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Town of Oakville has spent $5.3 million on Glen Abbey fight so far

Toronto Star logo Toronto Star 2018-09-18 David Lea - Oakville Beaver
a group of people on a field: Town of Oakville has spent $5.3 million on Glen Abbey fight so far © Provided by Toronto Star Newspapers Limited Town of Oakville has spent $5.3 million on Glen Abbey fight so far

The Town of Oakville has so far spent approximately $5.3 million on consultants and lawyers in its fight to preserve the Glen Abbey Golf Club, according to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by a local resident.

The town has been engaged in a fight with Glen Abbey Golf Club owner ClubLink since the organization announced plans to build 3,222 residential units at the site, including nine apartment buildings between nine and 12 storeys.

The company also wants to build 69,000 square feet of commercial/retail space and 107,000 square feet of office space at the site.

The amount revealed in the freedom of information request covers a period from 2015 to July 9, 2018 and includes consultants and legal costs related to:

  •  The creation of the 2016 Interim Control Bylaw (and the extension) for the Glen Abbey property and appeals to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).
  •  ClubLink’s applications for the redevelopment of the Glen Abbey property and the appeals to the OMB.
  •  The identification of the Glen Abbey property as a significant cultural heritage landscape in 2017.
  •  The designation of the Glen Abbey property under the Ontario Heritage Act in 2017.
  •  The town’s Cultural Heritage Landscape Conservation Plan and bylaw for the Glen Abbey property and the related court application by ClubLink.
  •  ClubLink’s application under the Ontario Heritage Act to remove the golf course, and the related court applications by the town.

The corporate law firm Goodmans LLP alone got $1.2 million from the town in 2017 while the law firm Gowling WLG (Canada) LLP got $1.7 million in 2017.

Jill Gowland has been following the progress of the Glen Abbey fight and says she became concerned about the price tag of this endeavour, which she noted has no real end in sight.

Gowland filed the Freedom of Information request in July and soon had the answer to her financial question.

“I was pretty shocked,” she said. “I knew it would be high. I would have guessed maybe $2 million, but when I saw it was more than $4 million just for lawyers I thought, ‘What a waste.’ ”

Gowland argues that is a lot of money to spend, particularly when the outcome is uncertain.

She also takes issue with the town attempting to force ClubLink to maintain a golf course at the site when they do not want to.

“The town has a duty to work with their good citizens and to help plan communities, not hinder them,” she said. “I’ve looked at the basic plan and I think there is a lot the town can advise ClubLink on rather than spend $5 million.”

According to the town’s director of strategy policy and communications Jane Courtemanche, the scope of the Glen Abbey file’s legal and planning costs is comparable to other significant applications that sought to change the fabric of the community, such as the North Oakville Secondary Plan.

The internal staffing costs, however, were not immediately available. But Courtemanche said the work associated with Glen Abbey was assigned to existing staff, supported by the work done by the external consultants.

“There were no additional staff costs,” she said.

Oakville Mayor Rob Burton said the cost of saving Glen Abbey will be comparable to saving green space and limiting growth to what fit in north Oakville.

He argued the fight is about more than just a golf course.

“If this fight isn’t worth winning, there’s no point in having official plans for land use rules to protect our established neighbourhoods from inappropriate development,” said Burton.

“If they can bust our growth-controlling, neighbourhood-protecting official plan at Glen Abbey, our official plan can be busted on any street. Battles like this are the reason why I’ve supported maintaining a strong legal defence reserve for the town so we can afford to defend our town.”

The Save Glen Abbey Coalition also weighed in on the $5.3-million figure spent in defence of the golf club.

“We feel Glen Abbey must be preserved for future generations. It’s part of Oakville’s and Ontario’s history and we hear from residents that they’re happy with the current zoning of the land as green space and heritage lands,” said Bill McKinlay, spokesperson for the residents’ group.

“Save Glen Abbey is glad the council is taking a stand and making the investment to save it.”

Mayoral candidate Julia Hanna said saving Glen Abbey is not a partisan issue, but rather an Oakville issue.

“I am committed to saving Glen Abbey. I’m not privy to the legal opinions that the town has received. I expect that the town has canvassed all options available and that they are pursuing the course most likely to succeed,” she said.

“Any appeal to the legal system is inherently uncertain and expensive. As mayor, I’m committed to saving Glen Abbey and if legal action fails, I will rally community support to gain the attention of the premier to this issue.”

Mayoral candidate John McLaughlin called the amount of money going toward legal fees in the Glen Abbey matter unacceptable and a waste of money.

He argued a different legal strategy involving fewer lawyers could have been (and can still be) undertaken, which would have cost a lot less.

Using in-house legal council instead of outside law firms would also reduce legal costs by 500 per cent, he said.

McLaughlin called for the town to be more transparent with regard to what it is doing to protect Glen Abbey and said that if elected he would work to ensure Glen Abbey Golf Club does not suffer the same fate as the Saw-Whet Golf Course, a parcel of Bronte Road land that is being redeveloped to make way for a subdivision.

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