Township council approves use of storage container as an exemption to existing bylaw

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KAGAWONG – Billings Township council has approved the use of a storage container within the village of Kagawong as an exemption to an existing 2011 bylaw that prevented the use of transport, sea or rail containers. Mayor Ian Anderson told council at a meeting last week the request from resident Colen McKeever was a simple one but was complicated by an existing resolution that doesn’t permit these storage containers within the hamlet of Kagawong. 

A letter to council from Mr. McKeever dated May 11, 2021 stated, “As you probably know, we have sold the Carter House and have moved to 204 Main Street and require storage for our antique shop and personal items.” Mr. McKeever plans to locate the storage container at 11 Upper Street, behind the garage and out of sight of passing cars. “With the high costs of building materials and labour it is not an option for me to build a structure at this time,” he wrote.

He added that negative attitudes around the use of storage containers have changed. “They are being accepted by cities and communities as an alternative to high-cost building options for use as coffee shops, vendor outlets and alternative living spaces. The boardwalk in Montreal and the complexes in Tofino, British Columbia are great examples of future opportunities for Kagawong, considering the limited space within the village.” 

Township staff outlined the usual process in a memo to council. Mr. McKeever would first request a zoning change (site specific) to the zoning bylaw from the planning board. The request would be reviewed by the planning board if there was municipal support. Notification would then be sent to neighbouring properties as legislated. There would be a public meeting for public comment on whether or not they support the installation of a storage container at the site. At the next regular council meeting following the public meeting, council would be presented with a draft bylaw to amend the zoning bylaw to allow for a storage container to be located on the property.

This request is a bit different, council was told. In 2011 the following resolution was passed by council: “Whereas, following a review of the township’s zoning bylaw, council has determined that transport trailers, rail box cars and sea containers are not permitted use anywhere within the township; and whereas, anyone with a transport trailer, rail box car or sea container can apply to the Manitoulin Planning Board for a site-specific amendment to Billings Township zoning bylaw. Now therefore, be it resolved that council has determined that it is undesirable to allow transport trailers, rail box cars and sea containers in areas zoned hamlet, hamlet residential and shoreline residential, council would oppose any site-specific requests in these zones.”

“I cannot speak for council as to why this resolution was passed other than at the time, containers were an issue all over Manitoulin and by omission (not contained in the zoning bylaw), containers are not permitted in Billings Township,” said Mayor Anderson.

There were three options for council to consider, he said. The first was to accept the existing resolution as it stands, so that Mr. McKeever’s application would be denied by the planning board. The second was for council to rescind the resolution made in 2011, so that anyone can apply for a site-specific zoning amendment, which may result in these containers in many locations. The third option was for council to make an exemption for Mr. McKeever and notify the planning board that they will support the site-specific zoning amendment pending review of any responses that are received either for or against the container. “This will establish precedent,” he said.

Councillor Bryan Barker agreed that since COVID-19, the cost of building materials has skyrocketed and acknowledged there are examples of where sea containers are accepted. However, he noted, “these sea containers would not be recognized as sea containers because they’ve been architecturally altered.” The containers are not attractive and if allowed in the community, the township should have some say on what it looks like and where it is located, Councillor Barker stated. “All said, he sent photos where he plans to put the container and it is not visible from the street. I would support his request only if council passes a bylaw on future requests being considered on a case by case basis.”

Councillor Sharon Alkenbrack agreed but added, “they are being used for shops and tiny homes and we need to look at the future possibility of that.” She noted there are four or five containers located within the township currently and suggested a bylaw should contain conditions about appearance and maintenance of storage containers, if it were allowed.

Councillor Michael Hunt indicated his support of the existing bylaw. “I don’t believe if they are located in the village they will be very attractive to their neighbours,” he said.

“I have seen my share of sea containers,” said Councillor Sharon Jackson. “They’re not the most attractive things in the world.” She suggested painting the container and said she would like to see an exemption made on a case-by-case application, with guidelines in place.

When asked by Councillor Alkenbrack, township clerk Kathy McDonald said that sea storage containers are not assessed by MPAC (Municipal Property Assessment Corporation) and do not generate revenue for the township. 

“I can understand Mr. McKeever’s predicament,” said Mayor Anderson. “I can agree totally they are not appropriate on shorelines or in built up areas or even in the hamlet unless covered by a lot of trees. Three councillors are leaning toward allowing a special exemption as long as there are some standards before allowing this.” 

He suggested the third option was most applicable to this case. Following Councillor Barker again expressing his reservations about the lack of guidelines within a bylaw, Mayor Anderson asked Ms. McDonald if the council could add standards to the existing bylaw. 

“You don’t have bylaw amendments in front of you,” said Ms. McDonald. She added that municipal staff are currently working on amending the zoning bylaw but this would not be complete for some time. Both council and the public will have a say regarding what goes into the updated zoning bylaw, she said.

Councillor Alkenbrack moved to allow a site-specific exemption for Mr. McKeever. Councillor Jackson seconded. No one opposed the motion, “that the council of the township of Billings will give a special exemption to 11 Upper Street and will support an application submitted to the (Manitoulin) planning board by Colen McKeever to place a storage container at his property located at 11 Upper Street, behind the white garage where it will not be seen by people passing the property.”