Stop Residential Subdivisions
We already have long-standing density limits on waterfront residential development – and that’s a good thing because sensible limits protect lake health. With over 100 commercially zoned properties which accounts for more than 27 km of shoreline in the District of Muskoka – including resorts, camps and marinas – our lakes are at risk of being over loaded. Our safety and quality of life are at risk. As primary drivers of Muskoka’s economy, cottagers have a strong voice. It’s time to use it.
Friends of Muskoka has been advocating for responsible commercial resort development on our shorelines for over 5 years.
District Official Plan
We came together in 2017 and raised the alarm when the District of Muskoka drafted a new Official Plan that would have allowed any of Muskoka’s 100-plus waterfront commercial properties to be redeveloped into high-density residential subdivisions – thanks to a developer-friendly redefinition of what constitutes a “Resort”. The District of Muskoka’s planners, in a misguided attempt to prop up the ailing resort industry, proposed that 50% of all new units may be sold and operated as fully residential units, without the requirement to be rented out. The other 50% could be sold with minimal (and unenforceable) rental obligations. This is, simply, residential densification under the guise of being a “Resort”. Ironically the real effect may be doing away with resorts entirely as it will be much more lucrative for a developer to fully build out and sell homes on these properties than run it as a resort.
Thanks to our community’s uprising against these policies back in 2017, the District delayed approval pending further review. That review will likely be next year, in 2023. Stay tuned and stay involved!!
The good news is in November 2020 District Council voted to not allow residential units on resort commercial properties unless they are connected to municipal services. VICTORY! This means their suggested policy change back in 2017 will unlikely be considered – EVER – protecting more than 27 kilometres of shoreline in the District of Muskoka zoned to allow resorts. This was truly a defining moment for Muskoka.
Working with the MLA and several other lake associations, we will remain vigilant, and advocate for appropriate usage, density and environmental protection when these policies come back for review.
Minett is a small hamlet that sits on 2 km of Lake Rosseau shoreline. It is home to Clevelands House, the JW Marriot (Red Leaves), Legacy Cottages, about 50 homes and a smattering of shoreline cottages. More than a decade ago, despite public outrage and opposition, the owner of the day, with significant help from the Mayor at that time, was granted significant development permissions – more than 4000 units.
FOM has been working since 2017 to ensure development in Minett is in keeping with the character of Muskoka and is done in such a way as to protect the natural environment and our lakes.
Our work in Minett started with a protest against the Legacy Cottages property being turned into a residential subdivision on the lake. We fought to keep it commercial. We lost because the District planners (the higher authority to the Township) and their lawyer at the time, decided that commerciality is defined as 2 weeks in a rental pool between June 15 and September 15 and providing access to a beach and dock – without consulting us or the Township!
The bigger fight was the larger, 300+ acre property near the marina. We raised the alarm and came together in 2018, when plans to expand development in Minett were emerging.
Council froze development in Minett for an appropriate review of what was approved many years ago. We stopped this:
Township and District Councils formed the Minett Joint Policy Review Committee, tasked with recommending appropriate levels and type of development for Minett.
Our activism caught the interest of Mr. Goldhar, a cottager, who stepped in and bought the property.
Mr. Goldhar agreed last year to reduce density on his lands in Minett from about 4,000 to 2,000 units, and he has said he will only build 500 units.
Over 2,000 people filled in our survey (thank you!) and told Mr. Goldhar that 2,000 units is still too much. Mr. Goldhar then agreed to reduce the density by a further 15%, an additional 300 units, to 1,700, for which we
Is it still too much? Yes. But this is likely the best we will do, given the previous owners already had approval to build thousands more. This highlights why our community has to stay engaged, as it’s hard to go back once development permissions are granted.
Mr Goldhar has also agreed to:
- A definition of a unit as being 850 square feet, so if a resort suite is larger, it counts as 2 or more units
- More restrictive owner usage criteria (more availability to the vacationing public and less risk of the area becoming a residential enclave like Legacy Cottages on Lake Rosseau and Villas of Muskoka on Lake Muskoka)
- A reduction from 50% to 30% in the number of units allowed to be sold as residence
- Limits on owner use of docks to have more available to the general public
Council listened to our community and made the policies stronger:
- Stricter commercial criteria and requirement for onsite management for the resort
- A hard cap on the number of boat slips in Minett
- Building height reduced from 11 to 5 storeys (4 storeys and below the treeline would be better!!)
- Staff housing located in Minett
- Removal of non-Red Leaves lands (approx 150 acres) from the resort village, reducing future development potential
- Requirement for Legacy Cottages and the Marriott to connect to municipal water and wastewater services when available
This is a VAST improvement over 2018.
We delegated at Council last October and asked for several important changes. We had some push-back from our Mayor, but others on council saw the benefit of limiting height and further restrictions.
When Friends of Muskoka was formed in 2017, Legacy Cottages in Minett shockingly already had site plan approval to build 43 cottages on 470 feet of Lake Rosseau shoreline. We could not prevent this. We launched a two-pronged effort to minimize the damage: we fought to ensure Legacy remained a commercially operating resort and did not become a defacto waterfront residential subdivision, and we sought to change resort policy to reduce density of development and ensure all resorts remain commercial. There are 27 km of resort commercial property in the District of Muskoka at stake as well as many more commercial properties that could apply to become resorts.
In 2018 we encouraged Council to freeze development in Minett with the use of an interim control by-law (ICBL). This halted development at Legacy Cottages. Negotiations with Legacy to ensure commercial use of the property were well under way when Council unexpectedly removed Legacy from the ICBL. Legacy abruptly ended our negotiations.
We fought at the Local Planning Authority Tribunal (LPAT), the successor to the OMB, to keep Legacy commercial. Unfortunately, the Tribunal determined 2 weeks in a rental pool made for a commercial enterprise and we lost our case. This highlights the vital importance of changing our resort commercial policy.
We have been working ever since with Council and planning consultants to draft policy that will ensure resorts remain commercial and minimize their environmental and visual impacts on the lake. We support resorts that allow visitors to enjoy Muskoka, create local employment opportunities and have minimal negative impacts.
It has been a long process but we are making good progress…but we can only be successful with the right elected officials on Council who are aligned with our mantra, that Muskoka’s environment and our economy are inextricably linked.
Here’s what you can do now
Tell your councillor to speak up about overdevelopment. Writing an email or filling out a survey is easy. Check out our current email campaigns and surveys here. You can also attend important meetings − see our events page. And donate! It helps us cover the costs of advocating on your behalf.