Letter to Council re Official Plan


Subject:   Muskoka Ratepayers' Association's Comments on the Township of Muskoka Lakes July 23, 2020 Draft Revision of the Proposed Official Plan

Date:  Sept 18, 2020

The Muskoka Ratepayers' Association (MRA) would like to thank the Township Staff, Citizen Advisory Members, Council and Meridian Planning for their input in crafting this draft Official Plan (TMLOP).    The TMLOP is expected to fairly represent all stakeholders, especially property owners in providing a road map or realistic vision to address the municipalty's land use needs over the next decade or more.  It should also be kept in mind, that the TML must mesh  its land use vision with that of the Province and the District of Muskoka.  The TMLOP is the tip of the land use pyramid, with the base and middle formed by the Provincial Policy Statement and the District of Muskoka Official Plan (DMMOP) respectively.  Furthermore, the MRA  questions  the inclusion of many items that do not belong in an Official Plan i.e.  short term rentals, site alteration and setbacks etc..  These issues are best addressed under specific by-laws, such as amendments to current zoning by-laws. 

The MRA  is pleased that the TMLOP shows extensive concerns for the preservation and improvement of the TML waterfront lands, water quality and the environment.   However, we question the real current problems versus perceptions and what are the end of plan improvements that the Township and stakeholders can expect with this plan.  What is the estimated cost to property owners, township staff, taxpayers and others for studies, LPAT challenges, not to mention lost economic and recreational enjoyment opportunities by abandoning or delaying property improvements to benefit the many inter-generational families using many of these properties.    We are not sure the proper weighting of the advantages and disadvantages of ratcheting up restrictions in the waterfront areas have been done. 

The MRA  believes that it is inevitable that all municipalities will change over time.  Those that have progressive visions and tailor Official Plans to the vision should grow and flourish.   Those that implement restrictions of questionable value in an attempt to  roll back the clock to a perceived more pastoral period will shrivel and die. We expect the TMLOP to facilitate progressive changes that benefit the majority of people, not to hinder progressive changes. 

The MRA  has several concerns with this current draft and will try to provide a bullet point synopsis of the major ones:

  • The flavour of the 29 subject sections of the report are oriented to tightened controls and restrictions on waterfront properties.  Sections 8 to 14 are the only sections that potentially deal with non waterfront properties (almost 80% waterfront orientation).   It should be remembered that the vast majority of waterfront lots are developed.  The MRA  would expect major objections and expensive LPAT challenges, if grandfathered rights were expropriated.   This would leave many of these enhanced restrictive proposals applicable to less than 10% of current lots plus any granted consent applications.
  • The MRA is disappointed that there is almost no provision for employment and economic development via the creation of commercial/industrial areas.   In fact, restrictions on Marinas (20), no decision on contractor yard creation and location, no review of local aggregate needs and pit/quarry locations would appear to indicate minimal interest in employment areas – a key element of any OP.
  • The TMLOP Committee originally decided not to specifically address resorts in this OP.   This was the same position taken in the recent DMMOP update.  However, at the last hour Section 29 was inserted by Council, without the respectful and considered input of the committee.   The MRA has significant concerns on this policy direction, to substantially increase the mandatory time in the rental pool for condo resort properties.   Our concerns stem from three recent LPAT decisions that established nominal time frames.   It would be a huge waste of taxpayer dollars to try to re-plow this furrow with subsequent challenges by resort owners, just to obtain the same decision and with no impact on current condo agreements.
  • The MRA finds the introduction of terms such as Recreational Carrying Capacity, Cumulative Environmental Impact and Community Planning Permit System to be totally new concepts for a TMLOP.   It is difficult to comment when there is no detail on policy, procedures, templates or examples.   We believe clarity is required.  Site Plans, Environmental Assessments and Storm Water Management Studies are all well documented and understood in the township’s planning process.    For example, Recreational Carrying Capacity raises several questions. It shows it applying to six lakes, but there could be others.   What is the criteria for listing and is it different for each lake?   What is to be done once a lake is listed?   Is all development frozen?  Is only lot creation frozen?   What is done to improve water quality and who assumes costs and responsibility etc.?   Are recreational activities i.e. boating reduced?   Who makes the listing determination?    These types of questions need answers before any cognitive discussion can be contemplated.  
  • Section 3 on Flooding Hazards seems to have been reviewed and the initial direction on large appliances has been removed.  The believe that refrigerators and even dryers for wet towels etc. are a major source of enjoyment to all families fortunate enough to own a boathouse and would not like these to be prohibited.   We would also point out that we agree that the storage of all hazardous material in boathouses should be stored well above the highwater mark.  However, most boats will contain fuel and oil which make that impossible and should therefore be exempted.
  • Section 15 on Short Term Rentals is not a land use issue, it concerns tenure of accommodation.   This issue was extensively reviewed three or four years ago by a Council approved committee that included a broad cross section of community members.  It was heard loud and clear that licencing was not required and was a huge administrative/cost burden for both owners and township staff.   The solution to dealing with unruly renters was deemed to be strong enforcement of existing noise and parking by- laws and peer and owner pressure via a Renter Code of Conduct, which the Township prepared and Council approved.   The MRA  believes by-law enforcement and application of a Code of Conduct remains the best approach to ensuring that adjacent properties not be negatively impacted by short term renters.
  • Section 17 on Site Alteration and moving development back from 20 to 30 metres from the water on vacant property is admirable, but will probably result in many more minor variance applications.  It should also be noted that septic systems have exactly the same set backs in the Zoning By-Law.  This will undoubtedly drive up development costs and work loading for planning staff.   In addition, we expect more tree limbing to provide views to the water and perhaps more blasting due to reduced flexibility in locating a suitable building/septic envelope on many properties.
  • Section 19 talks about the elimination or curtailment of grandfathered rights.   The MRA  believes this is a draconian approach, which in many cases, such as a fire or flood de facto, expropriates prior rights that the owner enjoyed through no fault of their own.   We would expect many challenges to such a change and/or numerous applications for exemptions.
  • Section 21 concerns mandating resorts supply onsite accommodation for employees.   In years gone by this was done as a convenience and cost saving measure for the resorts.  With an eighty percent reduction in Muskoka Resorts over the past 70 years, changes from central dining to in unit meal preparation and outsourcing of services, the ratio of staff to guests has declined significantly.   Every employee has different family and societal needs and it is impossible to force them to reside at their location of employment.    Why treat a resort differently than a restaurant with seasonal employees?    The MRA  believes the Township needs to re-assess their position on requiring resorts to provide on site accommodation for staff.

The MRA thanks the TMLOP Committee for the opportunity to provide our input for consideration at their Sept 26th Public Planning Meeting.   We would respectfully request that with virtual meetings all submissions to the TMLOP Committee be posted on the Township's website for public viewing.

Doug Bryden  - Director Muskoka Ratepayers' Association

Don Furniss  - Director Muskoka Ratepayers' Association

 

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