect the property,” said Mr. Timmerman.

She said at that point in time, the MNR concluded there were no problems moving forward with holding the event on the property and that they agreed to protect the plant’s natural habitat.

She said there was no problem with the area where the goldenrod was located as that was the planned camping area and the biologists stated that the plant would not be negatively impacted by foot traffic.

When they learned of the recent letter to the Manitoulin Planning Board from the MNR on October 14, the eve of their meeting with council, she and her husband felt “blindsighted” because they thought the MNR’s concerns had already been addressed years ago.

To make matters worse, the original MNR biologist who evaluated the Timmermans’ property was no longer employed with the MNR and her notes were unavailable.

Despite this recent development, Ms. Timmermans is hopeful the MNR will work with her and Mr. Timmermans to reach a resolution together in a timely manner.

She revealed that she had already hired an independent biologist who would be reviewing the property and goldenrod location on October 21.

Jolanta Kowalski, senior media relations officer with the MNR, told The Expositor that the MNR wishes to work with the couple to help resolve the situation and move it forward. She said that the MNR’s mission is to protect threatened and endangered species, but that they realize the economic impacts of an event of Country Fest’s nature and always work to balance both in a situation such as this.