Is it a sensitive fish habitat area or isn’t it?
That is the question that seemed to elude a definitive answer as Huntsville’s Planning Committee grappled with a controversial application for a dock and boathouse, which would protrude 27.3 m and 24.75 m respectively into Whitehouse Bay in Lake of Bays.
More than a dozen neighbours in the area have been opposing the construction of the boathouse on South Portage Road, citing a nearby stream as evidence of Type 1 fish habitat in the area and the possibility of fish spawning activity. They also expressed concern about the negative impact the boathouse would have on the character of the bay as well as the views, particularly for the property owner to the east whose sightline would be directly impacted by the proposed location of the boathouse.
The applicants first brought their request to Committee of Adjustment last December and it was denied. They tweaked their application and brought it back to Huntsville’s Planning Committee last month. At that time, disputes ensued about the accuracy of the methodology used in a fish habitat assessment paid for by the applicant which concluded that there was no evidence of Type 1 fish habitat, which would automatically require a greater setback from the stream for the boathouse. At that meeting in February, committee deferred the matter for a month to allow for a peer review of the study.
The matter was back before committee March 14, 2018. At that meeting, committee heard from the consultants hired by an adjoining property owner to review the fish habitat assessment conducted for the applicant. In short, the consultants concluded that site visits by the applicant’s consultant had been conducted too early in the season. They argued that because there isn’t sufficient data available, avoidance would by far be the best approach.
Fortunately, committee did not have to weigh in between the two consultants. A solicitor hired by the applicant told committee that the parties had reached a consensus that morning, although it wasn’t clear how many area residents had been consulted.
Russell Cheeseman, the applicant’s solicitor, also reminded committee that the proposed dock is permitted as a right at 2.5 feet of water depth. “The length of that dock would change as you move it along the frontage because the depth of the water changes, obviously. But that dock gets erected as a right, so the piers get erected, the impact on the lake is the impact on the lake, that’s permitted,” said Cheeseman, who opined that the boathouse would have no impact on the lake.
“Instead of getting into a big technical fight over who’s right and who’s wrong, etc.,” Cheesman said a 20 m arc was drawn around the mouth of the stream. “So we took the boathouse and we moved it outside of the arc, [it]results in the dock projecting in a different area.” He said although the dock would be a bit longer, the orientation of the boathouse would be different and the setback from the mouth of the stream greater. He told committee that solution appears to address the concerns of the neighbouring property owner.
“So what I’m asking you this morning is to acknowledge the fact that this compromise has come to fruition and at least the neighbours on this side have been satisfied. I don’t know if there’s anybody else in the room who’s got concerns about this. I would be happy to hear if there are [concerns], or there aren’t,” he said. Cheeseman called it a “practical and straightforward solution that will work.”
Huntsville planning staff recommended approval.
Mayor Scott Aitchison, who sat in on the planning meeting, thanked the parties for working together. He said he was comfortable with what had been presented as well as planning staff’s recommendation to approve the new proposal.
Deputy Mayor Karin Terziano agreed and said it was great to see both parties come to a compromise, “that certainly makes our job easier.” In response to Cheesman regarding the impact of the boathouse, she noted that the opposition has not only been about the fish habitat assessment, “it’s also been about visual impact and the character of the neighbourhood.” She said while the municipality’s bylaw does allow for the projection of a dock to reach a water depth of 2.5 feet, “it does not automatically give the right to have a boathouse on that dock and that boathouse itself changes the character of the area and it also has a fairly significant impact,” she said.
Planning chair Nancy Alcock was absent from the meeting and Councillor Jonathan Wiebe left the room when discussions began because he works for Lovegrove Construction, the company working on the project.
In the end, committee agreed to have staff write a new bylaw that would incorporate the new proposal. A report with the changes is expected to be brought back to committee in April.
The differing views between the two biologists has prompted discussions about peer reviews and when to require them. The issue was further discussed later in the meeting including whether the municipality should direct how supporting studies are undertaken by professionals. A report on the issue by staff is expected to be brought back to committee for further discussion in future.
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