MLA Comments on Township of Muskoka Lakes new zoning bylaw

The MLA recently attended a meeting held by the Township of Muskoka Lakes regarding their new zoning by-law.

Consequently a letter was drafted and send to the Township with regard to several concerns the MLA had with the new by-law.

Read the full letter sent by the MLA below...

`July 24, 2010


Mayor and Members of Council

Township of Muskoka Lakes

PO Box 129, 1 Bailey St

Port Carling, ON

P0B 1J0



Dear Madam Mayor and Members of Council



Re:          Proposed Zoning By-law Township of Muskoka Lakes


 The Muskoka Lakes Association has a membership of over 2000 families who own seasonal and permanent  residences in Muskoka. The Political and Environment committee, Muskoka Lakes Association, has been studying the new proposed zoning by-law. The MLA was actively involved in the last major change to the zoning by-law, the waterfront density by-law which was adopted in 2005. The impact of this by-law is now being seen on the lakes.


 Our preliminary comments are:


1. Further work is needed to clarify the zoning by-law.


The zoning by-law should be based on the principles of being equitable, protects the land and waterways from negative impact, is uniform, consistent, enforceable and simple to understand. The present by-law is convoluted and difficult to understand. More revision is needed to clarify the regulations.


 2. Waterfront zoning provisions must be consistent and based on the Lake


The MLA is pleased to see that a new zone for urban waterfront has been introduced. However, all waterfront zones must be consistent and consistently based on the LAKE not the community, land use or zone. There are two reasons for this – one is environmental and is related to lake health and the mechanisms within the lake system health program to protect and improve lake health. The other is built form and aesthetics – from the water- as contemplated in the waterfront density by-law. We are of the opinion that further work is required to ensure that zoning for waterfront property, is based on the Lake, is consistent and is equitable.


 3. There are too many variations in required building setbacks from the lake.


The new zoning by-law has at least four (4) different building setbacks from the waterfront.


 The minimum building setbacks from a lake include:


a) 100 ft   -  building setback for lots located on highly sensitive or over threshold waterbodies,


b) 25 ft   -  building setback for commercial buildings in an urban setting or a 100 ft setback  for  residential buildings in an urban setting


 c) 66 ft    -  building setback for the waterfront properties and islands on non sensitive lakes


d) 35 ft     -  minimum building setback if a building has been previously erected on the lot


 The purpose of a building setback from the shoreline is to protect water quality, by providing additional natural landscaping to buffer the lake; for aesthetic purposes to maintain the natural appearance of the shoreline characteristic of Muskoka; and to reduce the negative impact of loss of privacy and shadowing from adjacent buildings.


Subject to further discussion, we believe that a minimum building setback of 66 ft should be enforced for all waterfront properties.


A consistent building setback from the waterfront together with the use of site plan control by-laws to regulate building locations on over threshold lakes, or in steep slopes locations or on small island with narrow widths would achieve these objectives.


A minor comment. The by-law needs to clarify that frontage and the “front lot line” refer to the water body and is not a variable permission to the street, for those lots on a navigable waterway. Similarly some consideration should be given to the application of front lot line and front lot line building setback for island lots especially small islands suitable only for one dwelling unit.


 The MLA understands the need to balance previous permissions and building regulations with new requirements and standards. The existing provision which allows a new and substantially larger cottage to be built located only 35 ft from the shoreline, if a building had previously existed on that site needs to be reexamined. The continued removal of modest tear down cottages to enable the construction of much larger and more substantial dwelling at a minimum distance from the waterfront will have a negative impact on the aesthetics of the lake and create potential privacy issues.  


 4. The location of the septic system in relation to the natural shoreline needs to be controlled.


The zoning by-law does not regulate the location of septic systems by excluding them from the definition of a structure. Nor is the location of septic systems a requirement for site plan control applications. In terms of water quality, it is more important that the septic system be located away from the lake frontage than the dwelling unit. Therefore we recommend that the zoning by-law be amended to state that septic system only be permitted to the rear of the main dwelling unit on the property or be setback at the same minimum distance from the shoreline as the dwelling unit and other structures.  


 5. Update the shoreline buffer requirement to reflect the new setback from the waterfront


The quality of our water bodies depends in part on good stewardship of the adjacent lands. The shoreline buffer provides a valuable role in preserving a naturalized area between the cottage and its decks or patios and the shoreline. The existing policy of a 50 ft buffer should be updated to a 66 ft buffer to reflect the minimum building / deck setbacks. The requirement for a naturalized buffer to improve water quality and maintain a naturalized shoreline for aesthetics needs to be better promoted to both new and existing cottagers. With better education and more rigorous implementation of this requirement together with the site alteration by-law and the tree preservation by-law, a more naturalized shoreline should result over time.


 6. Delete the new provision of a maximum building height of 30 ft


The existing standard states permits a maximum building height of 35 ft from the lowest point of natural grade to the peak of the roof. The new by-law proposes a reduced height for some waterfront lots having less than 200 ft frontage. In the township as a whole ap[proximately 70 % of the waterfront lots are less than 200 ft in frontage.


 In order to reduce the building height by 5 ft while maintaining the same inside living space, builders will artificially reduce the “height” by backfilling to increase the lowest grade and replace the roof peak with a flatter  profile. This may result in greater problems.


 7. Review the new regulation regarding width of docks, and sundecks


Regulation 3.1.2e (15) is difficult to understand. While “party decks” are becoming more of a concern this restriction for a sundeck to a maximum of 200 sq ft appears overly restrictive especially when compared to the permission for sundecks to occupy the entire roof of a boathouse.  


 In conclusion:


The MLA believes that more discussion is needed to establish a new zoning by-law. We suggest that Council schedule a second Public Meeting before making a decision. We are committed to working with the Township of Muskoka Lakes and other Muskoka stakeholders to achieve a new well thought out zoning by-law. We would be pleased to meet with you in person to further discuss these initiatives and our comments.   


Please notify the MLA of all future meetings regarding a new zoning by-law for the township of Muskoka lakes. We request a copy of the council’s decision when a new zoning by-law is adopted.



Yours truly,


Brian McElwain                                                          Anne McCauley, MCIP, RPP

President, Muskoka Lakes Association                  Chair, Political and Environment, Muskoka Lakes Association`