By Stephen Petrick
Services by Dimensions Algonquin Highlands will be affected by decision
A new hybrid tourism resort-wellness centre in Algonquin Highlands will have some limitations on what it can offer, after the municipality finalized a zoning bylaw last week.
The resort, known as Dimensions Algonquin Highlands, will sit on land zoned for a “health and wellness service” but not a “medical facility.”
The decision, made at the Aug.11 council meeting, appeases several concerns raised by Algonquin Highlands council and may also appease some nearby residents who spoke to council and media about their opposition to the resort. Yet, it won’t likely stop the resort from forging ahead, as it plans on welcoming its first guests later this fall.
Dimensions Algonquin Highlands sits on a 45-acre property on Maple Lake. It was previously known as the Mishpacha Resort.
The zoning amendment means Dimensions can not host a pharmacy – something residents opposed out of worries that it could attract crime.
It also means doctors cannot offer service on site. This will have a rippling effect on Dimensions’ plan, as it had marketed itself as a place where the use of psilocybin, a psychedelic drug better known as “magic mushrooms,” could possibly be used.
While psilocybin is, in most cases illegal, a person can gain an exemption from Health Canada to use the drug under a special access program.
At the meeting, Algonquin Highlands planning director Sean O’Callaghan explained that, under law, a person must use psilocybin while under supervision of a prescribing doctor and so, in his interpretation, the no-doctor ruling essentially makes the use of psilocybin on site not possible.
Mayor Carol Moffatt pointed out that, psilocybin is being studied by the federal government and that rule could change in the future, thus allowing the drug to be used on site later on. If that ever happens, the municipality wouldn’t have a say, as it would be a federal ruling.
No Dimensions officials appeared to be present at the meeting. O’Callaghan, however, said he worked with people from the business and they did not oppose the bylaw he proposed to council.
“It’s my understanding they are in agreement,” he said.
Shortly before the approving vote, Moffatt thanked Algonquin Highlands staff for coming up with a new bylaw, given the complicated nature of the project.
Plans for Dimensions Algonquin Highlands have been scrutinized publicly for months, as it’s being carried out by a company that wants to capitalize on the growing “wellness tourism” industry.
The resort will feature 17 private cabins, a dining lounge and spa. It’s being marketed to people who want to visit to work on their health, including people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. A previous press release issued by the company says Dimensions Algonquin Highlands can help guests “find their rhythm and immerse themselves in the healing benefits of nature.” It also said guests there can benefit from “healing modalities and plant medicines” including cannabis and cacao.
The municipality originally believed the resort was a fairly standard tourism operation and gave the company the go-ahead to build on site, given that the property was already zoned for tourism. But, as more details on the health aspects of the business emerged, a stop work order was issued.
Moffatt said the municipality has been “a little bit caught between a rock and a hard place,” given that Dimensions is not a typical business.
She stressed that the role of the municipality is not to automatically support or deny a new, unique business venture, but really to examine its legalities and come up with solutions that benefit everyone.
“There’s no legion of support or opposition,” she said.
She said the municipality also can’t interject if citizens are concerned that newly-legalized recreational drugs are being used on site.
“That’s not for us to do. We don’t have any right or authority to hold up an application,” she said.