The former Clonmel Estate could have a date with the wrecking ball depending on what happens in the weeks ahead.
Owner Lynnee Steffler raised the prospect of demolition after Norfolk council unanimously denied a proposal to build 36 townhouse units in the front yard near the intersection of Prospect Street and Tisdale Road in Port Dover.
Many consider Clonmel the grandest old mansion in Norfolk County. For more than a year, Steffler has been trying to convince the county that she needs to develop the three-acre property to support the ongoing operations of the 12,000-square-foot mansion.
“What do you do with a property like this?” John Ariens of IBI Group, a planning consultant retained by Steffler, said.
“It just can’t be a home for Ms. Steffler. That would be a terrible under-use of this wonderful property.”
Steffler’s pleas hit a dead-end as council voted 9-0 against her proposal on March 26.
Steffler is not finished because she has options.
She said there are deep-pocketed developers on deck who like the property and want to take advantage of the strong residential real estate market in Port Dover.
“If I sell to a developer they may knock Clonmel down and there’s nothing anybody will be able to do about it,” Steffler said. “They will build affordable housing and they won’t give a crap what the neighbours think.”
Another option is taking council’s decision to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal – the successor panel to the former Ontario Municipal Board.
Steffler said LPAT officials are sympathetic to her plan because provincial policy supports infilling in urban areas, seniors housing, and developments which foster a sense of community.
If Steffler appeals, she would approach LPAT with a Norfolk planning staff report that supports her application. She also has a thick file of planning justifications as well as engineering reports and architectural drawings.
The Clonmel proposal was one of two major planning applications at council that proposed changing an R-1 (single-family dwellings) zoning to R-4 (high-density townhouses, condominiums). Council denied both because it thought the proposed housing was too dense and potentially incompatible with the neighbourhood.
In both instances, neighbouring residents were mobilized and vocal in their opposition.
For her part, Port Dover Coun. Amy Martin said there were too many unanswered questions about the impact Steffler’s plan would have on nearby residents and the historic character of the oldest section of the Port Dover settlement.
Steffler said she spent more than $100,000 preparing her proposal for a unanimous denial.
After casting her vote against, Mayor Kristal Chopp said the county must come up with an application process that doesn’t drain the bank accounts of people who want to invest in Norfolk.
Chopp said there has to be a way for people with big ideas to gauge their chances before spending thousands of dollars on consultants, studies, reports and planning fees.
Steffler has had a run of bad luck with Norfolk County since she won a “hotel” designation on Clonmel a few months ago.
The hotel designation was needed so Steffler could operate the mansion as a nine-unit bed-and-breakfast.
Since then, Norfolk’s building department has ordered Steffler to upgrade the electrical system, plumbing and install a sprinkler system as a public-safety measure.
This week, Steffler says a Norfolk bylaw enforcement officer wrote her up for a zoning violation after the county learned that singer-guitar player Felicia McMinn of Port Dover recently recorded a live album at her home.
Steffler said the bylaw officer explained that Clonmel isn’t zoned for use as a recording studio.
The Barrett family of Port Dover built the Clonmel mansion in 1929 with an inheritance from a wealthy relative from Ireland.