Photo by: Loba

Newsflash: Official Plan Review Update

Smaller Waterfront Back Lots Approved by District Planning Committee
Final decision to be made by District Council on June 20th

Lake of Bays Official Plan Update:
On May 19th, The District of Muskoka Planning and Economic Development Committee (PED) voted to approve the updated Official Plan for the Township of Lake of Bays, including an amendment to reduce the minimum size of waterfront back lots from the current standard of 10 acres to 7 acres. By voting in favour of smaller waterfront back lots, the PED Committee chose to reject the recommendation of both the District’s Planning Department, and the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to maintain the 10 acre minimum lot size requirement. The updated Official Plan as approved by the PED Committee will be brought to District Council for final approval at their next meeting on Monday, June 20th at 7pm (District Council Chambers, 70 Pine Street, Bracebridge).

What is the District’s role in the Lake of Bays Official Plan?
The Lake of Bays Official Plan Review has been a work in progress since January 2014. The idea of reducing the size of waterfront back lots was introduced by our local council at the outset and has been debated throughout the process. In November 2015, Lake of Bays Council approved the updated Official Plan with the amendment to reduce the size of waterfront back lots, an amendment that was not supported by the Township Planning Department, the professional consultant and the majority of public input.

Once approved by the Township of Lake of Bays, the updated Official Plan must be reviewed by the District of Muskoka for compliance with the District’s Official Plan and all other relevant matters, including the Provincial Policy Statement that provides overall guidelines for land use planning in Ontario. Letters of concern from LOBA and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing regarding the impacts of smaller back lots on the environment and growth patterns outside of settlement areas prompted District staff to conduct an analysis of the proposed amendment. The District Planning Staff Report concluded that based on the anticipated growth rate for the Township, the supply of existing vacant residential back lots surrounding Lake of Bays alone would appear to meet the demand for this form of development for the entire Township over the next 20 years. Further, it was noted that based on Provincial Policy direction, the amount of permanent housing and population growth outside of settlement areas (existing villages and towns) is intended to be limited.  The District PED Committee decided to support the decision of the local council against the recommendation of their planning department.

What is LOBA’s position?
The Lake of Bays Association has advocated strongly for the maintenance of the current lot size requirements throughout the Official Plan Review process. The current standards were established to ensure the environmental integrity and unique natural character of Lake of Bays. Approval of smaller waterfront back lots represents a significant shift in policy direction to a plan that favours increased growth and development density in the waterfront zone (a waterfront back lot is a lot situated behind a waterfront lot and within 500 metres of the shoreline). Waterfront back lots were once a minimum of 25 acres, then 10 acres and LOBA feels that a further reduction signals a long-term trend that will have unintended consequences.

Our overriding concern is that the proposal was introduced by our local council without any supporting analysis on the demand for, or impacts arising from this growth strategy. The argument that smaller waterfront back lots will provide more affordable living opportunities by reducing the cost of waterfront back lots was not supported by our Township Planning Staff, or the planning consultant hired to facilitate the Official Plan Review (Tunnock Consulting – Discussion Paper # 2 – Lot Size and Housing Affordability).  LOBA has offered to participate in studies to identify the need and barriers to affordable housing in Lake of Bays, but in the absence of clear justification for smaller waterfront back lots, LOBA believes our current lot size requirements should be maintained. Our membership has indicated strong support of this position. Of the 63 letters received by the Township prior to the Statutory Public Meeting on August 26th, 2015, only two letters were in favour of the proposed amendment to reduce the size of waterfront back lots and the majority of delegations at the meeting supported maintaining current standards.

Reduction in Shoreline Setback Standards
The updated Official Plan also includes an amendment to allow a standard shoreline development setback of 20 metres for all lakes in the Township (except for approximately 16 sensitive Lake Trout lakes that are Provincially mandated to have a 30 metre development setback). This would mean that approximately 90 small and remote lakes that currently have a 30 metre setback would be changed to 20 metres. While this modification complies with the District’s setback requirements, LOBA is concerned that this change is being introduced without any analysis of the impact on water quality and natural character of so many small lakes. Given that the District is currently in the process of revising their Recreational Water Quality Model, LOBA had requested that this amendment be deferred until further study is completed. It appears this is unlikely to happen and LOBA anticipates the District will endorse this amendment.

What can we do?
LOBA has submitted a letter to the District Council requesting the minimum size of waterfront back lots be maintained at 10 acres. It is LOBA’s hope that our District Council will give full consideration to the recommendation of their planning department on the back lot issue and vote in favour of maintaining the current standards.  LOBA will keep our members updated.

Click here for more background information on the Official Plan Amendments as reported in the Spring Issue of Current Connection on page 3.