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WAVES XIX

How like a winter hath my absence been
From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!
What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen!
What old December’s bareness everywhere!

William Shakespeare, Sonnet 97

 IN THIS ISSUE:

(Press  to return to this index)

LEGACY COTTAGES LPAT HEARING RESCHEDULED FOR FEBRUARY

A handful of the 43 'cottages' under construction on Lake Rosseau. 
The LPAT hearing for the Legacy Cottages development on Lake Rosseau has been rescheduled for February 27 and 28, 2020 at the District’s offices in Bracebridge. Friends of Muskoka is a party to this hearing, and we need our supporters (you) to attend the meeting. Close to 80 people attended the preliminary hearing for the Lippa Pit LPAT and their support made a difference. 

WE NEED YOUR HELP - PLEASE ATTEND THIS MEETING!

The developer proposes to construct 43 buildings on only 470’ of shoreline. Friends of Muskoka is opposing these units being used as residential cottages when zoning for one residential cottage requires a minimum of 200’ of shoreline and other restrictions that protect our lakes from over-development. 

The key issue in this hearing is whether the 43 buildings may be owned as de facto residential condominium cottages on a property zoned for 100% commercial usage.

Although building permits have been issued and construction is underway, the units will not be able to be occupied unless the required approvals are given for the water treatment and septic system. Based on information we have received from the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP), Legacy’s septic system needs to be larger. 

In addition, the units may not be individually sold unless the LPAT hearing results in a decision favourable to the developer allowing the units to be owned through a condominium.

PROVINCE ABANDONS DOWNSIZING MUNICIPAL GOVERNMENT

As explained in Waves XVI, the Ontario government reviewed the dual tier municipal government structure in eight regions, including the upper-tier District of Muskoka and its six lower-tier municipalities (Bracebridge, Gravenhurst, Huntsville, Georgian Bay, Lake of Bays and Townships of Muskoka Lakes).
 
In Waves XV, we reported that Friends of Muskoka provided a submission and Friends and the MLA provided a joint response to questions raised by the Province’s Special Advisors.
 
In total, over 8,500 submissions were received from the public regarding the 82 municipalities included in the study, the vast majority of which were against amalgamation.
 
The focus of the study was to ascertain whether there were potential cost savings and efficiency gains to be had from restructuring municipal government, including amalgamating the upper-tier District and the six lower-tier municipal governments, in Muskoka or reducing the number of District councillors.
 
The Province has decided against downsizing regional governments, including Muskoka’s, but rather has decided to provide up to $143 million to municipalities to help lower costs and improve services. Funding details are in this Ontario government release
 
District Chair John Klinck said in this news article that he is  pleased with the outcome, as are we, but noted that a review by the previous District Council revealed it was felt there were too many councillors (22) and he doesn’t rule out a process identifying a way to reduce the number of seats in Muskoka.

TML COUNCIL CONSIDERS INITIAL RECOMMENDATIONS FROM THE MINETT STEERING COMMITTEE 

Minett Steering Committee’s Initial Recommendations 

The Minett Joint Policy Review Steering Committee issued its initial policy recommendations for the Resort Village of Minett on October 16, 2019. The Committee is continuing its work, including reviewing expert reports, and expects to issue its final recommendations in early 2020.  We are pleased that Friends of Muskoka’s Laurie Thomson and Frank Pottow are members of the Minett Committee that have spent countless hours over the past year on this important project.

It is very positive for Muskoka that the Minett Committee has determined that “any development in Minett must respect the environment first, protecting the shoreline attributes and restoring them where possible. Development at the expense of the environment is not acceptable going forward.”

The Minett Committee has made 28 specific policy recommendations for Minett. Friends of Muskoka made this delegation to TML Council on November 13, 2019 stating its full support of the Committee’s initial recommendations, including:
  • the protection and enhancement of the environment will have priority over economic development
  • development will be designed to mitigate the effects of climate change
  • Minett will exist as a tourist and recreation focused special policy area, and limited growth will be for tourist facilities only, not for high density residential development 
  • development will only proceed within the capacity of existing bridges, intersections and roads
Next Steps to Approve New Minett Policies 

Timing is tight to implement new policies for development in Minett. The Interim Control By-law that paused development while studies were undertaken expires on May 13, 2019. Any applications for development filed after then will be assessed based on the policies in place when the application is filed. 

If an Official Plan Amendment (OPA) is not in place when the ICBL expires, two years of hard and dedicated work by the Minett Committee and District and Township staff, and significant taxpayers’ money paying for it, will have been wasted. 

As a result, Friends of Muskoka strongly encouraged Council in our November delegation to move forward with a process that will change the existing Minett policies through an OPA before the ICBL expires. This includes holding the required public meeting to receive comments on a draft OPA. The Muskoka Lakes Association also delegated to Council and took the same position.  

This MuskokaRegion article describing the November Council meeting aptly states:  “Minett is approaching a critical juncture as council works with different groups to determine the fate of the resort village’s development.”

TML’s Discussions with Mitch Goldhar and other Minett Developers

At the November Council meeting, representatives of Clevelands House owner, Mitch Goldhar, expressed concern that the policy development process for Minett was being rushed and his plans are not yet finalized.  He offered to give Council additional time by agreeing not to submit development applications after the ICBL expires and until Council approves policies for Minett. 

In our delegation to Council on December 11, 2019, we supported Council’s decision to try to negotiate this type of standstill agreement with Mr. Goldhar, as well as the owner of the JW Marriott. However, we strongly encouraged Council to continue along a dual track by consulting with Mr Goldhar and the JW Marriott to ensure high level policies (such as no new dwellings within 20 metres of the waterfront) are in place before the ICBL expires.  

We are pleased that Council decided to hold a special COW meeting in January (likely on January 24th) to review the Minett Steering Committee’s recommendations with all interested stakeholders, with the goal of advancing the OP policies for Minett. 

We are communicating with Mr. Goldhar, who has confirmed he is an FOM supporter. His team is working to develop proposals that are in keeping with what we want to see to protect the shoreline in Wallace Bay. 

LPAT DECISION ISSUED ON VILLAS/TOUCHSTONE DEVELOPMENTS

A disappointing decision was released by the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (formerly the OMB) on two developments on Lake Muskoka: Villas of Muskoka (formerly Tamwood Lodge) and Touchstone Resorts (formerly Aston Villas). Friends of Muskoka is working with our lawyers to request a review of the decision.

As we explained in Waves XIII, an LPAT hearing began in November 2018 and continued in April 2019 into the Villas and Touchstone developments on Lake Muskoka. The details are available here.

Friends of Muskoka became a party to this hearing because the developers sought to put in place a scheme that would permit lakeside condominium units to be used by the owners as cottages/residences for 42 weeks of the year notwithstanding the property is zoned for commercial use.

Phil Harding condemned this type of development in his August 10, 2018 opinion piece, written in the lead up to the election where he was elected Mayor of TML. Friends of Muskoka and the Muskoka Lakes Association named him as an ‘aligned candidate’ because we supported his views on development in Muskoka. He wrote:

 “It’s time to rethink our commercial zoning policies. It’s time we understand the recreational carrying capacity of our lakes. It’s time we recognize that residential development disguised as commercial has virtually no economic benefit other than lining the pockets of the developers and significantly jeopardizing all things Muskoka.”

Despite all the arguments on the pros and cons for development, it is important to remember, ‘seasonal cottagers’ are the largest employer, (trades, retail, support services, etc.)  in the Muskoka Lakes Township and contribute more than 80% of the total tax revenue collected. 

COMMUNITY VISION SUMMARY FOR TML’S OP REVIEW

As previously reported in Waves XVII and XVIII, in connection with their Official Plan Review, TML undertook to obtain input from the public through a Community Vision Survey. The responses will be used to draft TML’s new Vision Statement and Official Plan (OP) policies which will guide decisions affecting development and the environment in Muskoka for the next 5-10 years. TML’s consultant for its OP review prepared this Community Vision Summary dated August 2019. 
 
The public Community Vision Session was attended by 45 people and 808 people completed the online survey. Key themes that emerged were a focus on environment first and sustainable growth. Other themes noted were climate change (flooding), increasing density on the waterfront, development and operation of resorts,  short-term, lake-front rental properties, poverty (lack of affordable housing, lack of full-time permanent jobs) and access to healthcare.
 
Please  stay tuned for more opportunities to participate in this OP review project in Spring 2020.

UPDATE ON JW MARRIOTT’S SEWAGE SPILLS

We have described the raw sewage spills at the JW Marriott The Rosseau Resort and Spa (JW Marriott) and the work order against them by the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) in previous Waves newsletters.

We have become aware of telephone communications between JW Marriott and the MECP on July 21 and 22, 2018 reporting raw sewage overflowing from the Marriott’s water treatment plant. This establishes that JW Marriott has been aware of the deficiencies with its sewage system since the summer of 2018.

The MECP ordered JW Marriott to hire an independent, qualified expert to assess and provide recommendations for dealing with the capacity and compliance issues at their sewage system. The MECP has extended the deadline for receiving the expert’s detailed report to mid-January 2020.

The repeated problems with JW Marriott’s sewage system over the past four years is unacceptable to our community. TML Council should not approve the Marriott’s application to build 40 additional units -- which will add 120 more bedrooms to the 245 they  have now -- until it is satisfied that the Marriott’s sewage system is upgraded to handle the additional capacity. 

REPORT FROM PROVINCE’S SPECIAL ADVISOR ON FLOODING

The Special Advisor, Doug McNeil, who was appointed by the Province to review the Spring 2019 flooding in Muskoka (and other areas), has issued this October 28th report.  He concludes that ‘measures taken by water managers everywhere were effective in reducing the magnitude of flooding and associated damages’, and that ‘the sheer amount of water (snow and rainfall) on the landscape directly contributed to the flooding.” 

This report highlights that there is no certainty or easy answers to prevent flooding in the future and that  we are going to have to be more restrictive in our building policies, particularly in the Township of Muskoka Lakes where the flooding in Spring 2019 caused such extreme damage. 

Every boathouse in Muskoka is located in a floodplain. Mr McNeil cautions that in Muskoka:

“It is unreasonable to expect that water levels can be controlled within a finite range and be kept below the damage level of docks and boathouses, or other structures, when dealing with a large river system with limited means to mitigate the magnitude and extent of flooding. With a changing climate, damages to these boathouses and other infrastructure in the floodplain as a result of flooding and ice movement will continue to occur, and most likely at increased frequency. It is not a question of if these lakes and river systems will flood again, it is only a question of when.”

TML COUNCIL IS REVIEWING ITS COMMITTEE STRUCTURE

TML Council is reviewing its standing committee structure. In July 2019, Council decided to replace its Committee of the Whole with 2 standing committees (Planning and General/Finance), and hold its monthly Council and committee meetings over 3 consecutive days rather than 2. After much debate and objection, including concerns raised by Friends of Muskoka, Council decided  on a compromise to review the new structure after six months and consider the public’s input.

We and the Muskoka Lakes Association have monitored Council and committee meetings over the past five months, and wrote this joint letter and delegated at the December 11, 2019 Council meeting expressing serious flaws with the new structure. A key concern is that since only 6 Councillors sit on the new committees, rather than all 10 Councillors who sat on COW, Councillors who are not on a committee are not able to vote on important committee decisions and are being disenfranchised.

The Muskoka Ratepayers’ Association also wrote a letter criticizing the new committee structure, and asked that it be reversed. Eight of the nine Councillors expressed serious concerns with the new structure based on their observations over the six month trial period.

We strongly urge TML Council to respect the views of the public, which have been clearly expressed by Friends of Muskoka, the MLA and the MRA, when it votes on whether to continue the current committee structure. 

REMOVAL OF UNSTAFFED GARBAGE BINS HAS BEEN DELAYED BY DISTRICT

The District of Muskoka has delayed the removal of unstaffed garbage bin sites in Muskoka for a minimum of one year in order to provide adequate notice and public education, and to consider the potential for increased illegal dumping. The District remains committed to the removal of all unstaffed bin sites by 2023, as mandated by the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP).

In Waves XVIII, we reported that the removal of unstaffed garbage bins is of particular concern to water-only access properties. We agree that using unstaffed bins to dispose of unauthorized material, such as furniture, mattresses, construction material, etc., which overfill the bins and cause spills is an environmental hazard. However, other alternatives may solve the problem, such as enclosed bins with small openings and clear signs with directions to disposal areas for larger items.

SEWAGE SPILL AT BAYSVILLE’S WASTEWATER TREATMENT PLANT

Another sewage spill has occurred in Muskoka. We all should be concerned about these pollution occurrences, especially with developers pushing for more building concessions. 
 
The Birch Glen Wastewater Treatment Plant that services the Village of Baysville on Lake of Bays had non-compliant discharges of effluent during the last five days of October, according to a report presented by the District’s Director of Water and Wastewater Operations, Marcus Firman, to the District’s Engineering and Public Works Committee chaired by TMl Mayor Phil Harding on November 20, 2019. 

 Mr. Firman reported that the discharge has been investigated and the plant is back in working order. However, “the plant was effectively dead, so we need to reseed. It may take time.

This wastewater treatment plant is owned and operated by the District of Muskoka.

RESPONSIBLE DEVELOPMENT IN MUSKOKA VIDEO

UPDATE ON LIPPA QUARRY LPAT HEARING 

As noted in Waves XI, a developer appealed to LPAT the decision by TML Council in June 2017 to reject the developer’s application to rezone its land to allow a pit and quarry.
 
The key issue is a TML by-law that restricts any quarry facility within 2 km of any Muskoka lake. The developer claims that this by-law is more restrictive than that used by other communities and is prejudicial to its development.
 
A major concern raised by the Skeleton Lake community is potential mercury contamination, which could enter into the north end of Lake Rosseau.
 
The LPAT pre-hearing to deal with procedural matters was held on November 28, 2019 and close to 80 people attended. The Chair was very receptive to participation by the public. Detailed information is available on Stop Muskoka Pits.

MUSKOKAREGION SURVEY ON CHALLENGING THE BALA FALLS HYDRO PROJECT

MuskokaRegion published this December 17th article, describing the discussions at TML Council’s recent meeting regarding public safety concerns at the Bala Falls hydro project being developed by Swift River Energy Ltd.

The article ask this survey question that you may wish to answer by clicking the link in the article: Do you think the Township of Muskoka Lakes should challenge the Bala Falls Hydro Project?

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING AN MLA MEMBER

Friends of Muskoka (FOM) supports and collaborates with the Muskoka Lakes Association (MLA) in the protection of our lakes and shorelines. Whereas FOM has been a special interest group this past two years, the MLA has operated for 125 years in the municipalities of Muskoka Lakes, Bracebridge, Gravenhurst and Seguin, carrying out its mission of promoting the responsible use, enjoyment and conservation of Muskoka’s unique environment. 

The MLA financially supports FOM’s activities, by sharing the costs of our legal and expert fees to challenge the developments at Villas of Muskoka, Touchstone Resorts and Legacy Cottages.  By being a member of the MLA, you also help support FOM’s activities.

The annual MLA membership fee is only $125 per family, and you can join or renew on the MLA website.  We would add that all directors of FOM are members of the MLA, and three are volunteering as MLA Board and committee members. 

We encourage our supporters to also become MLA members and, if you have time, volunteer. A strong and healthy Muskoka is all of our responsibility.  

SUPPORT A LOCAL MUSKOKA CHARITY THIS HOLIDAY SEASON

Muskoka has many local charities that support local needs and concerns. In the spirit of the holidays, please consider supporting your favourite Muskoka charity. If you don’t have one yet, we’ve listed a few suggestions here.

The Friends of Muskoka Board thanks you for your tremendous support this year, and wishes you and your families the very best for the Holiday Season and the New Year!

FRIENDS OF MUSKOKA

Friends of Muskoka are a group of dedicated volunteers working to protect and to preserve the natural environment and unique character of Muskoka by promoting responsible use and development of its land and lakes. Friends of Muskoka believe that the environment IS the economy in Muskoka since millions of people come to Muskoka and invest here because of its clean water and natural, treed shorelines. Our lakes, forests and rivers are a resource that can drive Muskoka’s economy for decades to come if we put the environment first. To this end, Friends of Muskoka is trying to stop residential subdivisions on the waterfront in Muskoka and will work to enshrine sustainable development in the Municipal and District Official Plans.

JOIN FRIENDS OF MUSKOKA

You can help Friends of Muskoka to protect and to preserve the natural environment and unique character of Muskoka by promoting responsible use and development of its land and lakes.
JOIN FRIENDS OF MUSKOKA

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