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Residents pack school gym for meeting about changes to Burl’s Creek

By Roberta Bell, Orillia Packet & Times

Save Oro member Ann Honeywood speaks Thursday during a public meeting at Guthrie Public School.

ROBERTA BELL/THE PACKET & TIMES Save Oro member Ann Honeywood speaks Thursday during a public meeting at Guthrie Public School.

A group of residents who live near the soon-to-be-expanded Burl’s Creek event park want to “save Oro” and aren’t going to give up without a fight.

That was the consensus at a public meeting hosted by the group, which goes by the same name, and its supporters Thursday night at Guthrie Public School.

“They have no idea what’s coming,” Al Sinclair, a member of Save Oro, said to the people who packed the gymnasium at the small Line 5 school — it was standing room only — of referring to Oro-Medonte Township council members. “We know what’s going on and we don’t want it.”

During the meeting, audience members repeatedly raised concerns about the process by which Burl’s Creek is growing.

Stan Dunford bought the 350-acre Line 8 property off Highway 11 from Don Hanney in the fall. Since then, he has added 350 adjacent acres to it, including the former Barrie Speedway.

This summer, the now-700-acre Burl’s Creek will host two large camping and music festivals: WayHome July 24 to 26 and Boots and Hearts Aug. 6 to 10.

WayHome is expected to draw 35,000 people and Boots and Hearts, 40,000, though a spokesperson for the park said it can now handle up to 80,000.

Ryan Howes, vice-president of venue operations for Burl’s Creek, previously told The Packet & Times  he had contacted the group and offered to attend the meeting to speak to any concerns and “clarify ... misinformation that has been in the media.”

Howes, who was unavailable for comment Friday, said before the meeting he was told he was welcome to attend, but not welcome to speak.

Boots and Hearts was held in 2014 in Clarington in Durham Region.

“Why are they leaving Clarington?” asked a woman from the audience.

Neighbours near the event ground complained about the disturbances it caused, responded Save Oro's Wendy MacKay, as photos from the event of litter, fireworks and rows of campers passed by on the overhead projector behind her.

Burl’s Creek was originally zoned in 1994. Its uses include agricultural fairs, antique shows, an automotive flea market, country festivals, vehicle shows, highland games, auctions and craft and hobby shows.

“How can the high-density camping be held without rezoning? It can’t,” said MacKay, repeating the text on a slide behind her.

In July 2014, when Hanney still owned Burl’s Creek, council approved a 15-month temporary-use bylaw for portions of it that allows more parking and camping spots in 2015.

For the past few months, Wayne Lintak said he has been emailing township staff (and copying council members) about construction work at Burl’s Creek, questioning whether it’s in accordance with the Oro-Medonte’s bylaws and municipal code.

He said many of his emails have gone unanswered and the responses he got “dodged questions.”

In January, Howes told The Packet & Times crews were on the property, putting in some additional roadways and “enhancing some areas.”

Howes said then: “Currently, no additional infrastructure is going to be needed.”

Last week, a new temporary-use application was filed by consultants on behalf of the new ownership for parts of the expanded venue not included originally.

A mandatory public meeting will be called as early as April to discuss the application. After that meeting, township staff will report with a recommendation to council, which will make a decision. Anyone dissatisfied by the outcome can appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board.

A press release sent by the township Feb. 12 said since a formal planning application had been filed, “council is not in a position to provide opinions or render decisions until input from the public and agencies, which may be submitted during the consultation process, has been received and considered.”

Ward 2 Coun. Scott MacPherson attended Thursday night’s meeting. He was the only council member there.

“I came here to listen,” said MacPherson, noting he was not there on behalf of council.

He said what he heard during the meeting was “valuable” and spoke briefly to the unanswered emails Lintak brought up.

“We can’t possibly respond to all of these emails. I hope you understand that,” MacPherson said. “We read them.”

Sinclair said a big issue is the volume of traffic the large music festivals will bring with them.

There is room for about 1.7 miles of traffic backup before Highway 11 and its nearby overpasses plug, he said, noting the festivals will likely cause between 4.4 and 8.8 miles of traffic backup.

“Either way, we, as citizens ... won’t be able to move,” Sinclair said.

A woman in the audience who lives on Ridge Road said a few years ago, when there was a large, one-night concert at Burl’s Creek, a carful of young adults pulled up to her house.

She said they asked to pay to park in her driveway. She said she had to explain the park was kilometres away and they would have to walk there in the dark.

A man who also lives on Ridge Road said he remembered that concert. It was The Tragically Hip.

He said during it, he was trapped in his home for hours.

“We just don’t have to support this,” Sinclair said. “Essentially, we’re going to be prisoners in our houses all weekend and it’s not fair.”

Ann Honeywood, also a member of Save Oro, is a nurse. She travels around the community, moving between patients, administering cancer treatments and tending to those nearing end of life.

She said she’s worried about emergency-service access if and when traffic volume skyrockets near the event park.

“When it comes to stroke and heart attack, time is of an essence,” Honeywood said.

Area resident Jackie O’Reilly Dupuis said she attended Guthrie Public School as a child. Harry Hughes, now the mayor of Oro-Medonte, was the principal.

She said she believed then he would protect her. She said she believed the same thing when he was elected mayor.

Hughes declared a conflict of interest when it comes to items before council pertaining to Burl’s Creek. His grandson, who lives with him, was employed by former owner Hanney and some of the events Hanney held at the park are expected to continue in summer 2015.

“He left on the first lifeboat ...” O’Reilly Dupuis said of Hughes, comparing him to a captain of a sinking ship.

“Our council has left us to cross our fingers and hope all is all right,” she said.

— With files from Patrick Bales

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