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Cottage country moves north.

The 2001 Statistics Canada census was not kind to Parry Sound.

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This community of 6,500 experienced a three-per-cent population dip from 1996, but that dire statistic hasn't deterred some new residential and commercial developments from springing up.

Vacationers who've enjoyed the area for years are returning to scope out the place for more permanent future retirement homes. And the retail sector is joining in.

Those fond memories of summer's past at the cottage are luring southern Ontarians nearing retirement age to the North for their golden years, says Iain Laing, Parry Sound's director of community development.

Available lakefront properties in neighbouring townships are fast disappearing, but some in-town residential developments overlooking Georgian Bay offer views that are just as good as being on the water.

Laing is optimistic, but reluctant to categorize the slew of residential and commercial development proposals on the town's planning books as a bona fide building boom since the municipality hasn't received or issued any building permits on many of them.

Last year, there were only 14 new home starts worth $2.48 million, and only four started through the first four months of 2006.

"Don't bother looking at the numbers," says Laing. "They don't tell a very representative story about what's going on. We've got so many proposals out there and quite a few are coming to fruition that it's looking pretty good."

Hall Construction, a local contractor, is collaborating with Tamarack North, a Port Carling home builder, and Orrville's Benchmark Construction to build the Thunder Creek subdivision on Winnifred Street behind Parry Sound's high school.

The first phase of 20 lots is off and running with three model homes priced in the $259,000 to $359,000 range already built. A second phase of 30 more lots remains on the drawing board.

Local developer Fritz Distler is overseeing the first phase of Prospect Point, an eventual 27-unit subdivision on Waubeek Street with 12 lots offering elevated views of the bay. Located near the Canadian Coast Guard base, the project features custom-built homes. The engineering details were being worked out in May with a subdivision agreement expected to be in place in June to extend streets and services.

Parry Sound Marine owner Rudy Krist wants to build a 10-townhouse subdivision next to his marina at the mouth of the Seguin River. The town has granted draft plan approval, says Laing, with the landowner examining the market and crunching the numbers to see if the development will pay for itself.

Jim Sturino, a well-known commercial developer from Toronto, is driving an upscale 57-unit condo development on a high piece of ground on Great North Road overlooking the harbour.

Fledgling developer Andre Visnapuu has a grassroots proposal for a concept of a mixed housing and commercial development on the former Imperial Oil property on the waterfront.

The former West Parry Sound Health Centre is being renovated into apartments, including 20 affordable rental units plus another 30 units. Brantford's G. K. York Management bought the hospital last year for $550,000.

In cottage country, the Parry Sound area has always had its share of wealthy and established cottagers, including the Eaton family, gold magnate Peter Munk and novelist John Irving.

But the priced-out Muskoka market has the 40 and 50-somethings looking for more reasonably priced permanent and recreational properties.

In Carling Township, a proposed 10-lot subdivision known as Deep Bay Estates was awaiting municipal approval. The new owners of a farm property put their Georgian Bay shoreline up for sale. Prices range between $240,000 and $300,000.

"It's basically supply and demand," says Parry Sound and Deep Bay Estates realtor Mike Gerhardt. "It's mostly business people from southern Ontario who want to build their retirement home or year-round cottage."

With few waterfront lots left, many newcomers are either demolishing the cabins to build new or are making additions and renovations. But the township is determined to keep excessive cottage development in check.

A new zoning bylaw established in 2004 restricts cottage size based on lot acreage, leaving most buildings averaging between 2,000 to 3,000 square feet. New boathouses are not permitted.

"There's still a big demand for lots," says Gerhardt. "People don't necessarily want an existing cottage and renovate it, they want their own dream cottage built. And that's becoming rare because it's so hard to get a development approved."

On the commercial side, Parry Sound is establishing itself as a regional shopping hub.

Canadian Tire is adding 18,000 square feet and is expected to start construction this summer at their new location on old Highway 69.

New tenants for the Wal-Mart shopping complex on Pine Drive are in the works. An expansion will add 122,000 square feet of new development including 50,000 square feet each for a grocery and building supply store with other retail outlets.

No building permits were issued for the second phase, but the developers, Oastler Park Plaza Inc., are expected to submit their site plan application shortly.

In May, the ribbon was cut on a new 64-room Microtel Inn and Suites near the Bowes Street-Highway 69 interchange. It's the international budget and economy hotel chain's first Canadian property.

Nearby, a 28,000-square-foot combination Shoppers Drug Mart, medical clinic and doctor's offices complex are in the final stages of approval.

By IAN ROSS

Northern Ontario Business
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Title Annotation:Parry Sound
Author:Ross, Ian
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Geographic Code:1CONT
Date:Aug 1, 2006
Words:891
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