Lake of Bays resident Robert Zank says the private development of Langmaid’s Island—the second largest island in Lake of Bays comprising 128 acres—is just one more example of how residents in Muskoka are losing beautiful vistas and areas to meander with their canoes.
He has started a petition asking the Township of Lake of Bays to defend the island from development by expropriating the heritage site for all residents to enjoy. But he’s fighting an uphill battle.
The island was purchased for an estimated $15M and after more than five years of public meetings, heated debates, ardent opposition, and volumes of planning reports and studies, last month the Ontario Land Tribunal made its final ruling on the island’s development. Last September, the applicant, Langmaid’s Island Corporation, was granted development rights to create 32 building lots on the island to be accessed from two properties on South Portage Road in the Town of Huntsville, and last month the plan of subdivision was approved.
The tribunal was asked to step in for a non-decision from all the municipalities involved in the application, the Township of Lake of Bays which was asked to amend its Official Plan and zoning, the Town of Huntsville in which two mainland lots to service the island are located, and the District Municipality of Muskoka, which looks after plans of subdivision. All three municipalities tried to halt the extent of the island’s development but were unsuccessful.
The island holds a special place for both Lake of Bays and Huntsville residents.
Lake of Bays Mayor Terry Glover said he opposed the amount of development proposed, as did his council. He said they were dismayed with the Ontario Land Tribunal’s ruling, particularly as the island is designated a heritage site. “In the Township we’re disappointed. We were in the fight at the tribunal with the Lake of Bays Heritage Foundation and the Lake of Bays Association but we’ve all come to accept what the decision was, so we’re disappointed but we’re moving ahead.”
Glover said what’s important now is to monitor how building on the island takes place. “I’m sure lots of residents will tell us, who are watching it even closer than us, if there are any concerns and we’ll address them as they come up… There are a number of restrictions on the builders as they progress, but I don’t know if there’s going to be a rush to build,” he said, adding that the municipality would be protecting everyone’s rights, including the rights of those who buy a lot on the island.
Glover said he believes the tribunal is very much pro-building and housing and its decisions tend to slant in that direction.
His view is shared by Lake of Bays Councillor Jacqueline Godard. It was one of the issues that made her run for Lake of Bays Council in 2018. “We did all we could in Lake of Bays to protect the island. It is a designated heritage area and so it didn’t matter to the tribunal,” said Godard. “And now we’re in a position when applications come to planning, there’ll be so many constraints still, that anyone who buys the lots will have to deal with the constraints.” She said building on the island will be costly as there won’t be a road network and each lot will have to be accessed by their own shoreline area. “It’s costly to build on islands so I wish them luck,” she added.
The Lake of Bays Heritage Foundation as well as the Lake of Bays Association (LOBA) were parties in the lengthy proceeding at the tribunal. They have both stated that they are disappointed with the OLT decision.
“Having said this, we achieved some wins that would not have happened without our participation as parties to the OLT process. The process had two stages: first, the three-week hearing in 2021 that resulted in the decision to approve development. A second hearing was scheduled to finalize the plan of subdivision, which falls under the authority of the District of Muskoka. Prior to the second hearing, each of the parties agreed to Terms of Settlement with LIC (Langmaid’s Island Corporation). A settlement hearing was held on June 7 and the OLT decision was issued on July 6. The Draft Plan of Subdivision is approved subject to the fulfillment of the conditions as detailed in Schedule 2 of the decision,” explained LOBA in its newsletter to its members.
It noted that four blocks had been set aside as conservation properties, namely the island’s two highest peaks as well as the rock cliffs on the south end of the island and two rock barrens. While the boundaries of the conservation areas are to be clearly marked, public access is prohibited.
The organizations were also able to push for larger lot sizes than required under the Township of Lake of Bays’ Official Plan and 23 meters of shoreline buffers will be required as opposed to the 20 metres normally required by the municipality’s OP.
Residents will not be able to clear shoreline activity areas of trees unless the trees pose a hazard. Pathways to the shoreline cannot be more than two metres after building activity resumes. In addition, the Township is tasked with overseeing “character guidelines for all built structures,” states LOBA.
Other wins include implementing recommendations from a Boating Impact Assessment, which includes long-term ownership requirements and maintenance of the mainland parking and access, and the preparation of an ecological stewardship manual that explains to the new owners their role and responsibilities related to the island’s ecology. The plan will be required to be approved by the District of Muskoka and given to all prospective buyers. According to LOBA, LIC has also agreed that there will be no barging on statutory holidays or weekends.
“In all, 30 conditions must be fulfilled for final project approval to be granted. LIC has five years to clear these conditions, after which they would need to apply for an extension,” states LOBA. “It will be incumbent upon the District of Muskoka, The Town of Huntsville and the Township of Lake of Bays to stand firm on each condition of approval and future development. The opportunity for variance and amendment requests always looms, and we expect our municipal planning departments to stay true to the intent of the settlement. This is likely the last waterfront subdivision of this scale on Lake of Bays. Let’s get it right… Over time, 32 new families will join the Lake of Bays community. We should welcome them and lead by example so that they too will be good stewards of the lake,” added LOBA.
“I wish him luck because we’ve done all we can do…,” said Godard.
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