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‘Trojan Horse’ Proposed at Fung Loy Kok in Mono

'Trojan Horse' Proposed at Fung Loy Kok in Mono

“It’d be like getting an application for an 80-[floor] skyscraper office building in Orangeville, it’s completely not necessary”, said one Mono resident, referencing an application to increase the capacity of the cemetery at the Fung Loy Kok International Centre, during the public meeting held by Mono Council on November 17th, 2020.

The permit for the cemetery at Fung Loy Kok, initially granted by the Niagara Escarpment Commission over thirty years ago, allows for 1,575 flush-mounted cemetery plots. In 2015, Fung Loy Kok put forth an application to the NEC changing the cemetery site plan to accommodate 15,134 plots through the use of columbarium niches. After hearing comments from the public in 2016, Mono Council did not support the application and requested some modifications be considered, including that the applicant keeps to the previously approved number of plots. In 2020, Fung Loy Kok submitted an adjusted application reducing the total number of plots to 5,734.

Since originally being approved in 1987, according to the planning report, twenty-four in-ground plots have been sold. Eleven of them are said to be currently in use.

According to the report, 37 exterior walls are proposed containing 4,522 columbarium niches that would hold cremation urns. In combination with the 1,212 in-ground plots, this would amount to 5,734 plots being made available. Furthermore, included in this application were plans to make landscaping improvements by planting 239 trees and erecting a vehicular archway. This project would occur over one hundred years, in four 25-year phases, with the first phase resulting in 1,277 columbarium niches being created. At the Mono council meeting on November 17th, some residents speculated that this schedule may be expedited.

The main concern with the proposed expansion is whether or not there is a need for this in the immediate community, and what the term ‘immediate community’ means in this context. The Niagara Escarpment Commission requires the immediate community to be served for institutional development to occur in the controlled area. According to Mono’s Director of Planning Dave Trotman, this is the ‘crux of the issue’. Although the NEC is responsible for approving these applications, they circulate the documents to representative municipalities for comments before a decision is made.

Mono Councillor Ralph Manktelow shared his surprise that the organization was heading in this direction. “The Fung Loy Kok International Centre is about life, not about death. It’s about making the most of life and supporting people with good health, and energy, meditation, and many good things that make people’s lives better.”

Manktelow came prepared with more than just sentiments though, having consulted with an actuary beforehand. Fung Loy Kok had specified that approximately 1,800 members live within an hour’s driving distance of the Mono facility, which is the immediate community they intend to serve. Manktelow explained how niches can often hold two urns, as it is common for the space to be shared between loved ones. According to Councillor Manktelow, the actuary determined that if all of the identified members and their partners chose to buy plots at Fung Loy Kok, it would take until the year 2103 to fill what is proposed to be constructed in the first phase.

Councillor Manktelow asked Robert Gibson of Evans Planning Consultants, representing the Fung Loy Kok International Centre on this matter, how the total number of plots proposed was decided upon. The answer provided at first was that it was largely design-driven and that it is what space provides for. Manktelow thought that demand should be driving the expansion, as history has demonstrated that this service hasn’t been a priority for the Institute or its members. Gibson then said when considering the approximately 1,800 members in the area, and when operating under the assumption that there are three members per household, this amounts to 5,400 prospects. There is also an expressed desire to grow membership numbers in the future. In addition to this, Gibson mentioned the trend has been toward cremation services which columbariums would be more suitable for. Mono resident, Wayne Haddock, highlighted how columbariums are not required and that urns can be buried right in the ground.

Another Mono councillor, Fred Nix, was of a different mind. “I can’t get too concerned about the numbers, I apologize for that, but it seems to me that’s the Tai Chi’s problem if they build it too big and there is no demand.” Nix reiterated that the fate of the proposal isn’t in the council’s hands and that the town’s support should be contingent on the application being in accordance with the Niagara Escarpment Plan, which the NEC should determine.

Dr. David Imrie, another resident of Mono, asserted that the proposal does not meet the key provision for institutional uses, which is to serve the immediate community. Imrie voiced that this ‘grand commercial project’ does not serve the needs of the Town of Mono’s residents or the 1,800 members that Fung Loy Kok identified, proven by the cemetery’s usage so far. Given the stated design, he believes that there is still an intention to construct the 15,000+ plots initially proposed.

“I believe that this is just a trojan horse to get started on a massive commercial enterprise which is completely out of character with this particular area and our community in general,” Dr. Imrie hypothesized. He suspects that the plan is to offer plots to more than just those in the ‘immediate community’, in conflict with the Niagara Escarpment Plan.

Councillor Manktelow indicated that if this venture were to be successful, given the current rates of columbarium niches in the GTA, the proposed first phase of 1,277 niches could have a ‘purse’ of over $8 million.

When it comes to fulfilling the NEP’s criteria, Robert Gibson shared his thoughts, “So I think when you take it on balance, in both of what the needs of the membership are, and also making it an improvement in the Niagara Escarpment, the landscape plan we’re talking about with the additional trees being planted. I think that shows a commitment to the immediate community as well as to the membership that is an hour’s drive of the facility.”

Manktelow declared that this was an ‘oversized proposal’ and that he could not support it in its current state.

The councillor recommended that the Fung Loy Kok be limited to 365 columbarium niches that would hold 730 people. Manktelow said this is what the actuary estimated to be the demand if every one of the 1800 members who moved on in that period bought a plot at Fung Loy Kok. The Institute could then reapply for expansion when it is needed.

In the end, the Town of Mono supported the application with the following conditions. First, the Niagara Escarpment Commission needed to clarify if the applicant has met the test that the immediate community would be served by the proposed amount of columbariums. Second, the number of plots stays at the existing maximum of 1,575 plots originally established in 1987, allowing for a maximum of 365 columbarium niches within the designated limit. Lastly, it was declared that the submitted landscaping plan should be enhanced at the southern border and that Fung Loy Kok have the vehicular archway built as specified in the application.

Robert Gibson reminded Mono Council of the concessions that have already been made, “We’ve scaled it back considerably, and at the same time added improvements to the landscaping and the planting plans in consultation with the NEC and staff.”

Gibson stated that the landscape improvements may not occur as they were contingent on increasing the capacity of the cemetery, which the Mono council was not supportive of. He expressed hopes that another solution could be devised before they go before the Niagara Escarpment Commission.

“This does change our whole thinking process in terms of how this plan can actually get implemented, much like we were back in 1987.”

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