Your Worship, Councillors and Members of the Planning Committee, thank you for the opportunity to provide the Muskoka Ratepayers Association’s (MRA) input on the latest draft of the Township of Muskoka Lakes Official Plan
The MRA was very optimistic that when this council approved the 2021 to 2024 Township Strategic Plan that the Official Plan would mirror the objectives expressed in the Vision and Mission Statements. Words such as future generations, enjoying recreation, small town character, thriving communities, clear and respectful expectations, work together, shared vision and of course to protect and enhance our environment. Unfortunately, what the MRA reads, after thousands of people hours spent by staff, council, the OP Steering Committee, the Minett Working Group, plus tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars spent on consultants, is an Elitist’s Official Plan.
We believe this OP attempts to enhance our environment via a litany of policies and controls, that make development or redevelopment almost impossible and incredibly expensive. We see almost no discussion or evaluation of concrete short comings with the current OP, nor the environmental improvements council expects in this proposed OP. No quantifiable metrics have been established to measure environmental improvements, nor have any time dated targets been established to judge success or failure.
It is impossible for even professional planners to comprehend and provide comments on all 200 plus pages of Version Two of the OP. However, the MRA have picked a few of the most egregious areas of this OP for comments. Note. Council and Committee spent over an hour discussing pros and cons of deeded access to island properties.
First, is the plan to increase the frontage of all new waterfront lots to at least 90 meters plus. Why? Is it because the current OP for Lake Joe has a 300 foot requirement? This was placed solely on Joe because of phosphorous sensitivity, small watershed, lake trout, steep rocky shorelines and very slow water replacement rates etc.. Almost all other lakes do not have these sensitivities or characteristics.
At the same time all other new waterfront lots went from 100 to 200 ft. Why? Was it to improve water quality? So, how much has water quality improved over 13 years? What were the metrics in 2006 for measuring improvement? Have the targets been meet? Our guess is that parameters for water quality improvement were never set. So how do planners and the public judge success without concrete data and causative correlation. Have larger lots contributed to any improvement? Probably not, most if any water quality improvements are due to improved low phosphate detergents, better septic technology and more conscientious property owners.
A major concern in 2006 was building bulk on the waterfront. The plans for the 2006 OP culminated in an unprecedented rush to build two story boat houses. The exact opposite of what was desired in the OP.
The MRA see some attempt in this OP to reduce the maximum size of a dwelling on small and remote lakes, this is commendable. However, the maximum size on all other lakes remains unchanged at 7,500 square feet. Certainly, a township wide, lakefront maximum of 4,000 square feet would greatly reduce built form and assist with storm water management. However, that would not fit the template in an Elitist OP. So, we will continue to live with the new glass fronted, cubist creations that maximize bulk and light egress, but keep below the 35 foot height restriction.
Second, how many new lots have been created since 2006? A MRA Director asked the township staff for data on the total number of properties in TML for 2006 and 2020 (14 years). Unfortunately, no data is readily available for 2006 and records for residential property are not kept by waterfront and non-waterfront properties. However, he did learn that during 2020 the total TML property count increased by 10 properties to 14,992 or 0.067%. Even with Covid restrictions for part of the year consent applications were probably fairly typical, most applications being for boundary adjustments, not new lot creation. How can council even contemplate the draconian lot size increases without knowing this simple baseline data. There is less than a 1% increase in the number of lots in TML during the life of the current OP. We ask the mayor and each of the councillors to think about the 100 lots around their own TML residence and if any of you would even notice the addition of one lot over 13 years or 2 lots over a generation. What would be the collective impact on your water quality?
Third, the concept of putting a lot creation freeze on 50 smaller lakes in TML under the auspices of Recreational Carrying Capacity and exempting the largest high value elitist lakes (except narrow embayments) is a total confiscation of property rights that only ardent communists would endorse. Even property owners with a 1000 ft of frontage or more would be prohibited from creating 2 or 3 lots. Remember the two story boathouse applications in 2006 and 2007, the MRA would not be surprised to see a rush to create new lots with this OP proposal. This OP’s approach of one formula of 1.6 hectares of lake surface per lot fitting every small and medium lake is misguided. Especially, when every lake has a unique size, shape, depth, chemical profile, watershed character, etc. etc.. It has been common knowledge in the township, that almost every lot is unique and needs to be considered as such for planning purposes. Surely the same holds true for each lake?
The District OP identifies 4 lakes in TML with algae and phosphorous problems and perhaps a few others might be candidates, but certainly not 50.
Fourth, the elimination of Grandfathered Rights; such as rebuilding on same footprint within 50 feet of the water is now prohibited. Forcing a building back is probably not a bad idea, but it is another example of ratcheting up restrictions (currently 35 feet) with no quantifiable metrics to evaluate improvement. A prohibition of any expansion, even for a new bedroom or roofed over deck in the newly defined littoral zone is a brutal restriction. The down side is going to be more tree trimming and removal to obtain a better view of the lake and of course the dreaded rock blasting will probably increase if a cottage must be relocated.
The idea of a 10% expansion of an existing dwelling is another elitist gift. The 1200 square foot modest cottage owner gets a 120 square foot addition while the 5,000 square foot dwelling gets 500 square feet. Why not treat them all the same – say 250 square feet? At least it would be consistent with the idea of one size fits all, like recreational carrying capacity.
Fifth, the septic system securities and home owner annual reports for 10 years is an absolutely ridiculous requirement. Septic systems rarely have issues in the first 10 years, they happen after 20 and 30 years. Having an owner send annual photos and a report is certainly not any MRA members idea of the recreational enjoyment we envisioned in the Strategic Plan. What TML department is going to check the photos and information submitted for accuracy? What is the cost to administer such a program? How many defective systems does TML expect to find in the 10 year window for potential securities forfeiture. The MRA hate to be cynical, but we have to view this as a make work project to extract securities from residents for inspection compliance omissions, not operational deficiencies. It will also add to the cost and deter residents from upgrading current systems to the detriment of the environment.
We offer a better, lower cost alternative. Work with the District and adjacent municipalities to develop a four part septic system check list form. Mandate that each septage hauler complete and sign it for each septic system pumped. The completed form will be signed by the owner and they will keep one copy. Before off loading at a municipal sewage treatment facility 2 copies are submitted (one for the disposal plant one for TML). The septage hauler will keep one copy. TML can follow up and take corrective action only on systems that are deemed to have defects. This is a snipers approach to the problem not a shot gun blast in the wrong direction. Note that this type of system will ferret out all defective septic systems, not just those that are newly installed.
Sixth, the site plan for new builds works until the build is finished and securities returned. Who is going to monitor it in the years ahead when trees die, changes to buildings are made, small sheds added, drive ways and parking areas expanded etc? What is the TML’s past experience with site plan non-compliance after securities are returned? How much staff time and money are going to be expended for application reviews and site visits? How much money and TML time will be spent prosecuting owners for violations? Has anyone done a cost benefit analysis of current site plans, from the owners, TML’s and environmental perspectives? We think not, or this would not be in this OP. Site plans should only be mandated on commercial applications because of potential major changes to usage or for large developments on water i.e. resorts, institutions and large boathouses etc. They are a waste of money and time for almost all residential dwelling units.
Seventh, lakeshore marinas are becoming an endangered species in TML. They provide valuable services to boaters and contractors alike. The proposal to have expanded parking for owners/guests, mandatory garbage/ recycling stations and other requirements, before even a modest expansion for dockage is approved, quite simply will not happen. These businesses struggle financially and do not have large tracts of vacant waterfront land at their disposal. The elitists who use these facilities for fueling, servicing and storing their fleets, should be aware of the consequences of non-viable marinas. Schlepping of jerry cans to docks and boathouses will increase, fuel drums will be delivered via pontoon boats, repairs will be done in boathouses or dryland marinas. This all adds to the risk of fires, boat movement accidents and pollution from oil and fuel leakage.
Eighth, quarries and pits are a necessity for roads and buildings, however the MRA believes the proximity to water bodies needs to be maintained at least two kilometers and they must be located near provincial highways, if a majority of their production is being exported to other municipalities.
Last but not least is the issue of resorts in TML. The comments by the mayor at the Apr 16, 2021 Planning Meeting – asking if TML should prohibit new resorts like we do tent and trailer parks and the response by the consultant – Nick McDonald, that it is not a good idea to prohibit, but the work to date in the OP has been to raise the regulatory bar sufficiently high to make it virtually impossible to clear (he refers to it as running the gauntlet). This is loud and clear to the MRA that the elitists and this council do not want resorts in the township. Any statement in this OP and the Strategic Plan that the TML supports resorts and resort redevelopment needs to be removed.
Council inserted the Resort Section in the OP at the 11th hour. They recently passed tenure conditions for future condo agreements on resort properties, limiting owner usage to 26 weeks. This was done after the TML lost 3 LPAT hearings where 3 separate owners stated a need to have maximum owner usage of 40 to 44 weeks for any chance of economic success. We have to really question this councils sincerity and their gross contradiction of their stated strategic objectives of being respectful, working together and encouraging thriving communities when it comes to resort policies.
The OP also indicates a desire to remove the designation of resorts as employment areas and to consider down zoning resort properties when appropriate. This move at least could provide some relief to struggling resorts that are essentially stranded assets for owners. However, the process proposed for downzoning is needlessly complex and expensive.
In summary, we see the unwarranted lot size increase and creation restrictions, the removal of grandfathered property rights, plus restrictions on resort and marina redevelopment as draconian. In addition, the ligature of increased bureaucratic red tape adds unnecessary expense, hobbles economic development and provides minimal environmental protection or enhancement.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide our critique on this version of the TML OP