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'We're not taking a side,' mayor says of Burl's Creek issue

By Roberta Bell, Orillia Packet & Times

Burl's Creek in Oro-Medonte Township. MARK WANZEL PHOTO

Burl's Creek in Oro-Medonte Township. MARK WANZEL PHOTO

Orillia city council is throwing its support behind Oro-Medonte Township as it navigates the controversy around events planned for Burl's Creek Event Grounds this summer.

Mayor Steve Clarke, who will be writing a letter to Oro-Medonte on behalf of Orillia, said he's conscientious of the sensitive nature of the matter.

"We're not taking a side," Clarke said.

What he hopes to convey is Orillia is in support of the economic benefit events like the two multi-day music festivals slated for the summer will bring to the region.

During Monday night's council meeting, Coun. Ralph Cipolla introduced a notice of motion to authorize the mayor's office to send a letter to the township in support of Burl's Creek Event Grounds and the events it has planned for its property off lines 7, 8 and 9.

"I was approached by a member of Oro council and they're trying to get this through ..." Cipolla said during the meeting.

Tuesday, Cipolla said that wasn't entirely accurate.

"It was an error last night," he said. "It was an ex-councillor and a resident of Oro."

Township spokesperson Samah Othman confirmed the same.

Former Ward 5 councillor Dwight Evans and Cipolla both confirmed they had been speaking, Othman said.

She said Oro-Medonte is not trying to rally support as it deals with the Burl's Creek file.

"We're not aware of anything like that, at all," she said.

During Monday night's Orillia council meeting, Coun. Ted Emond noted residents in the township have been questioning the "validity" of some of the planned events.

Some residents have pointed out the township's official plan specifically states rock-music festivals aren't allowed on the grounds. They've raised questions around Burl's Creek's application for a temporary-use permit, which has not yet been approved.

The genre of one of the two large music festivals coming in July has been a topic of debate and the township confirmed earlier this month it sent back a temporary-use application, asking for more information.

"I'm just wondering if it's appropriate for the city to dabble in a township's political issues. I'm not sure I'd want the township dabbling in ours," Emond said.

He thinks there are "things" the city could do to help Oro-Medonte alleviate some of the stressors on its infrastructure that will come with large influxes of people.

"In terms of our moving forward, to say that we're supporting a position where there is controversy, and obviously a large group of people that is opposed, I just question it a little bit," Emond said.

Coun. Rob Kloostra supports the idea of the letter, but he echoed Emond's call to phrase it in a way that suggests what Orillia supports is the benefit to the region the influx of tourists will bring.

Jennifer Whitley, marketing manager with Ontario's Lake Country, said Tuesday she'd also been in touch with Cipolla as well as local tourism organizations, like the one she works for.

"We're here to help support tourism and grow visitation to the region. That's our mandate," she said.

She said she understands where concerned Oro-Medonte residents "are coming from," but that "the tourism impact to the region is huge."

A production team with one of the summer's music festivals has booked rooms at an Orillia hotel for six weeks, Whitley said.

"They'll be going out to restaurants, using the gas stations. It's just a complete ripple effect into the economy in the region," she said.

Cipolla said Tuesday he would have put forward the notice of motion regardless of whether any individual or organization reached out to him.

He said he believes the economic future of the region lies in tourism.

"It's just a no-brainer, really," he said.

"Tourism is an economic booster for our area."

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