By Jenn Watt
It was a tense 40 minutes in the Dysart et al council chambers Friday afternoon.
Peter Schleifenbaum, owner of Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve, made a special delegation to council on what he clearly feels is unfair treatment by the municipality regarding several of the buildings on his property.
Tempers flared, faces flushed and accusations flew.
It was apparent that the two parties saw the same events in entirely different lights.
Haliburton Forest was recently ordered by the Superior Court of Ontario to remove structures that were erected without permits. Schleifenbaum is appealing that ruling.
One of the buildings in question is the Logging Museum, which Dysart says needed a change of use permit as it hosts concerts during the Forest Festival held each summer. The rest of the year it is storage and Schleifenbaum believes this means a change of use is not necessary.
The court has ordered that until a change of use has been achieved, no concerts can happen in the building. Schleifenbaum has responded to this restriction by choosing to cancel the Forest Festival outright.
If you are unfamiliar with the Forest Festival, it is one of the summer’s best events. World class musicians rock the Bone Lake Amphitheatre and the Logging Museum each year, drawing audiences from the tourist, cottager and full-time populations.
The loss of this festival to the Highlands will be a blow, however, there is little the municipality could do.
Dysart et al must enforce its existing bylaws and it must be seen to do so fairly. Citizens’ confidence in government requires it.
At the same time, Haliburton Forest is a business built on pushing the envelope, Schleifenbaum said. He denies any illegal actions, but says that in order to provide innovative ideas, he must have the flexibility to do so.
In shutting down the Forest Festival, he is demonstrating just what restrictions to his endeavours could look like.
It’s no secret that Schleifenbaum and Dysart et al have had strained relations for many years and this most recent court battle has done little to smooth things over.
The courts will take care of what remedy is needed for the five buildings in the Forest.
The real question will be what follows. For the sake of the Highlands, let’s hope for peace.