Councillors call cottage conversion policy controversial

By Chad Ingram

Some members of Haliburton County council have concerns regarding a proposed amendment to the county’s official plan that would lay out formal requirements for the conversion of seasonal cottages into year-round dwellings.

The proposed policy was one of a number of suggested official plan amendments councillors discussed during an Oct. 14 committee-of-the-whole meeting, and revised draft policies will come back to the council table, and will also be subject to a public meeting.

“The extensive waterfront areas within the county have historically attracted significant resource-based recreational and related tourism development,” read a report from county planner Charlsey White. “More recently, shoreline areas have attracted permanent residential development and/or the conversion of seasonal dwellings into year-round housing. The majority of waterfront areas have been developed on private individual services on lots which are undersized by today’s development standards.”
The proposed requirements include but are not limited to: the dwelling having frontage on a road that is publicly maintained year-round; compliance with the Ontario Building Code; an adequate supply of potable water that does not come from a lake; and a Class 4 sewage system.

“There is case law on this, so municipalities do have the right to zone a property as seasonal residential and are not required to transfer that to permanent residential living situations based on either the service level or based on another, reasonable land use planning rationale,” White told councillors. “This was adjudicated by the Ontario Superior Court.”

“I know it could be a controversial topic,” White added.

“Controversial should probably be in capital letters,” said Dysart et al Deputy Mayor Pat Kennedy. “Especially during this pandemic time when a lot of people are temporarily making their seasonal residence a permanent residence, I really have many concerns on this.”

The requirement for a well was one of those concerns.

“Some of the things that came mind were, the potable water requirements, where you’re saying you have to have a drilled well,” Kennedy said. “I’m wondering if there’s not some room there that if we did move forward, that the water could be taken from the lake, if it met the Clean Water Act, or regulations contained within.”

Kennedy did not like the idea of the county policing the issue.

“Say on Kennisis Lake, we’re going to go around, we’re going to knock on doors and say, ‘You’re living here permanently because we see your mailbox at the top of the hill, you can’t live here?’” he said. “Is that where we’re going, in theory?”

“This is not a requirement of the county to have in their official plan, it was a proposal that I was asked to research a little further,” White said. She added that Dysart et al actually has this policy in place, being the only one of the county’s four lower-tier townships where that is the case. “If we do do it, it should be consistent between all of the local municipalities,” she said.
“And there should be a set process to do it.”

Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt also took issue with the proposed policy.

“On the one hand, I can see the reasoning behind it, but I share Councillor Kennedy’s concerns,” Moffatt said. “I don’t understand how you stop anybody from simply moving into their cottage, and telling them that they can’t be here. That just opens up the us and them can of worms again, as we know from April and May of this year, was heavily contentious and quite unnecessary and unfair.”

Near the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there had been requests from the provincial government, some municipal leaders and medical doctors that seasonal residents reconsider visiting their seasonal dwellings.
“I think it’s problematic on a whole bunch of fronts,” Moffatt said.
Highlands East Deputy Mayor Cec Ryall said he too was worried about creating a seasonal versus permanent divide, noting he himself lives in a house that started out as a seasonal residence.

“When we’re talking about seasonal versus permanent, it’s the zoning that really tells it,” White said, adding that ultimately the issue was about service provision and public health and safety. “A house or a dwelling or a cottage that was built in 1960, 1940, whatever, may not meet the current building code and it’s a public health and safety concern, really, when we consider allowing people to transfer the use from seasonal or recreational.”
“If we can’t get a fire truck down the road and turn it around and get back out, where does that leave you?” she continued. “Can we get an ambulance to you?”

White also added that Canada Post and school boards have requirements that include zoning for the provision of their services.

“I do see the need for this section,” said Algonquin Highlands Deputy Mayor and County Warden Liz Danielsen, adding she thought it needed some revision. “The way I look at it is that we’re not necessarily going to be going around telling people you can’t live in your seasonal house, but when they want to convert the building to permanent residence, that it would have to meet certain standards,”

“If I was told that I had to do all of these things or I couldn’t convert and live year-round in my cottage, which has been suitable for me for many years, I think I’d be looking for a taxation cutback,” Moffatt said. “. . . I can see this section being very contentious and needing a lot more clarification.”

Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin said he thought the idea of more and more people moving permanently to shoreline areas flew in the face of the shoreline protection work the county has been doing. “That’s another element I’m challenged with,” Devolin said, also expressing concerns that not having some kind of policy in place might open the county up to lawsuits.

Danielsen said her concerns with liability were around drinking water.

“My concern with it comes to liability is what our level of risk is when it comes to the water quality, that’s used for drinking,” she said.

White will make some revisions to the proposed policy before it comes back before council for further consideration.