Muskoka Lakes Council deferred a decision on whether or not to allow a lot usage exemption to a family who purchased a home with preexisting illegal builds.
The Leitao family purchased the home on Black Lake in 2019, but a home inspection revealed that there had been unauthorized renovations made to the home by the previous owners. Renovations on a dock and garage put the home in violation of several municipal guidelines. These renovations put the property lot usage at 13.6% well over the maximum usage of 8.8%. The Leitao family has already reduced the size of the dock and were hoping that council would accept an application that allows the property to exceed the 8.8% size limit.
At the February Planning Committee meeting councillors were divided over the issue. The Leitao’s application for an exemption to the maximum allowed lot usage was denied after a split vote.
Without an approval of the application the Leitao’s must decrease the lot usage of the current property. This could include removal of a garage or a sundeck.
The Leitao family was back before council at Wednesday council meeting in hopes that it would reconsider its decision on their application.
“Please remember that our application failed due to a split vote. This is completely heartbreaking for our family, as half of you support our request,” he said.
Tony Leitao spoke for the family and said how hard the planning committee vote was for them.
Leitao highlighted the large support from neighbors and lack of objections, as well as the oddity of the situation unlikely to set a precedent. He added that the experience has been difficult for the family and that they want it to be resolved.
“I would ask you again to kindly help us resolve this unforeseen nightmare,” Leitao said.
Ward A councillors Glenn Zavitz, Donelda Hayes and Ruth-Ellen Nishikawa were in support of approving the application.
Zavitz highlighted that the Leitao case is unique because the changes to the home are ten years old, rather than a new development. Zavitz said that the split decision at planning committee was the closest decision he’s seen in his time on council and he hoped that other councillors changed their votes.
“I personally would love to see one of my peers turn the table on this,” Zavitz said.
Nishikawa spoke about how she feels council has handled these situations differently. She said that there are examples of wealthier cottage owners building very large cottages and boat houses without getting proper permits.
“They were treated very differently; I would say than we have treated this particular property owner,” Nishikawa said.
Nishikawa pointed out that many properties on Black Lake are older and enjoy a much larger lot coverage than the Leitao property. She said she was unsure what further restrictions would accomplish.
“I don’t know what we’re trying to gain by imposing any more restrictions or hardships on this particular property,” she said.
Councillor Hayes stated that the Leitao family were not the ones who are responsible for this issue and that they shouldn’t face the consequences for it.
“It seems kind of mean spirited to punish them for something that somebody else did,” Hayes said.
Councillor Barb Bridgeman said that she felt sympathy for the position that the Letaio family was in. But Bridgeman said that she could not support approving an application that was double what municipal law allows.
“I think setting this kind of a precedent would be really, really awful,” Bridgeman said.
Bridgeman did say that she would be willing to reconsider if the property was brought down closer to what the lot usage limit.
Councillor Allen Edwards stated that forcing the family to remove the garage would be more harm than was needed. He also highlighted the support of residents and local councillors as a reason for his support.
“15 people on the lake say it’s fine. Our three counselors in that area say it’s fine. I will definitely be supporting them,” Edwards said.
Municipal staff had recommended that council reject the application. Township Director of Planning David Pink said that staff were willing to continue discussions with the Leitao family to bring the property closer to regulation. Tony Leitao responded that the family was willing to work further with staff to find a solution.
Mayor Phil Harding pushed to have the application deferred and returned to planning committee for further discussion. After council voted in favour of deferral of this decision Nishikawa took issue with Harding steering the meeting away from debate and a final vote.
“I think you took an opportunity away from these owners, for others to speak. And I hope that’s not the way that we’re going to deal with other applications, because it’s just not fair,” She said.
Harding said that he thought returning the application to the planning committee was a safer method to ensure more councillors voted in favour of the application.
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