Muskoka Lakes council has rejected an application for increased height to a dwelling after discussions about setting precedents.
At the Wednesday meeting council rejected the proposal of Muskoka Trust which was applying to build a property in Windermere with a height of 55 feet exceeding the municipal height limit of 35 feet.
Several people associated with the development spoke to council. Catherine Nasmith who is the agent for the developer discussed the unique tree shaped design of the building which aims to limit destruction of the surrounding forest.
“This project’s point of departure is addressing climate change, building on a minimal footprint in order to preserve the forest,” Nasmith said.
Harold Elston a lawyer for the project stated that allowing this decision to set a precedent would be beneficial because it would be an example that would be good for the community.
“It will show your commitment to a sustainable, environmentally friendly project,” Elston said.
In order for the developed to be allowed to exceed the 35-foot height limit council would need to pass a bylaw. The developers had committed to a significantly reduced footprint and a commitment to not severe the property. The smaller footprint would allow use of only 3000 square feet as opposed to the 20,000 square feet that would have been allowed prior. Elston highlighted this massive reduction as evidence that few others would attempt to do the same.
“You’re not going to find many people that are willing to give up 80% of their coverage and their development rights just for some height,” Elston said.
The proposal was put before the Planning Committee in May which recommended that council reject the proposal. Several councillors voiced concern over setting a negative precedent.
Councillor Peter Kelley stated in his time on council he has witnessed council continually grant bylaw exemptions. He said that council always denies these are precedents, but he believes that they are.
“Frankly in the three and a half years I’ve been here, I’m constantly hearing, ‘don’t worry, it won’t set any precedents,” Kelley said.
Kelley said that this development in his view sets the precedent that a property can exceed municipal restrictions if the developers can simply put enough pressure on council.
“I think that insults a good number of people who might have similar plans but can’t back it up with the kind of expertise and passion and resources to get planners and designers and architects and lawyers,” Kelley said.
Councillor Ruth-Ellen Nishikawa spoke in support of the development. Highlighting its creative design and the willingness to work with the township to reduce its footprint as things that council should encourage for new developments.
“I wish that we could be more proactive, our counsel to recognize when something good is in front of us and to encourage,” Nishikawa said.
Mayor Phil Harding agreed with Nishikawa’s point that council should look to encourage more creative solutions to problems. However, Harding said he was uncertain about the fact that the development would be 64% over the current bylaw requirements.
“A 64% increase in my mind is not a minor variance,” Harding said.
Stephen Fahner representing Muskoka Lakes Association spoke against the development citing its significant exception to the stated height limit.
“We feel that this has just gone beyond the bounds of what would normally be considered any variance or zoning bylaw exemption application,”
Fahner went on to say that 40 to 45 feet would be more acceptable and argued against the notion that the property could not be built at that height instead.
Council voted six to two to deny the application.
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