Concerns expressed that draft Official Plan designations may kill Island development

MANITOULIN—The lack of designation of property around Manitoulin Island’s inland lakes as ‘shoreline development’ has the potential to kill future development within Island municipalities according to an assessment by Northeast Town staff during an August 29 emergency meeting to discuss the town’s response to the draft Official Plan as presented to the public for comment.

There are two critical concerns regarding the development of lakeshore property on Manitoulin’s inland lakes. The first revolves around the question of ‘sensitive’ lakes designations and the province’s indication that they want sensitive lakes included in the Official Plan. The impact of the sensitive lake designation would be to include a requirement that would see no new creation of lots within 300 metres of the shoreline of a ‘sensitive’ lake or a lake considered to be ‘at capacity.’ Further, development of existing lots will require that the property owner prove that the development will have no impact on lake water quality. The second concern revolves around the lack of designations of shoreline development around inland lakes within the draft District of Manitoulin Official Plan.

Billings councillor Tom Imrie went somewhat further afield in voicing his concerns about the provincial method of designating sensitive lakes and what he claims is a lack of clarity on the part of the province as to what goes into identifying such lakes. “The information online and available through the Ministry of the Environment on the science and decision making of what constitutes a sensitive lake is fairly vague,” he said. “People with pre-existing properties that have been purchased to subdivide those properties as part of their retirement plans may be stuck with large tracts of land they can’t develop or build on. I just want to to ensure that there is some sort of specificity as to what constitutes a sensitive lake.”

But the Northeast Town concerns extend much deeper and centre around the lack of the designation of any shoreline development around inland lakes within the municipal boundaries. Maps provided with the draft Official Plan indicate properties around inland lakes within the municipality will be designated as rural. Should a farmer wish to subdivide three lots along the waterfront of his property for severance, as has been a common practice on Manitoulin, the costs and regulatory burden would be extremely significant—regardless of whether the lake fit into a sensitive designation.

The net effect of the lack of shoreline development designations around the inland lakes would be to put in place the sensitive lake restrictions universally.

“Over 70 percent of the building permits issued within the municipality fit into this description,” Northeast Town CAO Dave Williamson informed council near the end of the August 29 emergency meeting. The implication of the planned designation would be to effectively halt future development within the municipality as the region is expanding almost exclusively with recreational or retirement home building.

The sensitive lake designation does have its supporters within the municipality, as the Lake Manitou Area Association (LMAA) states on the record in an August 20 letter to the Manitoulin Planning Board. “We strongly support this proscription on any new development requiring the creation of new lots,” signed by Rob Coulter and Mike Costigan, president of the LMAA. But the letter stops short of objecting to development of the 120 existing shoreline lots of record on Lake Manitou, albeit with the aforementioned restrictions which they admit makes it “difficult to see how this can be accomplished with ‘no impacts on lake water quality’.”

The LMAA bases its support for the prohibition on development on their lake largely on the precarious state of the water quality in Lake Manitou found in its own private water quality monitoring and that of the Ministry of the Environment, which indicate oxygen levels that are dangerously low for the protection and maintenance of the lake trout fishery.

But the Northeast Town concerns, while recognizing the implications of the sensitive lake designations may have on some development within the municipality, centre more on the larger blanket de facto prohibition on any lakeshore development around inland lakes within the municipality that could stem from the lack of designation of any shoreline development properties around those lakes, be they designated as sensitive or at capacity or not.

Due to the late hour, consensus during the Northeast Town council emergency meeting to formulate their response to the draft Official Plan was reached to continue discussion and debate on the issue of the plan’s implications for development in the municipality over the next 20 years at the Administration and Finance meeting at 7 pm on September 5.