Local planner urges municipality to take a second look at its waterfront development policies


Is it good stewardship or bureaucratic overkill?

What started off as a desire to replace a portion of a decaying dock while also expanding the same, resulted in a bureaucratic nightmare for the elderly owners of a cottage on Fairy Lake.

The owners were required to get a Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) permit as well as a building permit from the Town. When their planner approached the Town for the permit, he was told the applicants would also be required to get a site plan approval and purchase the shore road allowance in front of their cottage.

“The cost escalated to well over $10,000, not counting the dock,” noted planning consultant Wayne Simpson of Wayne Simpson and Associates. He was before Huntsville’s Planning Committee on August 16, questioning some of the Corporation’s policies and asking the municipality to take a second look.

“When you start to look at the cost for site plan approval and the cost of a planner to prepare a site plan approval and then the application for you to close the road allowance and the cost associated with the legal fees for the Town and your own lawyer, for public notice of the intention of passage, $12.75 a square metre to acquire the land – it got to the point where it became cost prohibitive for the client,” said Simpson.

“The nature of what’s being proposed by this owner should not trigger a site plan approval in the first instance and if it doesn’t trigger site plan approval, then it shouldn’t trigger the acquisition of the shore road allowance,” argued Simpson, who also noted that what the owners were requesting fell within the Town’s zoning bylaw in terms of the total accumulative width of the dock. “All that should be required is the building permit for this to proceed.”

Simpson said the dock in question is in disrepair and poses a danger to the elderly owners but the expense of approvals, even to just recreate what is already there, has proven to be too great.

He said his contention is not only with respect to the predicament the cottage owners on Fairy Lake find themselves in, but the impact the Town’s policies might have on future applicants who find themselves in a similar situation.  He asked committee and staff to review its practice of requiring site plan approval for all waterfront development which in turn triggers the municipality’s shore road allowance acquisition policy, a policy that aims, among other things, to reduce liability to the Town for activity on the shore road allowance.

“The good intention of the municipality to reduce liability is not being accomplished because of the nature of the burden on people,” said Simpson, who also argued that floating docks, unlike boat houses or other structures, by their very nature, are typically situated on the Crown lake bed rather than the shoreline.  He said the municipality should consider more closely the nature of the development being proposed, rather than applying one blanket policy to all waterfront development.

He said that while he understands that a lot of work and consultation has gone into creating the 2015 policies associated with waterfront development, “ultimately the result is somewhat flawed.” He questioned the authority of the municipality to force people to purchase the shore road allowance, triggered as a condition of minor variance, consent and site plan approvals, noting that the Planning Act states that the requirement should be reasonable and appropriate given the nature of the application.

“I think in some instances the condition required that the original shore road allowance get acquired may not be entirely connected with the nature of the application or germane or appropriate,” he said, adding that the municipality should also examine when it requires site plan approvals.

Again, he noted that under the Planning Act municipalities can only require site plan control where there’s “erection or construction of one or more buildings that substantially increases the usability of a property. So the practice of the municipality to require site plan approval in every instance of a waterfront development is, in my opinion, contrary to the enabling legislation.”

On the other hand, committee chair Nancy Alcock noted that organizations such as the Muskoka Watershed Council are urging municipalities that don’t use site plan control when it comes to waterfront development, to do so. ”So that is not going away, so where the two meet is really important,” she said, referring to when site plan control should be required in order to protect water quality versus the burden on property owners seeking minor approvals.

Councillor Bob Stone said Simpson might have a point as it pertains to the required purchase of the shore road allowance but defended the municipality’s practice of requiring a site plan approval.

“I think you have an argument about the demand to purchase the shore road allowance, however with the site plan control this is our opportunity to right some wrongs that the property owner has done. If they come for an application we now can say, ‘hey, you built too many buildings’ or ‘you’ve cut down too many trees’ or ‘you have to have more vegetation at the shoreline’ and that site plan control is one of the reasons we have some of the best water in all of Muskoka,” said Stone.

Alcock said staff would be taking a closer look at Simpson’s concerns.

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  1. If the Township of Lake of Bays is still one of two communities involved in the province’s pilot program, one can only imagine how onerous the process would have been on one of its lakes.

    Trying to use a one-size-fits-all approach to site plan requirement seems to be counter-productive. Each situation should be assessed on its own merits. In this instance (and one presumes many others), the prohibitive cost of a site plan has led to the increased liability of the Town for the operation of a decaying dock. Assessing each situation should not require a site plan to mandate that the property owner practices good waterfront stewardship.

  2. Nice piece of reporting but you missed the most important part of the exchange between Mr. Simpson and Councillor Stone. In his rebuttal to Mr. Simpson, Councillor Stone indicated that the site plan approval gave the Town the ability to correct past mistakes on the property. Mr. Simpson was quite clear that the site plan approval process DID NOT give the Town the ability to make retroactive corrections to previous erroneous additions/deletions to the property but only applied to those changes for which the application was made.

    If the Town is trying to apply the site planning approval process retroactively, they would be in error.

    • Tamara de la Vega on

      Hi Jim,
      Thanks for reading. I left it out because both of them agreed that it can be used as a tool, but Mr. Simpson was basically saying that it should only be used when actual development takes place, not in every instance, i.e. fixing or enhancing a dock. “Certainly if somebody is building an addition to a cottage or a large structure, then that’s the sort of thing where you can say ‘Ok, now we can use this occasion to correct previous wrongs,’ but in the nature of the application in the example I gave, it doesn’t constitute development and therefore cannot trigger the need for site plans,” said Simpson at the meeting.

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