Intervenor: Vol. 25 no. 2 April - June 2000

Cabinet Rejects Winery Resort Near Vineland

Approximately two years ago, the Canadian Environmental Law Association represented the Coalition on the Niagara Escarpment (CONE) at a Niagara Escarpment Plan Amendment hearing. The hearing involved a proposal by Niagara Land Company to build a winery resort on its 90 acre farm property at the edge of the Niagara Escarpment forest near Vineland on the Niagara Peninsula. (See Intervenor v.23 no.4)

The winery resort was to consist of a winery, a culinary centre (which included a lecture theatre, teaching kitchen and restaurant for 120 guests and an associated green house) as well as 56 guest cottages.

The Niagara Escarpment Commission, the provincial agency charged with implementing the Niagara Escarpment Plan, had favoured the entire development as a amendment to the Plan.

At the hearing, our client, CONE, was the only party objecting to the proposed development. CONE was not opposed to the development of the winery or the restaurant as both these uses are currently permitted under the Niagara Escarpment Plan. CONE, however, strenuously opposed the culinary centre and the 56 guest cottages.

In a 1998 report, hearing officers Carl Dombek (chair of the Environmental Assessment and Appeal Board) and Pauline Browes ( a Vice-Chair) recommended approval of the development with conditions. CONE did not give up but instead, conducted extensive advocacy work to raise its concerns about the proposal, including:

  • distributing widely an "Action Alert" that involved a letter-writing campaign to express concerns to MPPs, the Minister of Natural Resources and the Premier;
  • obtaining media profile about the case, including an op-ed story that ran in half a dozen daily papers; and
  • meeting with MNR staff to explain CONE's position and with several government MPPs.

CONE's role in this case obviously had impact. On June 19, 2000, the Ontario Cabinet passed an Order-in-Council rejecting the entire proposed development. The following is an extract of portions of CONE's media release on this case.

"CONE sees Cabinet's decision as a major victory in the campaign we led to protect this part of the Niagara Escarpment," said CONE President Bruce Mackenzie. "The guest cottages were virtually equivalent to a residential subdivision, a land use not permitted in the Escarpment Protection Area zone within the Niagara Escarpment Plan. The sheer size of the cottage and culinary centre developments would have been far beyond what the Plan envisages as suitable land uses accessory to a grape-growing operation."

Mackenzie added: "One of our primary concerns had been that if Cabinet had approved the guest cottages-which would have housed over 100 people year-round-it would have set a disturbing precedent for resort development in agricultural areas all along the Niagara Escarpment from Niagara Falls to Tobermory, jeopardizing farmlands and adjacent natural areas. The Escarpment plan seeks to direct resort developments to urban areas and to the Escarpment Recreation Area zone. We're thrilled that the Cabinet has seen fit not to set a negative precedent."

Ramani Nadarajah is a lawyer at CELA, Linda Pim is a CONE board member