Nudist industry divides rural Ontario township
Stone Mills Township council on Monday denied a rezoning application that would have allowed a Tamworth naturist ranch to become legally-run nudist campground.
This decision comes on the heels of last week’s decision to deny the same ranch, Freedom Fields Naturist Ranch, an event permit to the second annual Hyperborea festival. The clothing-optional event, which is put on by an organization out of Toronto, is meant to mimic the Burning Man festival.
The April 16 decision was a contentious matter. The six-person council was evenly split after nearly two hours of discussion, and in the end, it was Reeve Eric Smith who stepped in to deny the ranch’s nude-friendly business, at least at that location.
“It wasn’t a good mix in that area,” said Reeve, who was alluding to previous issues between Freedom Fields and its neighbours about the first Hyperborea festival. He worried with so much contention over the ranch as it stands now, how much more trouble would it bring once it was bringing in hundreds of people a season.
The owners of the Tamworth naturist ranch have refused to comment, but deputy Reeve John Wise was one of three councillors who voted yes to the commercial rezoning of the nudist ranch. He said his decision came down to the financials.
“Our only potential for a tax base is through tourism,” Wise said.
With a population of only about 7,700, Wise said there isn’t enough revenue from the local population to support a large road system running through the area.
Wise had proposed that council allow the commercial rezoning on “very restrictive terms.” Those terms would have granted the commercial rezoning for only one year — what Wise described as a probation period — that would require the naturist ranch to put up fences and screens to block the campsite from its neighbouring properties.
One of the main worries voiced at the council meeting Monday night would be that the naturist ranch would scare away clients of a nearby commercial horse farm, whose clients may see or run into someone in the buff while they were out for a ride. Despite the city planner offering solutions that might allay some of those fears, it wasn’t enough to convince a majority of councillors.
One councillor, Martha Embury, says she voted against the zoning change because it is not in standing with provincial and township laws that seek to protect agriculture land. She stands steadfastly against the naturist ranch and the Hyperborea festival.
“Neighbours have experienced loss of business and they’re anticipating losses in values of their properties; these are neighbours who operate businesses legally.”
If it had secured the commercial rezoning, the nudist ranch had planned to host 33 camp sites and somewhere around five cabins, which would accommodate about 160 people in the camp at once. But Wise said, now that the rezoning has been denied, the owners of Freedom Fields could potentially be charged if any commercial business is being done on their property.
Embury says enforcement would be complaint driven.
“If there are the complaints from the neighbours as there have been a lot of complaints in the past, then I anticipate and I encourage those neighbours to lodge a complaint with the municipality.”
As for Coun. Kevin Richmond, who also voted for the rezoning at Monday’s meeting, he simply saw no legal reason that the ranch couldn’t run the naturist campground. But now that the decision is made, he hopes everyone can move forward and respect it.
“People need to get back to being neighbours,” he said.
Although Tamworth’s Freedom Fields Naturist Ranch’s event permit for Hyperborea was denied last Monday, it will still be going ahead on municipal property. For the event, which the organizers brand as an artist festival, council has granted it permission to take place on a 400-acre lot behind the Stone Mills Township landfill. Event organizers were reached for comment but did not respond in time for publication.
According to Brian Brooks, Stone Mills’ chief administrative officer and clerk, the land offered to Hyperborea is owned by the municipality and was held for the possibility of a landfill expansion. It’s currently occupied by contractors who will be away for the time that Hyperborea will take place between May 17-21. The landfill-adjacent area was chosen after council denied an events permit to Freedom Fields on April 9, where it would have been held for a second time.
“It came down to community compatibility,” said Brooks, who added that the township heard many voices for and against the naturist ranch’s right to host the event, but that the voices against outweighed those for, in the end.
In fact, it’s Hyperborea that really brought attention to the nudist ranch, which, according to Wise, had been running illegally since 2012.
Problems residents had with the first Hyperborea in Tamworth included the fact that alcohol was permitted on festival grounds while minors were present, along with loud music and the fear that large fires would spread to the nearby forest.
There was also the issue of a lack of clothing by festival goers. Erin Dennison is the daughter of the couple who own one of the farms next to Freedom Fields. She said that sometimes clientele from the naturist ranch would be hard to ignore.
“We’ve run into the odd [nude] person on Kelly Road, and it’s just not right,” Dennison said.
“I have a nephew and my children, and I don’t really want them seeing that.”
Another big sticking point for some residents on whether the festival should be allowed was the first event’s lack of an age limit.
For Saskia Deslauriers, a resident of Tamworth, it wasn’t the nudity that bothered her, but the fact that adult activities were promoted at an all-ages event.
“I’m totally fine with the event,” said Deslaurier, who didn’t want to shut Hyperboria down. She said she simply didn’t want the city to promote something that encouraged alcohol, nudity and perhaps perverse sexuality to minors.
Due to push-back from the community and council, only those 18 and up will be able to attend the event hosted on township land.
Now that an age restriction has been enforced, Deslaurier thinks that this will ease most residents’ minds.
For Coun. Wise, again, it all comes down to the economic benefits of the event.
“This would bring hundreds of people into the township. They will spend money at local stores. They would get to see our township. Maybe they would be interested in one day moving here to raise a family or to retire.”
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