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Bobcaygeon’s Building Boom & What Holds Fenelon Falls Back – 1988

November 26, 2023

Port 32 From the Air, 2023

By Monique Labelle

Originally Published in the North Kawartha Times, June 30, 1988

Real Estate developer Gord Weymouth made a bet. He told a friend who works for Petro Canada that if he could find one street in Bobcaygeon where there was no construction, renovation, rebuilding or major fix-up going on, he would buy lunch. After a drive through town, Mr. Weymouth enjoyed lunch, at his friend’s expense. Bobcaygeon is presently undergoing a building boom, and new structures are going up everywhere.

Fred Reynolds is involved in a project called Port 32: 376 residential homes, two blocks for condominiums with 75 to 80 units each have had draft approval.

Paul Pankhurst and Gerry Waterman are busy with their new housing development called Bobcaygeon Heights, on Russell Hill Road. Thirty-eight houses have been approved, and the second phase, another 38 is in the works. Mr. Pankhurst’s new development, Regency Point, is almost completed with 28 condominiums.  Gord Weymouth and Reg Dewhurst are building 33 residential homes and 12 duplexes on Riverside Drive. Future plans involve 130 residential homes, 34 duplexes and 102 apartment units.

Ken Dowland of Kenland Sales has had draft approval for 69 homes. Robert Long is in the process of having a 118 house project approved. If you add these figures, this represents 1,128 new dwelling units. These numbers only include the bigger entrepreneurs in the area. Other, smaller local businessmen are also building. And most of those involved in the construction of new homes also have commercial establishments on the rise.

Bobcaygeon has a population of 1,800. The building boom started about 13 years ago. Now, the Ministry of Environment says the population should double within the next five years—which coincides with the number of new residences which will be completed shortly.

Most new homes are not selling cheap. Mr. Pankhurst, who’s in his early 40s, explains that he is catering to the ‘people with a middle-high income who want the nicer things…. Who will pay the extra money.” Some of his units in Regency Point sell for $300,000. He says he had no trouble selling, with the most expensive units being swallowed first. He has only five units still on the market. He builds his condominiums to attract the retirement populations. ‘But it’s not the way it’s been. Every market possible is moving in here. Most of the people buying the condominiums are planning their retirement. Actually, it seems everyone is planning their retirement.”

He says more and more, people plan as early as six to eight years away. He says he’s sold 75 percent of his sub-divisions to this type of individual. People are moving from big cities to Bobcaygeon, where they money goes a longer way. “They sell their house that was worth $300,000 in Toronto, and buy one here for $150,000. That’s quite a profit.

Pankhurst explains there are four stages in the retirement process, when thinking in terms of development. The first is the early stage, when people just leave their work, and want ‘lots of ground to keep them occupied.’ The second is when “people say, ‘let’s go golfing,’ … that’s when they want smaller lawns.” The third is the condo phase, when retirees no longer want to be bothered with the upkeep of their home. The last phase is the nursing home.

Says Pankhurst, “In 12 years from now, the percentage of people retiring will be shocking. So, it’s the largest market coming up.” According to Mr. Pankhurst, Bobcaygeon will be “right on time” to bank in on this goldmine. “It’s all in the timing—it’s got to be absolutely perfect. If we had waited three or four more years, since planning a project takes that much time, we might have missed the market and then most of the projects would have been big flops for the town and the developers.” And the key to Bobcaygeon’s success appears to be the way in which the developers have been working together, almost in harmony. Says Pankhurst, “it’s a chain reaction. By bringing in the retirees, more jobs are created for the younger people, and young people are actually coming up. Look at Gord Weymouth’s homes for an example—they are for younger people. So there’s really not much competition between companies because there are opportunities for everyone.”

Gord Weymouth, 50, agrees. “I feel we really compliment each other.” Mr. Weymouth’s houses sell for $110,000 to $160,000. “We gear our houses towards the average man’s income level.” He says much planning is involved to “provide a house with a nice lifestyle without the costly features that increase the price dramatically.” His concept follows that houses should blend in with the natural setting. All designs on his lots are houses, “which aren’t all brick… there is a mixture of brick, natural cedar and siding.” His houses are selling well, part of the reason being that people want to live in Bobcaygeon. And the fact that there’s selling like hot-cakes helps explain why so many developers are bringing their business to Bobcaygeon. Says Weymouth, “we have almost a utopia here. We have clean air, a limestone-based lake so there’s no acid rain, no messy, dirty industries, better employment all the time… who wouldn’t want to live here.”

The second reason more developers are coming to Bobcaygeon is the fact that the market has been opened by Fred Reynolds. Says Mr. Pankhurst, “he’s set the path for little developers like me. He’s the pioneer who went out to get the retirement market, rather than the industrial market. What he’s created, I’m continuing.”

The third and probably most important reason developers are selecting Bobcaygeon for their projects is the fact that the Village Council has been very supportive. Says Mr. Weymouth, “Council deserves a lot of credit. We know that when we go into a meeting, we all have the same objective.”

Bobcaygeon’s Reeve, Frank Poole, explains, “when we put in the new water and sewer plant, we put one in that could support 5,000 people. With that capacity and only a population of 1,000, we had to support development. He says not going along with the projects was actually the hard part. “We were aware we had to offset our water and sewer costs that were out of control—actually, our greatest problem was to make sure that we went about the development in an orderly, organized way. It would have been very easy to just let someone in with carte blanche when we needed them so badly.” The Reeve also says he was very concerned with objections from citizens. And there were many. “I can’t think of a development that didn’t have an objection, that we didn’t help to iron out.” Says Mr. Poole, “We tried to be a mediator, to give and take on both sides, and try to get it to go as quick as possible.” Although there were many legitimate objections, Mr. Poole says council did not support “people who objected just for the sake of objecting.”

Mr. Pankhurst says “Council knew the developers were conscientious. That’s why they were behind us, and that solved a lot of problems. When a project is under way, before it is approved, a public meeting must be held. Citizens then have 30 days to make their objections known. Says Mr. Pankhurst, “Anybody can hold it up… for any stupid reason. If they don’t like the colour of the brick, they can complain and go to the Ontario Municipal Board. And then, if we’re lucky, a hearing will be held within the next six months… sometimes it takes up to a year… and then they can appeal it. That’s why you need the town—partly to help wipe out the ridiculous objections.” Says, Mr. Weymouth, “At times the tempers were strained, and there has been a lot of pressure. But there were never recriminations, we always had the same goal in mind.”

Deputy Reeve Cliff White says the building boom will, and already has had a ‘tremendous’ impact on Bobcaygeon. The increase in the numbers of retirees in the village, who were attracted to the new dwellings available, have created a new industry, according to Reeve Frank Poole. “And it doesn’t put stress on the community like other industries. There is not a strain on the services, because they are not large families… we don’t need new schools, because their children are older.” What they are doing is creating more jobs in the area, both in the service and construction industries.

According to Gord Weymouth, when possible, he employs “all local people.” Paul Pankhurst does the same. Cliff White, who is also a real estate agent, says “it amazes me… younger people, who I thought I’d never see living in their own home… well now they do.”

Reeve Poole says the village is moving from a one-of-a-kind business town, to two or more. “This is great for competition, when there’s not just one drug store or hardware store… It’s been a big boom to merchants. Before they used to roll up the sidewalks from September to May. Now they can have a year-long business.” When Fred Reynolds upgraded some stores on the main street, others followed suit. “They’ve upgraded not only their buildings, but also their merchandise.” Taxes have also steadied. Says the Reeve, “the taxes would be much higher if there had not been an increase in assessment.”

In the long run, the Reeve says with an increase in population, there are many more possibilities for Bobcaygeon. He says in a small town, the recreation facilities run at a large deficit. “With the more people we get, the more these facilities come out of the hole…and you get better facilities.” He also says that a town that has more money, can have better firefighting equipment, better repair equipment, better parks. The Reeve also foresees the construction of a hospital, as a possible addition to Bobcaygeon, because of the increasing number of seniors.

Prices in Bobcaygeon have been soaring. According to Mr. White, a property that sold for $36,000 last year is now worth $79,000. “If’s fair to say they’ve almost doubled in price.” However, Mr. White says, “the new developments haven’t impacted prices that much… Mainly, it’s due to the general economy.” And although there are still large areas being developed, Mr. White says “there are not many independent lots left, perhaps three.” Says Reeve Pool, “Council has set the wheels in motion for annexation—and we don’t have a definite idea as yet where we’re going, but we hope we can sit down with the parties concerned and work something soon.”

What Holds Fenelon Falls Back?

Fenelon Falls has three building projects underway. There is a proposal for 18 townhouses on Deane Street. Sixty condominiums are presently being built on Wychwood Cres., and there is another proposal for 23 townhouses, which will be brought before council at the next meeting. Although Reeve Barclay Taylor says, “we were at a standstill, but now we’ve stated to move,” the 101 planned homes show little growth compared to the 1,128 new dwellings in Bobcaygeon.

But what is holding Fenelon Falls back? There is little land left to be developed in the village of Fenelon Falls. A land-use plan done in 1987 by Totten, Sims, Hubicki Associates shows there are only 180 acres of land left to be developed, and a portion of this is not suitable for development. As a basis for comparison, real-estate developer Gord Weymouth alone owns approximately 120 acres of land which he plans to develop in Bobcaygeon. Reeve Taylor says council is now in the first phase of applying for the boundary adjustments. It may take up to five years before land is available. Reeve Taylor admits, “if we could go back 15 years, personally, I think there could have been more forward thinking for zoning and servicing… looking at things earlier would have helped.”

Also, Bobcaygeon has a new water and sewer plant, whereas Fenelon Falls does not. Reeve Taylor explains that the pumping capacity of the plant, as well as the number of lines, have to be increased before more buildings can be constructed. Mr. Weymouth thinks along the same lines. “The key is to have the facility… and then you can’t beat people off with a stick.” Paul Pankhurst suggested what Fenelon Falls needs is another Fred Reynolds: a major developer to come in and open the doors to the smaller ones.

But Reeve Taylor feels what would be really good for the village are “experienced developers and realistic developers… as long as they know what they’re doing, because the building is too sophisticated a process to benefit the community without a professional analysis of the problem.”

Real-estate agent in Fenelon Falls, Ramona Norris, says sales have been mostly of land and cottages. In average, real estate agents might make 36 sales a year, and of those one will be a house in town, 20 will be cottages and the rest land. She finds the clientele coming to Fenelon Falls is also different from Bobcaygeon. Instead of retirees, she’s seeing more young urban professionals from Toronto, who buy a property, but only for recreational purposes. But the problem is not that people won’t buy. Says Mrs. Norris, “if we had condos, houses to sell, we would sell them.”

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