Treasure Island development proposal draws opposition

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The council chamber was packed at a public meeting held by Huntsville’s Development Services Committee on January 16 to gather input on an application to develop the only two existing lots on Treasure Island.

The island is located on Lake Waseosa and is divided into two parcels—one is about 9.5ha (about 23.5 acres) with 100 metres of lake frontage, and the other is approximately 1.1 ha (2.7 acres) in area with 300m of lake frontage, according to Huntsville planning staff.

Committee heard that the larger lot has been in the applicants’ family for more than 70 years, since it was originally purchased by their grandfather.

Proposal

Under Huntsville’s Official Plan, island development requires mainland docking and vehicle parking facilities. In a 2017 tax sale, the applicants managed to secure the entire island by purchasing the smaller lot. They also purchased two mainland lots at 143 and 207 West Waseosa Lake Road.

Committee heard that the applicants want to build a dwelling on each of the island lots. Their plan is to create the required parking area at 207 West Waseosa Lake Road, a vacant lot with an area of 1,550sq.m. and 25.7m of road frontage, while 143 West Waseosa Lake Road, a small lot with an area of 475sq.m and 7.6m of lake frontage, would provide docking and boat access to the island.

Both mainland lots would have to be rezoned in order to recognize their intended use. “Additionally, the dock proposed on the 143 West Waseosa Lake Road property requires a side yard setback reduction of 3m from both interior side lot lines, and an increase in shoreline activity area width to 54 per cent is also required to permit the dock and boat launch,” explained Huntsville planner Elizabeth Reimer in her report to committee.

The island lots would also have to be rezoned from conservation to shoreline residential in order to allow development to proceed. But the applicants, supported by legal counsel and planning consultant Lanny Dennis of Wayne Simpson and Associates, said they only recently became aware that the Town had rezoned the island to conservation and said they had not been formally notified of the change or consulted.

“We do not know how or why this happened. This may have occurred in the Town’s comprehensive zoning bylaw in 2008. It is important to understand that this is not something new being proposed, but simply an attempt to rectify what we consider a past error and restore what in fact existed as part of our property for a significant number of years,” said Gayle Gailits, one of the applicants. She said her family had been paying residential rather than conservation taxes on the lot they owned for many years. She also said they were now having to go through a lengthy and expensive process to restore their property rights and noted that a general environmental impact study had been provided. “We cannot accept this rezoning change to conservation and want to have our property rezoned back to where it had been thereby giving us the ability to have one dwelling on 100 Treasure Island and one dwelling on 200 Treasure Island,” she said.

Opposition to the proposal

The municipality received more than 40 written comments on the application, including from the lake association—all opposing the proposal. Many people also drove hours from out of town to attend the meeting in order to record their opposition to the application. Their concerns included:

  • The negative impact more development would have on the lake, which many considered to already be at capacity;
  • The prominence of the island on the lake community and the negative impact island development would have on the character of the lake;
  • Concerns about the impact development would have on the ecology of the island;
  • Concerns about the width of West Waseosa Lake Road, a private road, and its ability to accommodate additional traffic;
  • Concerns that the mainland waterfront landing would be used by the public at large and result in even greater boat and vehicular traffic, as well as security issues;
  • Concerns for boating safety associated with an increase in traffic as a result of the development; and
  • Arguments against granting easements where no legal deeded access exists.

Savas Varadas of Plan Muskoka was at the meeting representing an adjacent property owner to the south of the proposed waterfront landing for the island, as well as a property owner directly across from the landing. It was his opinion that the criteria for island access had not been suitably met. He said the shoreline frontage is extremely tight, hence the request to reduce the side yard setbacks by half. He said the problem would be exacerbated by construction vehicles for development on the island. He also noted that having the parking area removed from the water landing could lead to people parking at the landing rather than in the designated parking area, thereby adding more congestion to an already narrow lot. He also spoke of the negative impact clearing the waterfront lot of trees would have on surrounding property owners. He said it would also be difficult to accommodate a vehicle and trailer in such a narrow lot without trespassing on other people’s property. Essentially, Varadas referred to the access plan proposed as poor planning.

He said in his opinion a more appropriate site needs to be provided for island access and, “until that time, I just don’t see how Treasure Island could be approved for development.”

Similar concerns were raised by many of those present.  You can find the full report, including comments from the lake association and surrounding residents at this link. You can also find the scoped environmental impact study provided by the applicant in support of the applications here.

Comments from councillors

Huntsville Mayor Scott Aitchison said he was chair of the committee that rewrote the OP in 2008, and he would be checking on his notes. “I appreciate the people who have come from miles away to do this and I think speaks volumes to your passion and your care of what’s an important part of our community. I do take issue with people who are offended by the fact that we’re not going to make a decision to dismiss this… or people who didn’t think that they had enough time to respond do it, and then think that we should immediately dismiss it before we talk to everybody on the lake. That just doesn’t sort of sit well with me,” he said, referring to comments made at the meeting by some of the stakeholders, who said notice of the public meeting had been inadequate.

Aitchison expressed concern with the mainland access to the island. “I think that is remarkably too small and I’m looking forward to going and visiting the site, looking around as well and talking to more folks about the issue. It was important to hear the submission from our staff first, and hearing from people, before I went out and was biased by any particular party. So I’m pleased that we’ve gone through the process we have, and I’m glad that we are not making a decision today, so we can go out and talk to some more folks.”

Councillor Nancy Alcock asked whether there had been consideration for using other property the Ball family (another of the applicants) owns on the lake to access the island. “We do have property, yes, but we do not have boat ramps,” said Gailits. Dennis said he had visited only one of the properties the family owns, so he could only speak to that property and said it’s very steep and quite a distance to the shoreline, so it probably would not be suitable. Dennis also  confirmed that the properties the family owns have not been evaluated as alternate access points.

The applicants were asked to hold a meeting with area stakeholders to try and address their concerns. No date has yet been set for that meeting.

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5 Comments

  1. The Mayor did an excellent job in responding to the “protesters”; smoothing ruffled feathers and explaining why it was unrealistic and peremptory to attempt a proper decision at the meeting. Apparently, even the rightful owners of Treasure Island were not even informed of the change in designation to “Conservation” some 11 years ago, and the Town did not consequently revise their tax assessment. I believe that minimal or no taxes are owing on a conservation area (but maybe that’s only when it’s open to the public). Furthermore, if notice of the meeting had been inadequate, why were people present who had travelled considerable distances?
    .
    Personally, I am opposed to property owners being prohibited from developing their properties. In essence, therefore, they have been paying taxes for 70 years on an unsaleable asset. They have also undergone an environmental assessment, and with some tweaking here and there seem to have a valid case to proceed. How many of the people at the meeting would not be seeking to develop if they were the owners? Precious few, I bet.

    • Rob Millman. The applicants claim they didn’t know the zoning had changed, although it was clearly marked on their tax bills for 10 years. Their lawyer should have told them that ignorance is no defense of the law. Secondly, they need a viable access point and their proposed access point is clearly not viable given that they would need to trespass on neighboring properties in order to back a boat on to the boat ramp.
      Third, the island is heavily sloped and it would be very difficult to get construction equipment in place without destroying shoreline and fish habitat.
      Fourth, the applicants purchased the smaller lot in the past few years for back taxes. It would have been clearly zoned as Conservation.

  2. Mr. Millman,-

    What is your position on the developers proposal to use land that belongs to others without their permission? According to the developer’s own legal opinon, only the mainland lot has the right to use the two easements in question. Neither of the Treasure Island lots have a right of way over the easements, but the developers propose to use them anyway, and by extension, grant that right to whomever they sell the lots to in the future. And they are asking the Town to give them a stamp of approval.

    Let us say that you have a pie. I am hungry so you agree that I can have a piece of your pie — for “a dollar and other valuable consideration”, perhaps. That’s fine, that’s our right to enter into such a contract.

    But now let’s say that I decide to keep helping myself to your pie so I can sell those pieces to others. And I head off to town hall to apply for a vendor’s permit — in effect, I ask permission from the Town to steal from you.

    Wouldn’t you protest?

  3. Another clear, detailed, and objective article from the Doppler. If you don’t see why this is a terrible development proposal, read some of the more than 40 objections to it. (The link is near the end of the article, above.) Especially from the kids (page 209), the lake association (page 154), the independent planner (page 185 ) or even mine (page 163).

    There are, unfortunately, two “mistakes” in the article.

    The first is the statement that the larger of the two “development lots” on the island, 23.5 acres of old growth forest, zoned Conservation, has only 100 metres of shoreline. That figure is taken directly from the town’s planning report. It’s WRONG. The actual figure is 960 metres ! Says something about the town’s casual approach to this application.

    The second “mistake” is to simply report verbatim Mayor Scott Aitchison’s self-serving interview AFTER the public meeting, where he was unprepared for both the issues involved and the more than 40 people who showed up unanimously opposed to this development. Three of the five committee members visited the lake ahead of the meeting. He was the first one invited, but couldn’t find the time to reply, let alone take a look. And now he wants to “talk to everyone on the lake”?

  4. I attended the hearing – and spoke at it as well.

    In conversation with the Mayor, as well as a couple of other councillors following the meeting, I was encouraged that he (and others) were committed to at least visit the proposed shoreline access point.

    I believe that ANYONE who takes the time to visit 143 W West Waseosa Lake Road (a private, unserviced road) will realize the absurdity of ignoring the Muskoka Official Plan of providing “generous sideyards”…and allowing 54% of shoreline of this tiny lot, to be developed as an access point when the owners of Treasure Island own many hundreds of feet of shoreline on the opposite side of the lake…on a public road that is fully serviced.

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