Planning committee approves house addition on flood plain

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Despite staff’s recommendation to deny a planning application to add an addition to a single family home in a flood plain off Fairy Lake, Planning Committee members voted unanimously in favour of approval.

“I appreciate that staff has to provide the recommendation that you did, given your interpretation of our policy, but also that’s the whole role of committee to interpret what we think is good or bad planning,” said Councillor Nancy Alcock at the September 12 Planning Committee meeting. Alcock is also chair of the committee.

The property is located on Allison’s Point Road and is approximately 7,020m² in size with about 46 metres of frontage on Fairy Lake. Currently, it contains a single family dwelling, a dock, two sheds and a detached garage. The applicants want to demolish the existing detached garage and add a two-storey, 261m² (2,809.4 sq. ft) addition to the back of the house. The main floor of the addition would serve as a garage and the second storey would serve as habitable space for the applicants’ son who has Down syndrome.

“Our son is about to turn 18 and has just graduated from Huntsville High,” said Christine Holmes. “He needs a level of independence, he certainly wants to live separately from his parents but he can’t really do that. So this was our opportunity and our hope that we can fulfill that for him.”

She said the family moved to the area about eight years ago and although they had some concerns about what resources might be available for their son, she said the community has been overwhelmingly supportive. She said while the family still goes back to Toronto for some medical resources and specialized care, they want to stay in the community and they’re glad they moved here.

Huntsville Planner Curtis Syvret explained to committee that the Ministry of Natural Resources completed a hydrology study in 1988, supplemented in 1989, which identified required flooding elevations for major lakes in Muskoka. “As it pertains to Fairy Lake, a ‘one zone’ concept was utilized, which identifies the full contiguous floodplain that would be flooded, on average, once in 100 years. This includes the stillwater flood elevation at 285.29m and [an]additional wave run factor of 1.24m, when combined, constitute the regulatory flood elevation of 286.53m.”

Committee heard that in February 2000, the municipality granted a zoning amendment for the lot which permitted a “flood-proofed” dwelling and detached garage. “The rezoning also reduced the minimum elevation for openings to habitable buildings from 286.53m to 285.29m, being the stillwater elevation, and prohibited filling below the elevation,” added Syvret. He also said it appears the driveway would be under water in a 100-year storm.

“Despite the fact that openings of the existing dwelling and detached garage are below the regulatory flood elevation, this application to permit an addition to the existing structure must be evaluated against current Town Official Plan, provincial and Muskoka Official Plan policies,” he stated.

According to his report, the Town’s 2006 Official Plan does not allow new development, expansion of existing development or site alterations below the regulatory flood elevation. He said the Province also directs development away from hazardous flood areas and “provides further direction to prohibit development in areas that would be rendered inaccessible to people and vehicles during times of flooding hazards.” District of Muskoka staff also wrote a letter stating they could not support development in a flood plain, below the flood elevation.

Committee also received a letter of support from a neighbouring property owner.

Planning consultant for the applicants Lanny Dennis made several arguments in favour of the application. He told committee that the finished floor elevation of the existing dwelling is approximately 17 inches lower than the regulatory flood elevation and about 2.6 feet higher than the elevation approved in 2000. He said the addition would match the existing floor elevation, which would, again, be approximately 17 inches lower than the existing flood elevation requirement for that area. He further stated that all openings to the habitable building space, such as doors and windows, situated below the required elevation, would be flood proof.

“If you’re looking at an eight-foot swell in water I think there are other places in the town that may be problematic, not necessarily just this property, some of them being Scotts Point Road, Boston Pizza area on the Muskoka River, Szawlowski Drive and places like that,” said Dennis, adding that a previous technical report identified a lower flood elevation. He also said the owners have a letter from a professional addressing the safe construction of the addition on the property.

Dennis also told committee that since there’s already a structure on the property an addition would not exacerbate the problem. “So if there is a problem, there’s one right now,” he said. Dennis also emphasized the fact that it is an addition not a new dwelling and noted that the Provincial Policy Statement does allow for minor additions and argued that when you remove the existing garage, the addition amounts to just over 1000 sq. ft.

Dennis also pointed to language in Huntsville’s Official Plan. “It uses the words ‘should meet’ the regulatory flood elevation, so in my mind there is some flexibility to address site specific circumstances,” he said, adding that the Town’s OP cannot address all situations in different scenarios. He also argued that it is a lake, not a river in which flood waters tend to rise more rapidly and in greater flow velocities.

“In fact during some recent extreme flood events, [neither]this dwelling nor the garage has flooded. The water came up to about one metre on the shoreline, well back from the existing dwelling and even the garage which is constructed below the elevation and below the existing house level…,” said Dennis. Again he said the added living space would accommodate the applicants’ special needs son, “as there are, in my opinion and probably others, no adequate facilities in Huntsville available to accommodate those needs.”

In her presentation to committee Holmes also said she understood concerns for safety but “what these numbers mean is that Fairy Lake would have to rise by eight feet, so I think that the Town probably would be concerned about other things other than our family if Fairy Lake rises by eight feet.”

She told committee that the family already lives there. “So if there are access issues, if there are problems—we already live there.”

She said the garage would be a little over a foot out of compliance from the eight-foot level mentioned by Dennis and reiterated that the living quarters would be on the second floor. She also said the addition would be built at the back of the house with very little impact on sight lines to the lake and as far away from the water as possible.

In the end, committee was overwhelmingly in support of the application. Huntsville Mayor Scott Aitchison, who sat in on the committee, said he was happy to move the approval forward. Deputy Mayor Karin Terziano said that while she understood staff’s recommendation to deny the application as they’re following the letter of the law which is their obligation to do, she would support it. “I’m quite comfortable actually with this presentation.” She said the fact that the openings would be flood proof, that the habitable space is on the second floor, that the first floor would only serve as a garage and that the addition would be for the purpose of building an assisted dwelling, helped her in her decision to approve the application.

Councillor Jonathan Wiebe concurred but questioned what the process might be if “we say that we’re comfortable with it but the District has clearly said they are unable to recommend approval?” Huntsville Manager of Planning Kirstin Maxwell responded that District Council would have the ability to appeal it as would any person that is notified of the decision.

Alcock said committee members would defend their decision.

Councillor Jason FitzGerald commended staff for their work on the application and said that based on the fact that it is a preexisting house and that there seems to be some extenuating circumstances surrounding the addition, he too would support it. Councillor Bob Stone supported the application as well but wanted to make sure that the addition would be subject to site plan approval; staff said it would be.

You can check out planning staff’s full report here.

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4 Comments

  1. While I am in total agreement with both decisions; Staff’s and Planning Committee’s; there is no way (despite my complete empathy with the couple’s disabled son) that his condition should carry any weight in either decision. As long as a letter of understanding is filed, exempting the Town from any insurance claims in the event of a 100-year or Timmins storm, the decision is the correct one. In any case, the 1.24 m-wave-run would only apply in heavy winds; which would not necessarily accompany a storm of this magnitude.

  2. “staff’s recommendation to deny the application as they’re following the letter of the law”, “District has clearly said they are unable to recommend approval” = “Planning Committee members voted unanimously in favour of approval”. It’s official: #WhoNeedsStaff/experts/laws in Ontario

  3. It looks like Staff read the rules and the committee applied a bit of empathy and maybe logic as well to come up with this solution.
    Three things though.
    1- Make sure that tax dollars are not spent by the municipality when a future owner might come whining about flooding.
    2- Make sure general tax dollars are not used by some other government agency to somehow subsidize any fixing of future problems due to high water on this site.
    Sort of a “buyer beware” approach but it makes some sense in this case.
    3- Whatever sewage system this place uses, it should be designed such that in a flood as envisioned, it will not be overwhelmed and pollute the lake.

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