Thursday, January 19th, 2023

Comments for January 20, 2023 Planning Committee Meeting

Re: Draft Dark Sky By-law

The Muskoka Ratepayers’ Association (MRA) has long been an advocate for the preservation of the dark sky and the minimization of transient light pollution.

The MRA is pleased to see that many of our prior comments and suggestions  for a revamped Dark Sky By-law have been considered and are now part of this version of the draft by-law.   We are particularly pleased that solar lighting and festive (Christmas) lighting have been included, as well as exemptions for pathway and staircase lighting that are almost always installed to address safety issues.

The MRA is glad to see that the 2014 Dark Sky By-law has retained a sunset date of 2024 for non-compliant fixtures and lamps.

Permitted types of fixtures for the illumination of business signage does not allow for back lit signs, nor even modest LED signs, such as the Township has installed at Community Centres in Milford Bay and Walkers Point.   Muskoka Lakes is a tourist area, many people arrive after dark, when lighted signs are essential for business viability, the  MRA would encourage Council and staff to re-examine how this need can be best accommodated.

The MRA notes that the Ontario Municipal Act has been updated, primarily due to the recent incorporation of “strong mayor” provisions, but also that Section 129 now provides municipalities with the ability to regulate hours of operation for lighting. The MRA believes that regulating hours of operation, especially the one hour between 11 pm and sun rise will prove to be impossible at best to enforce and will probably create a regulatory snake pit of problems.   In spite of residents’ best efforts Muskoka’s unreliable electricity grid makes it impossible for most light timers and motion sensors to work as programmed.   The MRA would encourage staff to develop a workable and practical solution or revert to the provisions of the prior Section 129 of the Municipal Act, where municipalities could not regulate hours of operation.

The MRA has reviewed the schedule of fines for various infractions.  We believe based on the recent limits set for site alteration and tree removal infractions by the Attorney General, a $500 fine for a non compliant fixture is grossly excessive.

Lastly the MRA has major concerns regarding the viability of enforcing this by-law.  The recently enacted fireworks by-law has been contravened regularly.  The activity happens after dark when By-law Officers are off duty.  The fireworks display is over in 20 minutes and the evidence and guilty parties vanish into the night.   A MRA Director with a modest property has 24 exterior fixtures and 80 interior fixtures.  If this is typical, the MRA believes it would be virtually impossible for By-Law Officers to inspect fixtures for compliance and lamps for wattage consumed and lumens produced, let alone reinspect  future changes or upgrades.  If a by-law is not proactively enforced, like parking or speeding infractions, it becomes nothing more than a guideline with a third party complaint mechanism.

The MRA would like to thank committee and staff for the opportunity to provide our input.

Liz Denyar – President, Muskoka Ratepayers’ Association

CORRECTION:   Subsequent to our submission to the Planning Committee, the following error was identified

THE MRA INCORRECTLY STATED THAT MUNICIPALITIES DID NOT HAVE THE AUTHORITY TO REGULATE LIGHTING THAT IMPACTED EXTERIOR AREAS WITHIN THEIR GEOGRAPHY.  IN FACT MUNICIPALITIES HAVE LONG BEEN PERMITTED BY THE MUNICIPAL ACT TO PASS BY LAWS THAT CONTROL SUCH LIGHTING.   THE MRA SINCERELY REGRETS THIS ERROR.