Residents around a proposed South Mary Lake Rd subdivision say they’re concerned for their wells

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A proposed subdivision at 553 South Mary Lake Road in Port Sydney, which would be serviced by private wells and septic systems, is causing concern among area residents.

The property proposed for development is approximately 17.8 hectares (44 acres) in area with about 20 metres of road frontage on South Mary Lake Road. The developer is proposing to sever the property into 29 lots and build an internal roadway to access the lots, via South Mary Lake Road, under a condominium agreement. The applicant is also seeking an amendment to Huntsville’s Official Plan in order to create a Special Policy Area, which would allow for significantly smaller lots and less road frontage.

Currently, the property is designated as forming Port Sydney’s residential settlement area. New lots would be required to be a minimum one hectare (2.47 acres) in size with 60 metres of road frontage. If the amendment is approved, the applicant would be allowed to create 0.4 hectare (.98 acre) lots with a minimum road frontage of 45 metres, and three of those lots would be allowed a road frontage of 29 metres, according to a report compiled by Huntsville planner Elizabeth Reimer.

Area residents attended a public meeting held at Town Hall on April 10 to gather input on the proposal. The municipality received letters of objection and a petition was circulated. Five residents also spoke at the meeting. Their main concern involved the impact 29 new wells could have on their own water supply.

When you put 29 instead of five—which was the original proposal—29 new wells in, plus anything new in development towards North Granite Ridge Golf Course, which is up for development, plus an adjacent 200 acres as well… that’s got to have an impact on the aquiferone of five area residents who spoke at the meeting

Others questioned what securities would be put in place should any of the septic systems fail and impact surrounding properties and groundwater. “These systems are only as good as the people who are maintaining them… I’m concerned about possible pollution,” said another resident at the meeting.

Residents also lamented the impact the density of the development would have on the abundant wildlife in the area. Their concerns also included the impact of more traffic on the road, particularly as it intercepts Hwy. 11, an already dangerous intersection, as well as the impact runoff could have on the nearby river, and the lack of green space, at least on paper, associated with the development.

Councillor Nancy Alcock asked whether the applicant had considered creating a public or condominium trail, or more green space in the development.

Under the Planning Act, developers are required to make a parkland dedication or provide the municipality with cash in lieu of parkland.

Larry Ross, president of Vista Investments, said green space was carefully considered. “One of the challenges with public green space is that the condominium road, legally, is private so to set up a Town-owned park, for instance, at the back of the property by the creek area, that would be fine for the residents but because of the legalities of the road it would prohibit anyone else from the public coming into the property.”

He said he plans to create a soft walking trail along the road allowance, which would lead to the front of the property. “This is not sort of part of the official application, but that’s something that I’m intending to do. So, that will provide a nice walking area for the residents.”

Ross also noted that while the trail he is intending to build in the subdivision would be private, “for the most part if other residents in the area want to come and walk down the trail, you know, it’s not a gated community. You can go visit people and there’s not going to be police standing at the front entrance checking ID.”

Councillor Jonathan Wiebe questioned what the setbacks would be for the three lots closest to a cold water stream on the property.

Reimer said the stream and the riparian area on the southern part of the property is already zoned Natural Resource to ensure that it is not altered in any way and noted that the residential boundary is not close to the stream, and, if it were, a 30-metre (about a 98.5 foot) setback would apply. Ross added that the building envelope as it is proposed is twice as far as the required set back from the stream, or creek as he referred to it.

An adjoining property owner to the west of the proposed development, Merrill Perret, said area residents are not opposed to “sensible development in Muskoka. We recognize Huntsville and the environments need more residences and it’s a popular area. It’s not a case of I live here now so shut the door. However, we do believe strongly that any development should enhance the neighbourhood, enhance the village of Port Sydney, and not despoil or harm it in any way.”

He said he’s been told by long-time residents that the area has had a history of problems with water supply. “Some of the original local dug wells have become unusable over the years and had to be replaced by drilled wells at the homeowners’ expense, as new projects have been constructed.” He also said it is his understanding that other similar developments have been required to provide a written guarantee against future well water supply problems.

“A similar written guarantee here might help to alleviate this concern particularly if accompanied by a reduction in the number of proposed lots and wells,” he said.

In response to some of those concerns, Ross said, “I haven’t developed a subdivision yet where all the neighbours come out and say ‘yeehaw, we’re excited about it.’ I understand people don’t like to see changes in their backyard. One of the things that I think we need to keep in mind is this is a designated settlement area and in a designated settlement area the PPS [Provincial Policy Statement] says that we shall direct residential development to these settlement areas. One of the reasons we’re doing that is so that we don’t overdevelop the rural areas.”

He said while he is not a hydrogeologist, and he understands residents’ concerns about wells, the testing that was done of the aquifer underneath the property concluded that “we had an unbelievable amount of water, just an incredible amount. They could hardly pump it down fast enough to test it.” He also said that the hydrogeological study is recommending that a building permit not be issued until a well is installed and tested.

“So that’s a safeguard that ensures that the development cannot proceed beyond the capacity of the aquifer because essentially what happens is they go in, they put a well in, if the well has sufficient capacity, then a building permit is issued. If you go to the next lot and the well doesn’t work it stops, so there are safeguards in place,” he said.

He also said each site was tested for a septic system. “Ninety-eight per cent of this site is covered in about 30 feet of sand, it is absolutely ideal for septics,” he added.

In terms of the term condominium, he said, “I understand the word condominium scares people. There is a real lack of understanding of the difference between a vacant land condominium and a standard condominium.” Ross said the development being proposed will have a board of directors and sufficient money put away for “road repairs and all other items, garbage, etc., etc., that’s all done formally.”

He said he held an open house on the proposal last September at the Port Sydney Community Hall “and it was well attended… I think part of the fear here is simply based on the lack of understanding of the process. If this subdivision and condominium is approved, it’s not just ‘OK away we go, we throw in roads and wells and things proceed.” He said there are many steps in the process and a condominium agreement between his company and the municipality, including safeguards that will be enforced by the Town. “I think maybe part of the concern here is that it’s just going to be the Wild West…,” said Ross.

Members of Huntsville’s planning committee reminded those present that the meeting was held to gather input from community members, and assured those present that their concerns would be taken into consideration in any decision.

You can find more information and a draft plan of the development here.

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5 Comments

  1. If I lived in the general area of the proposed site, I would demand studies and assurances from the town and the developer.
    Area residents would need to negotiate and agree on an area perimeter and time frame of possible affected existing well supplies and water qualities if a request for lot size variations are brought to the town.
    Any future adverse effects on existing water supplies or septic functions would be repaired or replaced at the expense of the developer within previously agreed to boundaries. No town revenue should be used for these improvements or repairs, placing tax payers on the hook for the bill.
    The town needs to protect and support existing residents, by placing appropriate responsibilities on the developers and individuals requesting variations and amendments to existing by-laws if amendments are granted.
    The town is a tool that should be used for support and guidance of the existing property owners living within existing policies, not used to obtain a check mark for developers to avoid future responsibility for their actions once a request for an amendment has been given a green light.

  2. Folks please ensure the local citizens attend all meetings with the Town regarding this Development. I used to be on the board of directors and I did find out about many issues that were quietly approved by the council of the day. (Not Huntsville) The good news is that all the surrounding properties will see an increase in property values as more land will eventually be developed. Please make sure that any deals made guarantee in writing issues regarding water, as well the existing roads being maintained. Don’t forget that park space be expanded and ensure that the green space includes playgrounds for all the kids or grandkids that will occupy and visit in the new development. There will be more traffic for sure and the local roads will take a beating. Will there still be volunteer firefighters? The town s/b hiring full time staff as this area will get developed.

  3. I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Hopson. After deducting property, say, 0.8 hectares, for the road allowance, and applying the existing criteria, there would be sufficient property remaining for 17 lots. And the developer, as is his wont, ONLY wants permission for almost twice as many lots. IF Planning was on board with this, could it still be stopped by Land Division? If the Town doesn’t have a Land Division Department, then District Land Division should step in.
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    This is intended to be a Rural Residential subdivision, as befits the nature of Port Sydney. I, personally, live on a one-hectare lot; and the thought of having another home on this property would be ludicrous. If I wanted to live cheek-by-jowl with my neighbour, I’d live in town. And Mr. Ross’ argument against greenspace is entirely specious; as the greenspace (in this instance) is intended for the benefit of the subdivision; not visitors.
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    And these properties are going to be marketed to appeal to The Sixers, who never lived with a well, a septic system; or without an over-fertilized, over-watered lawn in their lives. Will they abuse their wells? You bet. Will they have their septic tanks pumped out regularly? No. And will the phosphorous from the fertilizer find its way into the stream? YAHTZEE.
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    With only 17 lots (preferably less), the success of this development would be tenuous at best. With 29, I only hope that the neighbours can sell before their property values are significantly depressed.

  4. Merrill Perret on

    Thank you, Doug, Ed, and Rob, for sharing our concerns. The residents of South Mary Lake Road and Hiawatha feel a written guarantee against future well and septic problems should be a minor risk, if the developer’s claims about the infallibility of the aquifer and sandy soil are are correct.

    • Some community members might not know but a rough road has already been put in place so Hydro could install hydro poles to the end of the proposed subdivision and had service to one of the lots turned on. It looks like the developer is pretty positive that this will go through.

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