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Company pitching business park beside airport

CLEARVIEW TWP. – A Woodbridge-based company has amassed more than 260 acres beside the municipal airport with plans for a multi-million-dollar ‘aviation business park’.

However, while CACC Holding Inc. representatives say they’ve spent about $3 million already – with another several million needed to get through the process of rezoning and servicing the land – there’s no clear sense of what kind of businesses could be attracted to the site.

One of the principals, Remo Niceforo, says there are a range of business opportunities that would be aviation-related, such as hangar development, maintenance, or flight schools.

“There are many positives, but it’s not without its challenges,” Niceforo told a group of 40 neighbours who had been invited to an open house held in the hangar of Genesis Flight Centre, Wednesday night.

Those challenges include wpd Canada’s proposal to erect several wind turbines in the vicinity of the Collingwood Regional Municipal Airport, to which Niceforo said he and his partners are prepared to “petition the provincial government” to put a stop to the project.

“I don’t want to use the word showstopper, but I would say it’s probably in that vicinity. I suspect anybody considering any kind of investment in aviation – that would be a showstopper,” he told reporters after his presentation. “When you start to do that, it would put the brakes on for a lot of companies, so we’re definitely opposed to that.

“The towns do not want those turbines. Part of the decision-making process was the support to (oppose) them.”

Niceforo also held out the possibility of re-establishing short line rail service, depending on what types of businesses are attracted to locate in the zone; the municipally-owned rail line, which was shut down two years ago because of the operational costs, runs along the eastern boundary of the property.

“We don’t have any approvals or commitments on that, but we believe with the right user, that rail line would become active again,” he said.

The impending closure of Buttonville Airport could also benefit the local facility, said Niceforo. He also pointed out the expense of parking a corporate jet at Pearson, and that Collingwood could be a viable option.

The group still needs to jump through municipal planning hoops, and perhaps the skepticism of neighbours – some of whom were left wondering exactly how the site will ultimately be used, and how that will impact their own properties. One woman questioned whether a hotel or casino was in the works – reflecting a rumour that’s been circulating in the community the last couple of weeks.

Niceforo and government relations consultant Paul Bonwick – one of several local consultants brought in on the project, including CC Tatham and Associates, environmental and land development consultants Hensel Design, and Barrie-based planning consultant Kris Menzies of MHBC Planning – were quick to nip that suggestion in the bud, however.

“Not on the drawing board,” Bonwick assured the crowd, which included several local municipal politicians, and pilots who fly out of the facility.

Randy Allen, whose property adjoins the proposed development, had questions about whether the industrial uses could be expected to operate 24 hours a day, and what kind of traffic could be generated.

After the meeting, Allen said the lack of answers had him concerned.

“It’s very vague; they say they’ll sell to anybody, they’ll lease to anybody, and yet they say it will be all controlled and they’ll be in control of everything,” he told reporters. “I’m concerned about traffic – our roadways aren’t properly designed and there’s no mention of how much traffic they’re expecting. There’s just a lot of things, and their answer to everything is that it’s too early… they have a plan down the road for what they expect and what they want, and they’re answer to us is it’s too early.

“To me, that’s running me around a bit. What you expect your business to be, you’re not going to invest $3 million without thinking (what kind of industry they’ll pursue), he said. “I understand what they’re doing because of the rumour mill, but they should still have some kind of answers of what they expect – do they expect 20 more business, do they expect 100 more trucks a month, what do they expect, what do they foresee?

“For them to just leave it open-ended is kind of not right to me.”

Niceforo said while his company couldn’t provide many answers to what type of businesses could be established on the property, it was important to meet with the neighbours as soon as possible in an effort to be up-front.

“For our group it’s important that we create an environment of working together with the community,” he said. “What we don’t want to achieve is an environment that’s hostile, or (people feeling) of being kept in the dark about the going’s on of this development.

“One of the reasons we did this so early because we anticipated that when we finished putting the properties together that would start to happen fairly quickly. Our intention is that (the company website) would stay very current with the process and the going’s on so the public would be very involved and up to speed with what’s happening.”

Nicefore said he and his partners decided on the local airport because of its location as a resort area, and the ability to extend the existing 5,000-foot-long runway.

“Collingwood has such a wonderful reputation,” he said. “It’s a beautiful area and I think it’s a great opportunity for Collingwood. It’s a unique opportunity because it’s not the kind of project that can be done in very many places in our country.”

Niceforo said they haven’t had any expressions of interest from potential tenants, nor have any efforts been made to approach businesses that may want to locate on the site.

“To be quite frank, we want to be quite clear about how we are going to position ourselves and we want to see what kind of support there is, or what the vision is, from the surrounding municipalities,” he said. “We don’t want to market or position the (site) in the wrong way, because then sometimes it could take you years to undo what you’ve done. Before we go to market, our intention is to really understand what we have here, the best uses, and what the attraction is and to whom, and then market it accordingly.

“We bought it with the understand that, though we don’t have (planning) approval, there’s support to advance the project and get it rezoned. We think that the potential use is all over the board.”