A proposed development on Clarkes Lane in Utterson is now before the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) and area residents are miffed.
According to planning documents, the developer, Larry Ross, submitted planning applications to the Town of Huntsville and the District of Muskoka planning departments, which were deemed complete and received on May 14, 2020.
Ross was seeking approvals from the District for a plan of subdivision and a condominium road, and an amendment to Huntsville’s zoning bylaw from the Town of Huntsville for lands located at 173 and 174 Clarkes Lane. The lands comprise 43.8 hectares (108.2 acres).
The proposed development (Hampton Woods) would see the creation of 21 residential lots with single-detached dwellings and a common condominium road. It also calls on the possibility of more development in the future depending on demand, appropriateness of density, and hydrogeological capacity, states a report, submitted for information only prior to a statutory public meeting to District’s planning committee, by District manager of planning Lisa Marden on September 24, 2020.
“The proposed development would be serviced with private individual on-site septic and water services. The minimum lot area proposed is 0.4 hectares (1.0 acre), with a minimum frontage of 30.0 metres (98 feet),” noted Marden in her report. She also stated that the “subject lands are currently vacant and well vegetated with mixed forest tree cover, with the exception of the proposed location of the private internal road which has been cleared of vegetation, graded and leveled. Much of this internal road was historically present due to a previous draft plan of subdivision approval and build out of the first phase of the development. The balance of the subject property remains in its natural state.”
She also noted that the developer had submitted the following reports in favour of his application:
- Environmental Impact Study and Addendum, FRi Corp Ecological Services, December 2019;
- Hydrogeologic Assessment Report, GAMAN Consultants Inc., January 31, 2020;
- Stormwater Management Brief and Construction Mitigation Plan, Pinestone Engineering Ltd., April 3, 2020; and
- Planning Justification Report, Plan Muskoka, April 21, 2020.
As part of the development process, staff will arrange for the reports to be peer-reviewed, contact the appropriate municipal departments for comment, ensure the proposal complies with provincial policies, official plans, and in some instances they’ll contact the appropriate provincial ministries for input. They also arrange a joint public meeting (if it involves approvals from the lower and upper-tier municipalities) so that area residents are also able to comment on a proposed application.
The Planning Act sets out how long municipalities have to respond to an application. In this instance, staff at both the Town of Huntsville and District of Muskoka took longer than stated under the Planning Act, which prompted the developer to forgo the process, particularly the joint public meeting, and take his application directly to the LPAT for an ‘appeal of non-decision.’ The appeal was received by the LPAT on November 25, 2020.
The fact that he was able to do that and forgo a municipal public meeting has angered area residents. They are concerned about the impact the density of the development will have on their wells and the proximity of septic systems, as well as the noise and added traffic the development will have on an otherwise peaceful neighbourhood with lots surrounded by forest, marsh, and wetland.
“It’s very disheartening when, for this instance, we don’t have… I’m not going to say support but at least an ear from council to work with,” noted area resident Ludwig Biliko, adding that some of the green spaces set aside as part of the planned development should be twice as large as what’s being proposed. “Not being able to say anything, to me, is totally out of character from what I’m used to at the council,” he added.
In email correspondence, Huntsville director of planning Kirstin Maxwell said the timelines under the Planning Act have changed.
“The province significantly reduced those timelines in August 2019. For a zoning amendment it went from 150 days to 90 days, and a subdivision from 180 days to 120 days. It can be difficult to meet these new timelines, particularly during the pandemic. As it is a multi-lot development, studies were provided that required peer review, including the environmental assessment, stormwater management study and the hydrogeological study. Those peer reviews had been completed and staff were coordinating the scheduling of the joint public meeting (DMM CAPS & Town PC) when the owner advised that he would be submitting an appeal,” she stated.
While Marden, representing the District planning department, had this to say via email correspondence:
“While the District of Muskoka aims to process applications efficiently as possible, the timing can be impacted by many factors, particularly for larger-scale or more complex proposals. The most common cause of increased timelines is the peer and/or Provincial reviews of supporting technical studies that are submitted with the applications (i.e. Environmental Impact Studies, Hydrogeological Reports, Traffic Impact Studies and Species at Risk Assessments). Many factors can affect the timing of these reviews, including the scope of the original studies and the time of year the application is submitted (site visits are challenging in snow-covered conditions and often need to be delayed until spring).
“For transparency, the District does not hold a public meeting until peer reviews are completed, and any resulting changes to the proposal are made. When the public meeting is scheduled, this ensures that both the original studies and the peer reviews are available for the public to review and consider. Another common cause of longer timelines is the need to provide time for key stakeholders to comment on the proposal, including Area Municipalities, Indigenous Communities, agencies (like school boards and utility companies), lake associations, and community groups with interest in the project. District staff strive to be as inclusive as possible and ensure that all voices are heard and considered.
“Lastly, it should be noted that the Planning Act timeframes for decisions on subdivision and condominium applications were recently shortened from 180 to 120 days.”
During a closed session meeting, the Town of Huntsville decided not to be represented at the LPAT appeal.
Neither Maxwell nor Huntsville Councillor Nancy Alcock, who chairs both the Huntsville and District planning committees, could say why the decision was made not to be a party at the hearing, noting that the discussions took place in closed session.
“That’s an in-camera discussion,” noted Alcock, adding that she could not speak freely about it. “The District is actually being represented at LPAT because it is a plan of subdivision, so there’s nothing to prevent the Town from providing feedback or comment through the District.”
Alcock said she understands why many of the residents are angry. “I hate it when a developer short circuits the usual process. I don’t like that. I think it stinks. “Rightly they are upset that they didn’t get their day in planning court,” she said, adding that it’s now up to the LPAT and out of the municipalities’ hands.
District council passed a resolution on January 21, 2021, noting that significant interest and concerns had been expressed by area residents based on written submissions, and asked staff to request that the LPAT provide an opportunity for public comment.
The first LPAT meeting, a case management conference, was held on May 25, 2021.
When Doppler reached out to the developer for comment via email, he responded: “As the applications are before the Appeals Tribunal I am unable to comment until the Tribunal has made a decision on the matter.”
Don’t miss out on Doppler!
Sign up here to receive our email digest with links to our most recent stories.
Local news in your inbox three times per week!