Listen Up! Councillors must say NO to planning issues that impact the environment

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Hugh Mackenzie
Huntsville Doppler

Just Say No.

Last week, the Committee of Adjustment, which is comprised of Huntsville councillors, was asked to allow a property owner with frontage on Fairy Lake to locate a septic tank much closer to the lake than the Town’s regulations allow. In reality, they were actually asking more for forgiveness than permission because the septic tank had already been “roughed in”.

In another instance, it was reported that the Ministry of the Environment had noted a ‘blue-green algae bloom’ in Pen Lake. These two matters are only related in that both threaten the quality of our lakes.

In relation to the algae bloom, I am not aware of what caused it or how to fix it. Clearly, it is a pollutant that is capable of producing toxins in the water making it unsafe for consumption or swimming. That should be a real worry.

I do know, however, how to prevent sewage from leaching into the lakes that are so important to Huntsville’s economy and that is to just say, “NO”, loudly and clearly, to those who seek to circumvent the environmental restrictions applied through the Town’s planning process.

The Committee of Adjustment last week dithered. They deferred a decision rather than making one, possibly because the applicant had already begun construction of the septic system. It was clear from the discussion that some councillors were uncomfortable allowing a septic system 16.8 metres from Fairy Lake when the required setback is 30 metres. However, instead of denying the application out of hand, the applicant has been given an opportunity to come back with further arguments or proposals. These too should be rejected if they do not strictly conform with the Town’s bylaws. When it come to the potential pollution of our environment, including our lakes, there should be zero tolerance.

One might well ask, why this is important? It is important because Huntsville thrives as a result of the unique lifestyle we enjoy in a world-renowned recreational area. To preserve it and protect it should be the highest priority of any public official.

Right now, Huntsville is on a bit of a roll. Many retailers in the area have reported a bumper season. There are signs of new growth and expansion in our downtown core. Huntsville Place Mall, Muskoka’s only indoor mall, has announced a major renovation and expansion. We will soon see at least two new brewing establishments. As well, there are several residential projects in the works; condominiums downtown and at Grandview and a potential new subdivision off Chaffey Township Road, to name just a few. In addition, Fairvern Nursing Home is heading toward a major expansion. Most importantly, as we grow and thrive it will become more and more difficult to deny Huntsville the acute care hospital services that are so important to North Muskoka.

All of this is good news. Much of this is happening however, because Huntsville has maintained its uniqueness as a place where lifestyle matters and tourists want to visit. This all boils down to our natural habitat and the importance of preserving it.

There is no doubt that planning and bylaw restrictions can sometimes be a pain in the butt. There is more than one developer who will tell you that, in words of one syllable! But the rules are there for a reason: to protect the environmental and economic integrity of our community. That should trump most things and exceptions should be extremely rare.

In the great scheme of things, one septic tank that is too close to the lake is not the end of the world. Nor, I suppose, is one building that is allowed above the tree line, or, for that matter, is exempting developers from providing parking spaces when they would otherwise be required. But it is a slippery slope, isn’t it? Once you start, where do you stop?

I fully understand Council, or in this case, the Committee of Adjustment, wanting to help people who appear before them. In that context, it is sometimes easy to find justification to make an exception. Indeed, at least one Councillor did just that. Their larger responsibility, however, is to our environment and in this instance, to protect the quality of our lakes, even if that has to be accomplished one septic system at a time.

Council and their related committees may have no ability to control the algae bloom in Pen Lake. But when it comes to septic systems and their potential, however small, of leaching sewage into our lakes, they have the hammer and they should use it. Just say no.

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14 Comments

  1. Hi Hugh. Understand your concerns about human activities near the lakes….but algae blooms are natural and been going on for years…..

    • Algae Blooms have been going on for years and so has our impact on the quality of the lakes. The water quality is of utmost importance to all on the lakes and to the community as a whole. If this algae bloom persists than the value of properties will greatly suffer. If you can’t boil it to clean it, it is a complete failure for human use. The home owner no doubt would like to use the lake in the future for themselves so why not do the right thing. Why risk your investment?

  2. this place already has a septic system that perhaps is too close to the waterfront, I think the building department approved a garage on this fairly small waterfront lot , so perhaps a new 20017 septic with setback issues would be better than the one that is place now which may be from the 70s. Just thinking perhaps there is more here than meets the eye at first brush, and I do not know all the details RH

    • One does not need to know the details or the ‘why’ behind infractions of the law. The septic setback laws are in place for a reason and we create the gray area when dialogue is necessary. Either there is compliance with the regulations, or not. If council allows this, then another ugly precedent is set.

  3. Hugh,
    Specific details notwithstanding, your point about the creeping little things that at the end of the day accumulate to cause a big problem, is right on.

  4. The build 1st and then ask forgiveness is a way around restrictions. If council said rip it up this approach may not be so attractive in future.

    • Please say NO.

      A chance to demonstrate to other landowners that ignoring the law, then asking for a ‘pass’ will be an expensive, time consuming gamble.
      Homeowner knew exactly what he was doing; now we know what we must do – uphold our standards for a safe and healthy environment and a continuing desirable area.

  5. Robert Attfield on

    Presumably there is a good environmental reason for the 30 metre setback. Muskoka’s future will be a battle to try and preserve the quality of our watersheds. based on continuing growth projections. I think that Hugh is correct in his view. The last thing we need is forgiveness/approval for setback infractions.

  6. Oh I agree. I am not a resident yet but plans are in the making! Please adhere to the bylaws set for sewage. I’m in Brampton now and it is environmentally ruined!

  7. I fully agree. Rules are rules, standards are standards that are approved and in print form. No need to debate or scratch ones butt about what to do other than to say NO. If exceptions to such standards are allowed than forget or formally revise same. What has been done in the past is no justification for allowing contravention of existing standards.

  8. Karen Wehrstein on

    Perhaps the “forgiveness is easier to get than permission” approach by builders would be discouraged by adding a stiff environmental-cost-offset amount to their property taxes, to be charged so long as the outside-the-regulation construction is in place.

  9. JUST SAY NO!!!!! It is not just a slippery slope, but it becomes precedent and therefore harder and harder to say NO going forward. Absolutely non-negotiable. Well said Hugh.

  10. No matter how many committees pass the decision “up the line”, the buck stops with Council. And Council has warranted to pass every decision through the lenses of both the environment and accessibility. If this is not being done, then the 2018 election is our chance to let our votes do the talking.

    Furthermore, and with all due respect, why do the Planners seem to be supporting the developers in so many instances? I do not expect them to always align themselves with the Town, but regarding submissions with a degree of impartiality would be refreshing.

  11. J. R. Bruce Cassie on

    It has been my experience that Planners do NOT always support developers. It has also been my experience that Councillors do not bring partiality to the table. In fact, the review process for significant developments in Huntsville area often takes years of communication between the Town and the Developer, not to mention the role the District may also play in these cumbersome but necessary processes. I would also add that the Town of Huntsville and the District of Muskoka have staff with long-standing experience and with relevant education that enables them to guide development to the benefit of all who live here. We are blessed with exceptional Planning capacity in Huntsville and the benefits are here for all of us to share.

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