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City takes on role of lot developer (6/03)

By IAN ROSS In promoting Elliot Lake as a four-season vacation destination, the city is preparing to introduce new seasonal cottage lots to the marketplace this summer.


In promoting Elliot Lake as a four-season vacation destination, the city is preparing to introduce new seasonal cottage lots to the marketplace this summer.

For almost 15 years, the city, as part of its economic diversification plan, has wanted to seize the opportunity to offer up the area’s scenic beauty by assembling a package of waterfront lots around the dozens of lakes within the municipality’s borders.

Thousands of hunters, fishermen and campers are drawn to the area every year, but neither the city nor public have been able to purchase property in prime waterfront spots since the available acreage was Crown land.

The City of Elliot Lake will act as developer and will have all the necessary approval authority to map out the subdivisions, says Warren Neufeld, the development’s project manager. It was a move, which needed legislative approval by Queen’s Park through a private members bill by MPP Mike Brown.

“Most communities are not allowed to be developers,” says Neufeld. “This private members bill — called the City of Elliot Lake bill — was passed, making an exception due to special economic circumstances.”

In keeping with conditions in the Municipal Act, the city is establishing an arms-length agency known as the Elliot Lake Residential Development Corp. made up of two politicians, including Mayor George Farkouh, and five local business people, to guide future lot development.

Also, any money made from the venture must be re-invested back into economic development projects.

Farkouh says Elliot Lake has broken new ground with the province by providing a model that will allow other municipalities to buy raw Crown land in the future and re-sell it for residential development.

“The model that we have created through acquiring and receiving approvals is being adopted as part of the Smart Growth recommendations on the use of Crown land,” says Farkouh.

“There was never any enabling legislation under the Municipal Act allowing municipalities to buy Crown land and re-market it cottage lots.”

In the first stage of development, 36 lakefront lots of about a half-hectare will be on the market in early to mid-July with about 20 to 26 lots to be added by this fall. Down the road as many as 400 lots will be up for sale depending on market demand.

The available lots are nestled about 12 kilometres north of the city on two lakes, Dunlop and Quirk Lake. Both areas are zoned shoreline residential and could be used year-round.

No set prices have been established, but land will be sold on a per-foot- of-lakefront-property basis through a public tender process advertised in regional newspaper advertisements by July.

“The public will be invited to put in a bid for the lots they like,” says Neufeld. “Initially we’re looking at attracting a regional market.”

Prospective cottage owners will acquire bush lots and should expect to clear some trees and put in their own driveway.

That should generate a local economic stimulus in the building industry, says Farkouh.

Cottage lot development is part the city’s overall $14-million strategy called Destination Elliot Lake, which includes expansion of the golf course to 18 holes, ski hill upgrades, development of the Heritage Centre complex affiliated with Science North and building an extensive trail network catering to ATVs, hikers and snowmobilers.

“The idea is to spin a $60 to $70 million benefit over a five-year period, creating several hundred jobs in construction, building trades, supplies, retail and the hospitality industry,” says Farkouh.Some cottage lots will have city services such as hydro and rural roads while others will be accessible by water only, says Neufeld. “Our market research study indicated there was a demand for that kind of lot.”

The study further showed a pent-up demand from southern Ontario and the U.S. for cheap cottage lots in pristine, less congested vacation spots.

“The marketing will be for those that are destination-driven in spending three weeks or an entire season here not necessarily the weekend tripper.” says Farkouh.

“This is a groundbreaking process. Once we establish there’s a market then it makes that much easier to later go to a private developer.”

Scientists from the Elliot Lake field research station conducted an extensive environmental impact study, testing water, soil and studying wildlife on 41 area lakes to determine how much development is permissible without harming water quality and fish habitat. They have short-listed the field for

development down to 10 lakes.

“The Ministry of Natural Resources has learned a lot from this process and they’re strong proponents and are looking forward to the end results,” says Farkouh.

Though the actual transfer of the Crown lots to the city is expected shortly, all the surveying work and land registration has been completed.

The commission was expected to table their entire business plan before Elliot Lake city council on May 26 to purchase the Crown lots for an undisclosed price and re-sell it.

Elliot Lake has made its mark nationally as a retirement community after having to re-invent itself with the shutdown of the uranium mines in the 1990s.

But convincing residents in a former mining town to change their mindset and accept development from within by building upon the community’s strength in tourism and retirement living, instead of chasing smokestacks, is a tough sell, says Farkouh.