Sideroad 16 at Concession 12 is in the heart of Meaford's agricultural community. Its rolling hills and lush farmland, along with glimpses of the Bighead River, provide a tranquil setting; a stark contrast from the hustle and bustle of large urban areas. Though tranquil it may be, a storm has been brewing, as a number of area residents stand in opposition to the development of a proposed luxury 'glamping' (glamorous camping) operation to be located on Sideroad 16. They are calling on council to reject a requested zoning amendment that would allow the project to move forward.
Topping a long list of concerns expressed by neighbouring residents are fears that Back Forty Glamping, with its proposed eight geodesic domes nestled among the trees on the heavily wooded 25-acre property, will bring increased traffic, along with noise and light pollution to the quiet rural area.
“The proposed property will be right next door to us. We moved up here for peace and quiet two years ago from the city,” neighbouring resident Lyle Hamilton told The Independent during an interview with a half dozen of the roughly 60 area residents who have expressed opposition to the proposed facility.
Bren Silk, owner of a nearby property on the 16 Sideroad suggests that the proposed glamping operation simply doesn't fit in their agricultural neighbourhood.
“Eight glass domes? Imagine looking out to that field and we see eight glass domes,” Silk offered. “How does that fit in? If they wanted to put two wooden huts in the back, we wouldn't have much to say. But eight glass domes?”
While the early plans included five geodesic domes along with seven A-frame structures, the most recent revisions have eliminated the A-frame structures and increased the number of geodesic domes to eight.
In an April 2 letter to Meaford's planning department, the proponent's consultant, Georgian Planning Solutions, noted the revisions to the site plan.
“The site plan has evolved since the original submission and in consideration of agency and neighbour comments the initial proposal has been modified. The proponent has removed the 7 A-frame structures and the communal washroom and kitchen facility and added 3 additional geodesic domes on the property, which totals 8 units on the property, a reduction from the 12 units initially proposed.”
A public planning meeting in December saw some 60 concerned residents attend council to express their opposition to the proposed glamping operation, and proponent Scott McIntosh told The Independent that he and his partners in the proposed business have endeavoured to address the concerns expressed by his neighbours.
“We have heard and listened to concerns and worked to explain how we will address these in the best ways we can. These include earlier than bylaw-required quiet times (10 p.m. versus the municipal 11 p.m. noise bylaw) and noise dosimeters to show guests their noise level. We live on site and as parents of young children we will not be promoting or allowing an accommodation business that has an unsafe culture. We will establish a culture of quiet safe getaways,” McIntosh explained. “There are a number of businesses that Meaford proudly is home to that fit well within an agricultural community. Some examples include the vast amount of orchards, many with on-site farm stores. Wineries and cideries throughout the municipality welcome visitors and guests in large numbers. These exist and thrive alongside, and are heavily involved in agricultural community living. What is lacking in these areas is accommodations that allow guests to stay and experience the agricultural community. The glamping model proposed encourages respectful interactions between visitors and residents. Further, a glamping accommodation has far less environmental impact than many traditional accommodation options.”
McIntosh's neighbours disagree.
“It doesn't blend in,” Silk suggested. “Do it downtown. Put a hundred glass domes downtown and nobody will care, but it's right in the middle of farmland.”
Neighbour Gordon Price expressed concern about traffic safety and the access to the property. He suggests that the entrance to the property, which is part way up a hill when turning from Concession 12, would be dangerous if there were frequent travel in and out of the access.
“How fast are people going to be coming up that hill, and how many people will be turning in and out?” Price asked. “How many accidents are we going to have?”
Price suggested that if the project is to move forward, the municipality should consider a reconstruction of the sideroad in order to level it which he suggests would reduce the potential for incidents.
The neighbours balk at the suggestion that the proposed site could help with Meaford's lack of accommodation options, and contribute to the local economy.
“I don't think anybody really sees the value to the town either in this proposal. It's not like there's going to be any extra benefit financially to the town. The only people who are going to benefit from it are the people who are proposing it,” Hamilton suggested.
Bren Silk agrees, and suggests that little will be gained by the community at large if the zoning amendment is approved by council.
“I understand that it sounds like a good idea,” said Silk. “People can get out of the city, and go fishing and go for a hike, I get that it sounds like a good idea, but what is going to benefit our community? Employment is not going to increase at all. People are going to bring their own food from Toronto, they won't be buying it from Bill's Valu-mart.”
Bren's wife Megan fears for the safety of her children with increased traffic in their quiet area. “I'm scared,” she said, suggesting that she would be reluctant to let her children collect the mail from their roadside mailbox should the glamping operation come to fruition.
The proponent told The Independent that they appreciate the input from neighbours, but feel that many of the concerns expressed have already been addressed, or will be as the project moves forward.
“Our thoughts around the concerns of the neighbours are that we appreciate moving into a community that is actively engaged,” McIntosh said. “We strongly feel that time will easily show many of their concerns to be addressed. There is nothing wrong with asking what if, however the what ifs of the world must be tested.”
McIntosh is convinced that the addition of a luxury glamping accommodation option will be good for the community and its economy.
“Having more options for visitors to stay, and indeed attract visitors due to the uniqueness of a glamping style of accommodation, encourages the economic growth of Meaford. Meaford and Grey County’s own studies show this,” he said. “We have already been in touch with a number of small businesses who are eager to partner with us, such as local wineries, yoga classes, and kayak tours. On an even more neighbourly note, there are businesses on our road that will benefit from people staying close by and purchasing from these agribusinesses, such as a small scale organic farm. We have even spoken to a neighbour intending to open up a business to coincide with our glamping with hopes to gain customers from our launch.”
Collectively the neighbouring residents suggest that the proposed operation would not result in any significant increase in business for local stores and restaurants.
“The economic jewel is by the water. If you want to develop and you want to bring money into the area, that's where people want to go, they want to go to the water,” Lyle Hamilton suggested. “They want to walk to the harbour, they want to sit by the water, and they can't do that in the city. What are they going to do out here? What are they going to look at? Nothing.”
McIntosh asks if a glamping business does not fit Meaford's vision, what does?
“At the end of the day if the Municipality decides that a small scale, family run, luxury glamping business does not fit their vision, my question for you would be what does? What will fill the need for overnight places to stay for the municipality's desired tourists? Is it a chain hotel at the waterfront or more 'illegal' Airbnbs in people's backyards, or an RV and tent campground? Grey County's need for more overnight accommodation businesses is no secret (Grey County Tourism, Destination and Development Action Plan, pg. 1) and without the willingness to try something new, like glamping, which doesn’t quite fit inside the normal model, the area may never find a business plan and willing entrepreneurs that quite 'fits' just right,” offered McIntosh.
McIntosh also pointed to other areas in the province that have embraced agricultural tourism.
“Our explanation of a quiet glamping business seems unbelievable to people, however our model and our goal is inspired and based off glamping businesses around the world, which we are in regular correspondence with as they have worked to mentor us, that are thriving in agricultural communities with the exact atmosphere and culture we are describing,” McIntosh said. “Take Whispering Springs in Eastern Ontario or establishments in Prince Edward County are excellent examples of agricultural tourism working directly alongside many other facets of the agricultural community. In addition there currently is a local glamping bell tent located a couple sideroads away from our location with the same culture we are promoting, and it does not have the problems many residents are convinced will exist here. There is no reason to believe the same cannot be replicated here, and that Meaford cannot also be a proud host to another excellent accommodations option for Grey County agri-tourism.”
The request for the zoning amendment is expected to be brought before Council at their July 13 meeting, and neighbouring residents are calling on council to reject it.
Silk suggested that should council approve the requested zoning amendment, the issues will linger.
“Even if it goes through, we're not just going to pretend like it didn't happen, it's going to be a constant struggle, it's going to be a constant thorn in our side,” Silk said. “I'm not just going to let it happen. This is going to be a constant, nagging issue.”
Photo (L to R): Neighbouring property owners Gordon Price, Lyle Hamilton, Megan Silk, Lori Adams, and Bren Silk along with several of their neighbours are opposed to the proposed glamping operation on Sideroad 16, and they are calling on council to reject the requested zoning amendment that would allow it to be realized.