Flag Raiders requests an MZO to run its paintball business on its property on Kossuth Road in Cambridge

WATERLOO REGION — A Cambridge paintball business has asked for a minister’s zoning order to operate on its property on Kossuth Road.

Flag Raiders Paintball has filed the request for the order — more commonly known as an MZO — to allow the company to salvage what is left of its season and operate its outdoor recreational business this summer.

The controversial, fast-track measure allows the province to bypass municipalities’ normal planning and zoning procedures.

Flag Raiders has owned the Cambridge property to which the MZO request would apply for more than 20 years. It operated the paintball business there for eight years under a special zoning permission from the city.

The business was forced to move when the special permission wasn’t renewed. After years of relocating and entanglements with planning rules, the owners of the business say they chose the controversial MZO route because they have had enough.

Corey and Joe Kimpson, siblings and owners of Flag Raiders, say they have tried to work with the City of Cambridge and the Region of Waterloo to come to a resolution so they can move on with their business.

But on March 18, they filed an MZO request with the city. The request has yet to come before council, as required under city policies.

“They are dragging their feet. We have now lost a month and a half,” said Corey Kimpson.

The Kimpsons also sent a copy of the MZO request to Steve Clark, the minister of municipal affairs. They also met with Premier Doug Ford last week and gave him a copy.

“We can confirm that Flag Raiders Paintball have submitted documentation with regards to an MZO request in Cambridge,” Zoe Knowles, spokesperson for Clark, said Wednesday.

“The MZO process is kick-started by a supportive council resolution from the local municipality. At this time, we have not received a resolution from the City of Cambridge on this request,” she said.

Cambridge Mayor Kathryn McGarry did not respond to The Record when asked if the city had received the MZO request but Coun. Jan Liggett said all councillors received the MZO package.

Cambridge’s most recent dealings with an MZO turned into a massive headache for council. Council initially unanimously approved an MZO request from developer Broccolini Real Estate Group to build a million-square-foot warehouse in Blair but nearly a year later voted it down after residents’ furious opposition to the warehouse on the edge of their historic village.

Liggett said she doesn’t support an MZO but understands why the Kimpsons took that route.

Liggett, like many Cambridge councillors, supports Flag Raiders and wants to see the business open. She said it’s in the best interest of Flag Raiders and neighbors to meet and “hammer out” a resolution.

Flag Raiders’ land — 24 hectares between Speedsville Road and Beaverdale Road — is zoned prime agriculture. City zoning prohibits the operation of a paintball business there.

The Kimpsons bought the property in 1999 and got a three-year temporary use bylaw to permit the paintball business. Three years later, the permit was renewed, but it was denied on their third attempt.

By then, neighbors had complained to the city.

In 2007, about 500 people gathered for a big weekend tournament at the site. Corey Kimpson acknowledges there were loud horns and music.

A berm was built on the property years ago to try to address neighbours' sight and noise concerns.  Flag Raiders wants to re-open on their property off Kossuth Road in Cambridge.

But the Kimpsons say the sport has evolved: horns are no longer used, sideline coaching or cheering isn’t allowed and paintball markers are quieter. To cut noise, the Kimpsons added a three-metre berm on their property in 2004.

The customer base has evolved from mostly men playing the game to more families enjoying the activity, including birthday and wedding parties, they say.

Business was brisk during the pandemic. People wanted outdoor activity and they sought out their business which complied with public health measures, Joe Kimpson said.

Their business brings tourism and economic gain to the city, they say. They have hosted provincial tournaments that draw families who stay in Cambridge.

After Flag Raiders’ special permit wasn’t renewed, the city tried to help Flag Raiders to find another site.

“Part of the problem is that paintball is a unique use and it doesn’t fit in a clear category,” Corey Kimpson said.

But by 2008 when another property couldn’t be found, the Kimpsons took the matter to the Ontario Municipal Board (now called the Ontario Land Tribunal), a provincial agency that rules on land use and planning disputes.

The board ruled with the city and the region that the paintball business couldn’t permanently operate on that site under existing zoning.

The Kimpsons moved to a new location at Bingemans in Kitchener. The business stayed there for 13 years, but was forced to leave last year when Bingemans sold the land for development.

Cambridge councilors are supportive of the business but the city is concerned that another temporary use bylaw could be challenged at the Ontario Land Tribunal, this time by residents.

City staff say they won’t support another temporary use bylaw for Flag Raiders. The zoning and the regional official plan haven’t changed, so the possibility of losing at the tribunal is a real risk for the city, said Hardy Bromberg, the city’s deputy city manager.

If the city lost at the land tribunal, it could be left with the bill from both sides, the city’s chief planner Lisa Prime said at a recent council meeting.

Another appeal could be costly for taxpayers and that “causes me concern.” McGarry said at the council meeting.

McGarry told The Record she wanted to wait to comment until a public meeting was held on the Flag Raiders matter.

The city is holding a public meeting on May 17 to hear from residents, as required if it were to approve a temporary use bylaw. The Kimpsons are planning their own meeting with neighbors days earlier, in an attempt to find a solution.

count Donna Reid, who represents the ward on Kossuth Road, said she doesn’t see a resolution until neighbors are satisfied.

“I see it as the only way they can operate this summer,” said Reid, who does not support a temporary use bylaw. “A temporary use by law sets up a division, neighbor against neighbor,” she said.

For Flag Raiders to stay on Kossuth Road, “I don’t see them operating until they apply for a zone change” and an Official Plan amendment, she said in an interview. She agrees the land is not farmable.

“I feel really badly that they can’t operate,” she said.

Regional Coun. Karl Kiefer supports the business and organized a meeting between regional and city officials and the Kimpsons. “I’m going to try to do everything from a political standpoint,” he said.

“The land is in Cambridge so it has to start with them,” he said.

But the Kimpsons say they aren’t applying for a temporary use bylaw or an Official Plan amendment. Those alternatives will not get their business operating this year.

“We have spent so much money to keep this open,” said Corey Kimpson, who has hired a planner and a lawyer to represent them.

“I’m exhausted, frustrated and demoralized,” she said.

“I don’t have a lot of faith right now,” he said. “We are running into roadblock after roadblock.”

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