Committee approves two dwellings on Treasure Island but leaves the rest of the lands in a Conservation Zone

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There were no real winners in a recommendation put forward by Huntsville planning staff regarding development on Treasure Island.

The island is located on Lake Waseosa and is divided into two parcels—one is approximately 9.5ha (about 23.5 acres) in size with about 100 metres of lake frontage, and the other is approximately 1.1 ha (2.7 acres) in area with about 300m of lake frontage. Both are zoned Conservation.

The larger lot has been in the applicants’ family for more than 70 years since it was originally purchased by their grandfather. In a 2017 tax sale, the applicants managed to secure the entire island by purchasing the smaller lot and now they’re looking for development rights on each lot in order to develop two single residential dwellings on each. They maintain that they did not know of the Conservation zoning and also want the zoning lifted off the island and changed to a shoreline residential five zoning [SR5], noting that development restrictions can be imposed through site plan control.

Area residents, including the lake association, have been opposing any development on the island citing, among other issues, the fact that it is zoned Conservation. Concerns have also been expressed that the applicants may want to create more lots in the future.

Following several meetings and changes to the proposal, on November 13, 2019, staff returned with a recommendation to the Town’s Development Services Committee: allow a primary residential dwelling on each lot by rezoning parts of the island and restrict development by spelling out where and how it can take place, but keep the Conservation zoning on the remainder of the lands. Access to the island lots will take place from a mainland property at 600 North Waseosa Lake Road, which will provide a waterfront landing as well as parking.

Russell Cheeseman, the solicitor for the applicants, said that while his clients were happy with the recommendation from staff to allow for the potential of residential development on the island, they’d still like the Conservation zoning changed.

“What I’m told is that there aren’t any records as to how or what the justification was for the Conservation zoning,” he told the committee.

Senior planner Elizabeth Reimer told the committee that since the zoning was placed on the island property, lake monitoring has greatly changed and Lake Waseosa is no longer considered a lake that by those same standards has issues. “Obviously there are differing opinions on this, absolutely, but the provision of two dwellings on the island through the conservation of vegetation and that riparian zone that that vegetation protects, the development of two houses and a dock and potentially a boathouse on each of these parcels, I’m not an expert in environmental management, however it’s not a proposal above and beyond something that is normally expected on a waterfront property,” she said.

In terms of the schedules in the bylaw detailing how development on the island can take place, Cheeseman said he thought that in some ways staff had gone ‘a little too far’. “You know what put the standards in the bylaw, setbacks from the lake… buffers where they have to be… and leave it to the site plan control we have to go through.”

He suggested that the entire island should be zoned Shoreline Residential Five. “Put it all in one zone and then put all the development standards that everyone agrees to… and tie it down. Make it as detailed as possible,” he argued.

When questioned by committee members, Reimer indicated that while development can be controlled through the site plan process it’s the bylaw that gives teeth to development restrictions.

“If the goal is to have two building envelopes on these two lands, it seems counterintuitive to me that you would not want Conservation lands to potentially mitigate the high taxes on the remainder of the island,” Councillor Jonathan Wiebe told Cheeseman.

“The underlying concept there is that somehow the Conservation zone on this property devalues the property, and it does. It does today and it does tomorrow because Conservation restricts the uses of the land,” said Cheeseman. “Make it a zone and then restrict the zone like you do in any cottage property,” he argued, adding that the municipality has no substantial evidence that there is anything to conserve on the island.

Doug Janes, a resident on West Waseosa Lake Road, said he was representing a group of area residents, and said while he is pleased with the development conditions put in place, he asked committee members to turn down the recommendation before them.

“The fundamental question here is the long-term health of the lake,” he said, adding that the Conservation zoning placed on the island should be upheld by committee members, and those he represents do not agree with any zoning change in order to allow development on the island. He argued that every zoning placed on properties as part of the municipality’s 2006 comprehensive zoning bylaw is up for grabs, otherwise, “as is the decisions that you make today. If a subsequent council can overturn paper decisions, then a subsequent council can overturn the decisions that you’re making today on that zoning, and that will open up this island to further development,” he noted, also questioning who would enforce restrictions imposed on the island development.

Acting Mayor Karin Terziano said the Conservation zoning was placed on the island in 2006 because the lake was over the threshold.

I understand the lake isn’t over threshold any longer, however, I don’t want to see it go over threshold so anything we can do to prevent that, I’m in favour of.Acting Huntsville Mayor Karin Terziano

“Whatever we do today, we can’t control what a future council will do… nor can I control what the applicants are going to do tomorrow, they might sell their property to somebody but I’m going to do the best that I can do today and it seems by going through everything we’ve been through the best we can do today is to allow their building sites, one on each piece, and keep the rest of the land in Conservation. I’d like to keep it all in Conservation, give them the exception just to build, but our staff is recommending that the… [SR5 zone] is fine for the building sites, so I’ll support this but I won’t support changing the rest of the island into anything but what it’s in now,” said Terziano.

Wiebe echoed similar sentiments. “We all know what we’ve gone through to get to this point but it seemed to me that the ratepayers association of Lake Waseosa were reluctant to support any development on this island, however they seemed to indicate in the one letter… that if it were to go through, the only way to do it in a responsible way would be, I think, what staff have come up with. So is it always going to be a perfect result where everyone is happy? Very rarely, but it seems to me that this has met their threshold for acceptance,” he said, adding that he would support the recommendation by staff as well.

In the end staff’s recommendation passed with a vote of three to two with councillors Jason FitzGerald and Dan Armour voting against staff’s recommendation to allow the development of a shoreline dwelling on each island lot while the remainder of the lands remains in a Conservation Zone. The committee’s decision is expected to be forwarded to Huntsville Council’s November 25, 2019 meeting for final approval.

There were some minor changes to the draft development bylaw not yet updated in the staff’s report, which you can find here.

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16 Comments

  1. Counsel better give a thought as to how and where the owners of this Island are going to get on the lake. Are they going to make a public boat launch by camp Huronda or someplace else plus they will need parking. Just something to think about.

    • Tamara de la Vega on

      Hi Ray,
      If the recommendation from the planning staff gets final approval from the council, access to the island will take place from a mainland property at 600 North Waseosa Lake Road.

      • Janet Ferguson on

        Construction of houses on the island would require heavy equipment to be used. After witnessing the damage done to the land by the Princess Margaret lottery house on our lake, I shudder to think what irreparable damage would be done on Treasure Isaland.

  2. One would hope that somebody from the Town (Planner? Bylaw officer?) could stake out two appropriate building envelopes. And I feel that the [SR5 zoning] is an unnecessary encumbrance. Why not retain the Conservation zoning, and include any refinements within the site plan control?

    Then you have a harmless precedent for the future, rather than the indication that any property on the island can become buildable simply by changing the zoning to [SR5].

    • Rob Millman, I know you are trying to help but your suggestion that building on land zoned Conservation is a harmless precedent for the Town of Huntsville,or anywhere, is completely wrong. See Tony Doob’s comments below.

      And building on an island zoned Conservation is even worse.

      Residents on Lake Waseosa appreciated the efforts of councillors and planning staff to propose measures that would limit damage to the land and shoreline, and make future lot severing more difficult. But this is really hard to achieve.

      Consider, for example, that the proposed building envelopes of less than an acre give each of two dwellings enough room for a garden, a ball field, a lit tennis court, a snowmobile/atv/dirt bike parking area, and more. The island is the central feature of a small highly-developed Huntsville lake, not just two lots with a Conservation notation on a map, where rezoning a couple of acres to Shoreline Residential will be fine and will “protect” most of it. Understand that the island, 27 acres and 1.4 kilometres of shoreline, is not only important to the health and character of the lake, it is a truly wild and untouched place, protected by water and the love and respect of everyone on the lake. It is less than 10 kilometres from the centre of Huntsville, yet within just the past two years there have been sightings (photos in some cases) of bald eagles, a trio of moose, and a pair of wolves hunting deer. Treasure Island is a fitting name.

  3. Karen and Tom Zeleznik on

    I am hopeful that, in the end, the members of Huntsville council will show good stewardship and deny the application to develop any and all parts of the island.
    The risks -as have been outlined very clearly by those taxpayers who oppose the application- are too great for any development to go forward.
    (There are no significant risks, for the greater good, to deny development). My hope is that elected council members will do the right thing and act responsibly for not only land conservation and lake preservation, but also for no regrets on a decision that would have negative impact on so many.

  4. If the town planners did what was right they would open a public boat launch on the concession rd by camp huronda so people other than land owners could at least get a small boat on the lake. There was a town owned lot for public access that was nice and level but they sold it so now there is no place to get access to the lake.

  5. Thank you to the members of the Waseosa community, the planning staff and the Development Services Committee for the hard and heartfelt work that has brought the issue of this re-zoning application to this point. In a few days I hope to be able to say that we are represented by a town council that is not known for opening up conservation lands for development and a council that doesn’t reverse the wise decisions made their predecessors.

  6. I would like to acknowledge that the Town is conducting a rigorous and in depth process to review this Lake Waseosa rezoning application that ensures everyone’s concerns have been voiced, heard, and considered. Irrespective of the outcome, I believe that the system for potential rezoning of this property has worked and the Town Council and the Town employees have been excellent in their handling of a very contentious and difficult file. The existing documentation for Lake Waseosa is based on Treasure Island’s designation as C-H. The At-Risk levels and the subsequent analysis are predicated on Treasure Island acting as a buffer to a lake experiencing significant growth and transition from a seasonal lake to a permanent residence lake. At one point in time, the lake was considered “at risk” and a subsequent reduction to the standards allowed it to be considered acceptable for growth. It should be noted that the pollution levels in Lake Waseosa continue to be high and have not decreased since the late 1980s. The only thing that changed is the standard being applied, and there is significant science to support that the standard is too low. We only need to look around our own region for the ongoing and increasing examples of blue-green algae. It is easily argued that Lake Waseosa needs that environmental buffer that the undeveloped Treasure Island offers. I suggest more intensive and exhaustive environmental assessment should be completed and more objective water quality and land usage assessments be undertaken by independent and authoritative bodies so that a better understanding of the issues at play on Lake Waseosa can be developed and all concerns addressed.

  7. Without getting into zoning bylaws etc…. Lake Waseosa has always been a quiet small lake without a great deal of boat traffic. It’s been a sanctuary where young children can go out on the water in non motorized water craft without the risk of being injured by large speed boats. Lakes like Muskoka, Rosseau & Joseph have frequent fatalities due to increased boat traffic and speed and night use of boats. Note the Kevin O,Leary event. Island cottages lead to more night time boat traffic. Do we really want to become a lake full of marinas, golf clubs & resorts? We simply aren’t that big. Leave it to the bigger lakes. Does the Huntsville town council want extra tax dollars so badly that they’re willing to change the fundamental makeup of our lake? We’re a small lake with limited boat access and consequently have a smaller carbon footprint than larger lakes. Let’s keep it that way.

  8. This will be an interesting and, for all of Huntsville, an important decision to watch. Simply put, for various reasons, since zoning was first established in Huntsville, there was never a time that development of this island was permitted. Most recently, for approximately 15 years, under the current zoning by-law, it has been zoned Conservation.

    The Town of Huntsville’s zoning by-law states today that “CONSERVATION means the use of land for the protection of the natural environment through maintenance or comprehensive management for individual or public use or benefit.” Obviously, the compromise solution described in the article undermines the purpose of Conservation less than a rezoning that would allow a very large number of buildings on the island. But the compromise, in effect, can start a process whereby the idea of “Conservation” in Huntsville is dealt a death by a thousand cuts by subsequent Council decisions.

    This Council is being asked by the developers to reverse a decision made about 15 years ago by another set of Huntsville Councillors. Opening up this island to ‘some’ development sends a clear message: Conservation in Huntsville, provided for by a previous Council, can be compromised if a land developer asks a new Council for it.

    I hope that the Town of Huntsville will look to the long-term importance of Conservation not only for Lake Waseosa but for everywhere in the Town. This decision is, therefore, a lot larger than just one island in a small lake.

  9. Bill and Margaret MacDonald on

    We hope that Huntsville Town Council will show leadership in the necessary preservation of our conservation by preventing any change in the conservation zoning of Treasure Island and ensure that no development is allowed on this island. This is an important decision in the future and quality of Lake Waseosa.

  10. The elected councillors in our town need to take a long hard look at not only the applicants request but also the reaction that has occurred since that application. Here is a chance for them to do the right thing for the Lake Waseosa environment/ecosystem. A stand must be taken against further development and the problems they incur. When people ask, ”what can one person possibly do to help the environment”, well the municipal government in our small town can do a lot by denying this application.

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