By Sue Tiffin
Residents concerned and interested in a shoreline protection draft bylaw many of them associated with the building industry or lakefront property owners filled the visitors’ gallery at county council for a discussion of the bylaw at a meeting of county council on Feb. 12.
The goals and objectives of the enhanced bylaw include ensuring no further loss of natural shorelines increasing the proportion of natural/native vegetative cover and working toward a goal of 75 per cent natural/native vegetative cover overall for better lake health.
The proposed new protections include the protection of natural shoreline vegetation regulating site alteration and regulating cleaning and clearing of land combined with the continued protection of trees.
In her report to council county director of planning Charlsey White said the planning
department had been directed by council to create the draft bylaw not just to protect the trees on the shoreline but to line up with the county and municipal official plans “to protect lake quality and quantity of water as well as the environment wetland areas” and a number of areas deemed by the province to be of natural and scientific interest.
“While the health of our lakes is vital to the economic well-being of the county the impact this may have on the construction/landscaping industries needs to be seriously considered” he wrote in an email.
As part of the planning process White had approached the four lower-tier councils throughout the county in spring 2019 for support of the draft bylaw and the county’s planning department had sought public input on the content and scope of the proposed bylaw through an online survey that garnered hundreds of comments. Based in part on the wide variety of comments received White and the planning department team drafted the bylaw which had undergone legal review.
“What we tried to do when crafting the language of the bylaw is come into the middle” she said. “And maybe that’s not where council wants to direct us to continue but that’s what this conversation and process is really for.”
She noted she was seeking direction from council on next steps including further public consultation and said that points within the draft bylaw were open to discussion.
The draft bylaw states that the minimum required set-back for new development is 30 metres “measured over a horizontal distance inland from the high water mark of a body of water” which White clarified does not apply to existing development legally permitted at the time of building or establishment including trailer parks noting that in some cases moving established infrastructure can result in more environmental damage to the shoreline.
Councillors with their own questions as well as questions submitted to them from their constituents asked for stipulations on points throughout the draft bylaw. Councillor Patrick Kennedy asked if real estate signs would be included in restrictions to signs on public or private shoreline in a “public nuisances” section of the draft with White explaining the signs had to be posted with permission from the owner and could not be fastened to a live tree.
Regarding a “noise vibration odour and dust” section that restricts an “excessive amount of smoke dust or airborne particulate matter” White said it didn’t relate to fire pits or barbecues and was more speaking to revving of watercraft engines at the shoreline noting details were open to discussion when Kennedy said that wasn’t clear in the bylaw.
In a section about site alteration the removal of fill or placement of fill on the land within the shoreline area White said a permit process would be enacted.
“This is where that permit process would come in” she said. “We’re not saying you can’t do it what we’re saying is you can do it with certain proper development and design guidelines.”
“I’m reading this that if we want to put a pathway in we’re going to need to do an environmental impact study” said Councillor Cec Ryall suggesting that some of the points in the draft bylaw would cause “delays beyond reasonable intelligence.”
“There is a list of exemptions that are built into the bylaw” said White. “So that what you’re talking about bringing a path down … no absolutely not you’re not going to need an environmental assessment study. That would be as you say onerous and time consuming. So it’s reasonable development versus site alteration and what is an actual impact. Is there a potential for negative impact that’s when we would get into the need for a permit. Not I have a garden I’m going to add some topsoil to my garden. That’s exempted. If you’re looking to do a whole clearing of the shoreline and the trees and changing your slope and grade and you’re adding beach that requires a permit. But a pathway so you and your family can go down to your dock that doesn’t require a permit. And that is outlined in the bylaw.”
White said other exemptions include work by surveyors hydro workers and legislative exemptions.
Kennedy said he has had it explained to him that in terms of days that are suitable for work such as construction there are only about 150 days in the year and that any sort of misinformed complaints regarding compliance with the bylaw delay in turnaround time for staff to carry out inspections or other unexpected encumbrances could greatly affect work projects. White said that was an important part of the conversation to determine how the bylaw could best be enforced in an efficient manner.
Councillors raised concerns about possible additional staff to help enforce the bylaw and the cost of their office space vehicles etc. as well as the reality of enforcing some parts of the bylaw itself.
“To me parts of this seem very similar to our fireworks bylaw it’s really nice to have it in theory but impossible to enforce” said Councillor Carol Moffatt.
Ryall said he believed in keeping the lakes clean but was concerned about stifling an industry.
“We have to have a balance of good intentions for the future of the community that would allow … work to continue and people to be employed” said Moffatt.
White said previous direction from council was to try to have a bylaw in place for the summer but that she was concerned that would not happen if public consultation included a suggested summer public meeting.
Councillor Brent Devolin said it was necessary to “take the appropriate amount of time to do the consultation” a statement repeatedly made by councillors throughout the discussion.
Councillors noted the topic was a contentious one for which they’d received much feedback from constituents this week by phone and email when the draft bylaw was made publicly available.
“I’ve had some feedback already on the proposed bylaw and it’s the comments are a world apart” said Danielsen.
The Coalition of Haliburton Property Owners’ Associations board chairman Paul MacInnes who was in attendance at last week’s meeting has advocated for the creation of a county-wide shoreline protection bylaw mandating naturalized shorelines and presented a detailed report to council last spring stressing the benefits of natural shorelines.
“The lakes are the foundation of Haliburton County” MacInnes said at that time noting that everything the community is built on – cottaging tourism real estate its jobs – is ultimately tied to its nearly 600 lakes. He said water quality in any lake with less than 75 per cent natural shoreline was decreasing and that throughout Haliburton County just 48 per cent of the shoreline is natural and that it’s critical to protect what is left.
He said he thought there might be “lots of misconceptions” about what the draft bylaw affects.
Keith Thomas president of Francis Thomas Contracting Company Ltd. and president of the Haliburton County Home Builders Association told the Echo that HCHBA members attended the meeting to “show the seriousness of the proposed bylaw.”
“The concern with the draft as with many things in life is the fear of the unknown” he said. “As the draft covers a broad spectrum of activities that would be limited within the defined shoreline potential impacts could range from the loss of jobs to considerable fluctuations in realty markets.”
Aggie Tose executive officer of HCHBA told the Echo “…we all care for the environment and lake quality in Haliburton County. We live here fish here work here employ here and so do our kids. We also care for the economic value of our towns properties and businesses.”
She said she felt that stakeholders hadn’t been consulted about the creation of the original draft bylaw and that the survey used to draft the bylaw had too few respondents. “The survey itself says that it had 765 total visits with 157 engaged visitors” said Tose. “The Haliburton County census from 2016 shows 18062 residents. That means approximately four per cent of Haliburton County was consulted. This is concerning because cottagers drive the economy in Haliburton County. Cottagers will not buy build or renovate if government continues to add layers of red tape.”
White was asked to return to council with options for proposed public consultation that would take into consideration the timing and locations of any sort of public meeting so that as many agents and seasonal residents could attend.
“We want to have enough nets to capture as much as possible so that as has been expressed the feeling that this has kind of been done in the dark behind everyone’s backs it hasn’t” said Moffatt.
Tose said she felt relieved that public consultation might offer the opportunity for HCHBA members to further discuss the draft bylaw and said she believed “that our numbers showed council that they need to take more time.”
“We appreciate the declaration of [county council] to make this right the first time” said Tose. “We are committed to working together to see the best outcome for all concerned.”
“While with every bylaw we understand that it is impossible to please everyone but we are optimistic that a bylaw can be drafted such that industry and growth does not suffer” said Thomas.