A fog of misinformation has clouded a proposed policy for licences of occupation for Algonquin Highlands properties on the dry side of a shoreline road.
Mayor Liz Danielsen and concerned shoreline property owners agreed during a council meeting Aug. 17 that the confusion about the issue in the community needs to be addressed before further steps can be taken.
Council agreed to give property owners time to investigate the policy. The policy as it was currently proposed was rescinded and the process paused until October.
Danielsen said the proposal to issue licences of occupation for developments on municipally-owned shore road allowances across the road from shoreline property has been batted about for a decade.
“Given the challenges associated with the policy, it has been placed on the backburner several times,” she said.
The idea for such a policy does not include all shoreline properties. But, she said, a lot of misinformation has been circulating throughout the community about the issue.
The primary intent in creating the policy is to level the playing field between waterfront properties immediately adjacent to the shoreline and those that are across the road but still considered to be waterfront, Danielsen said.
Both are zoned shoreline residential, but the tax assessment is less for properties across the road from the shoreline.
“Those properties immediately adjacent to the shoreline pay higher taxes as well as substantial fees to purchase their shoreline and for permits to build structures on that same shoreline,” she said.
Property owners across the road from the shoreline have for many years built structures without permits. And that’s not fair for the owners immediately adjacent to the water.
Danielsen said it’s her understanding that Haliburton County’s other three municipalities have something in place comparable to proposed licence of occupation policy.
“The fees established are set on a cost recovery basis and not, as some have suggested, as a money-grab for the township,” she said.
North Shore Road residents James Cooper and Logan Percy, along with a contingent of other property owners who would be affected by the proposed licence of occupation policy, descended on town hall Aug. 17.
Cooper said it’s important that the misinformation be addressed.
“There’s a number of questions that have come out, and it’s adding to confusion out there that we need to address,” he said.
Property owners are angry, frustrated, and confused, he said, and added that many residents have been blindsided about the proposed policy and bylaw.
“There’s so many questions about this,” Cooper said. “We’re feeling confused and it’s hit us so quickly.”
Indeed, Percy forwarded a list of more than 40 questions to council that deal with a number of issues from insurance liability, waivers, taxation, legal fees, leases, and permits.
Cooper asked that the township answer those questions for the edification of property owners before a policy or bylaw is adopted.
“Would you go into a legally binding contract where you’re asked for significant fees without having all your questions answered?” Cooper said.
Danielsen said many of the people who have been commenting on social media about the issue were aware of the proposed bylaw.
He said the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation lists his land as a waterfront dwelling with indirect lake access. But the municipality says his property is shoreline residential.
“I paid a hefty premium for the implied waterfront rights that have been there since the first settlers arrived at Maple Lake,” Percy said. “I don’t think anyone’s interrupted it since then until now.
“My tax bill is much higher than it would be without being legally defined as a shoreline residence with lake access.”
Percy said he spent a small fortune top upgrade the dock that came with the property he’d bought about five years ago. He’s slowly replaced sections of his 120-foot long dock to ensure safety and access.
He inquired with the township four years ago about a possible lease option for the shoreline. He said he had some other questions about waterfront structures and liability issues.
“I was told that no leases or major repairs were going to be allowed until the shoreline bylaw was passed,” he said.
Percy said he first got word of the proposed policy a few weeks ago. So he sought more information about the policy. Details emerged after internet research and conversations with neighbours and town staff.
“They all told me things I wanted to hear,” he said. “It did help me feel better, but this policy does not feel right at all.”
Percy suggested council defer adopting the licence of occupation policy until property owners can learn the details and ask any pertinent questions about it.
“Please pause this bylaw, give us some time, and show us that you represent us, the voters,” he said.
If liability is the driving concern behind the policy, Percy said the property owners shouldn’t have to pick up the entire tab. Shoreline liability should be the same as any other municipal asset.
“Can I stop paying taxes that fund roads and bridges that I never use?” he said.
Danielsen said council is trying to do the right thing by the licence of occupation policy. But, she said, the questions brought forward by property owners are indeed valid.
“It is a really unfortunate situation that insurance companies are driving the decisions that we make in a huge way,” she said. “Liability has just become an astronomical problem for all municipalities.
“It’s like common sense has flown out the window but we must deal with the insurance companies and make our decisions based on what they’re prepared to cover and what they’re not prepared to cover.”
Deputy Mayor Jennifer Dailloux asked Danielsen if it would be possible to consider pausing the policy process when the bylaw is discussed later in the council meeting.
Sean O’Callaghan, the township’s planner, said the licence of occupation policy does not apply to all docks within Algonquin Highlands. Rather, the policy will apply only to private structures that are occupying a township road allowance or shore road allowance where there is a township-maintained road between a private property and the water.
“Not a county road, a provincial highway, or a private road,” O’Callaghan said.
The policy is hoped to help those property owners to best utilize the waterfront and improve existing or build new infrastructure on that township land.
“Currently, we cannot issue building permits for such structures,” O’Callaghan said.
The stipulation of $5-million liability insurance is the industry standard for such situations.
The $500 annual fee goes to the reasonable expectation that the beneficiaries of the policy cover the majority of the costs to administer the policy.
“It will only benefit the individual property owners applying for the licence,” he said.
Danielsen said the liability demand should be dropped from $5-million to $2-million at the start. And, she suggested, perhaps the licence’s annual renewal isn’t necessary. Asking $500 every year is a bit much, she said.
“I see the need for a trial period or a review period,” she said. “If we are satisfied that we can enter into an agreement with the party who wishes to … build structures, we should be able to enter into an agreement that’s a little bit longer than a year.”
Regarding the question of whether a lease would be more appropriate than a licence, O’Callaghan said a lease can be sub-leased to another party whereas a licence cannot. Under the Planning Act, a lease can’t exceed 21 years but a licence can be extended indefinitely.
By James Matthews, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Sep 06, 2023