BRLA Got It Exactly Right with OMB Appeal

In response to a recent Letter to the Editor of the Westport Review Mirror, BRLA representative Peter Hannah submitted the following letter:

I read Richard William Earle's letter to the editor with interest. He concludes that "....we were pleased with the final decision.....". That is good because BRLA is very pleased as well.

Readers should not be mislead by some of Mr. Earle's statements. For example, he states "This approval took months of back and forth with the Township planners and the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority (RVCA) to be able to submit the final application that was approved with conditions by the Committee of Adjustment (COA)". He fails to mention that the Rideau Waterway Development Review Team, (which includes Parks Canada, RVCA and CRCA) wrote to the Township COA and recommended that the application NOT be approved.

Rather than examining Mr. Earle's letter paragraph by paragraph, it is better to focus on the facts and on ways that the Township's future planning decisions can benefit from the guidance provided by this OMB decision. There are at least five key differences between the initial decision of the Township COA  and the decision the OMB reached after careful review of the evidence.

1.  Mr. Earle wanted to reduce the normal 30m setback from water to only 8m. RVCA inspected the property and concluded that poor site conditions actually warranted a water setback of at least 40m. Nevertheless, the Township COA granted the applicant's request to reduce the water setback to 8m. The OMB increased the setback to 15m, subject to more stringent conditions, and pointed out that the Township's Official Plan (OP) never allows a reduction below this 15m minimum standard.

2. The Township COA decision required a tertiary sewage treatment system but not all tertiary systems remove phosphorus, the key nutrient that affects lakes. The OMB decision included a condition requiring phosphorus treatment.

3. The COA decision did not require a landscape plan; the OMB required "a landscape plan illustrating the revegetation of the naturalization buffer that shall be created within the first 15m of the shoreline, and the landscape plan shall be incorporated into the Site Plan approval."

4. In spite of the significant physical constraints present on this lot, the COA did not require a grading and drainage plan. It did not even require a survey to accurately demonstrate how the proposal could fit on the property. The OMB has addressed this shortcoming by now requiring that a grading and drainage plan be prepared by a Professional Engineer and be incorporated into the Site Plan approval.

5. The COA did not require the Site Plan to be registered on title. Even the Township's lawyer admitted at the OMB hearing that this practice should be followed. The OMB rectified this problem by requiring the Site Plan Agreement, Site Plan, Landscaping Plan and Site Grading and Drainage Plan to be registered on title. (It is interesting to note that of the three municipalities which abut Big Rideau Lake, the Township of Rideau Lakes is the only municipality which does not make registration on title a routine practice. The other Townships recognize that this is the only way a future purchaser will be made aware of the Site Plan's requirements.)

The Township's COA could have asked more questions, required more information to help guide its decision and could have incorporated these conditions in its initial decision. Had the Township COA been more vigilant in applying the planning principles as required by its Official Plan, with a view to achieving the protection of the Township's most valuable asset, its waterbodies, an appeal to the OMB would not have been necessary.

The OMB made some important observations which should assist the Township in its future decisions. "The Board concludes that the current debate is bound to be repeated. The Board would be remiss in not warning that the Township's initial interpretation of the OP's relevant provisions was unreliable." (pg 7)

The OMB's 21 page decision (available on the BRLA website) provides a thorough analysis of the Township Official Plan's applicable policies. These policies are the result of many years of studies, experience and revision. Until about 25 years ago, 15m minimum water setbacks were the norm. Municipal leaders recognized the need for greater care in developing waterfront areas if these important water resources were to be protected for the long term. A minimum water setback of 30m was established along with other important provisions such as the 10% maximum lot coverage for waterfront lots.

It is important to remember that the 30m standard is a minimum requirement. Where slope, soil type, soil depth and vegetation are less than ideal, the setback should be increased. The OP recognizes that the 30m standard can be difficult to meet on some existing undersized lots. It provides for the possibility of reductions but requires an environmental impact study to carefully evaluate the site and propose mitigation measures. The OMB's decision has provided an important reminder to the Township that this is an essential part of the Township's "due diligence" responsibilities. The OMB states "The solution, however, is not to sidestep the OP with contrived shortcuts". (pg 14)

The OMB also reminded us that the Rideau Canal's inscription on the list of World Heritage Sites is an important consideration when evaluating development in shoreline areas.

The BRLA appeal was instrumental in achieving these much needed improvements to the final decision. BRLA did not get it wrong with this OMB appeal. It got it exactly right.

Members' Activity Final Update re: OMB Hearing

From BRLA President Brian Hawkins

As reported earlier, your Board filed an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) against a Township of Rideau Lakes Committee of Adjustment decision regarding a significantly undersized waterfront property on Big Rideau Lake.

The OMB recently announced its decision and we are very pleased with the result. The project in question is not cancelled but it has been amended, which was exactly our goal in launching the appeal.

The Environment and Government Relations Committees have reviewed it thoroughly and we state confidently that we probably would not have appealed the Committee of Adjustment decision if it had been similar to what the OMB has now mandated.

The full decision is posted below, and provides a detailed analysis of the issues, missteps in process and corrective actions required for the project in question to be continued.

A brief overview of the most important site changes required include:

  • A 15 metre setback from the water is required for both the building and septic system, instead of 8 metre approved by the Committee of Adjustment.
  • The tertiary sewage treatment system originally approved must be upgraded to remove phosphorus.
  • A proper landscaping plan, using native species, must be submitted.
  • A site grading and drainage plan, with accurate setback measurements, prepared by a Professional Engineer, must be submitted.
  • The Site Plan Agreement, Site Plan, Landscaping Plan and Site Grading and Drainage Plan must all be registered on title.

These are all consistent with the current Official Plan and more importantly, what we all are accountable to in building on or renovating our properties.

The report also comments on Township of Rideau Lakes’ policies and procedures, which we are confident the Township will respond in the near future.

Finally, the Board thanks you for your support in this process. If you have questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to contact me at president@bigrideaulakeassociation.com


Members' Activity Update re: Houseboats

From BRLA President Brian Hawkins,

Your Board has received enquiries about the possible introduction of a large number of houseboats on to the Rideau Waterway.

We are awaiting a formal announcement from the Province of Ontario, which introduced such a concept to a public Eastern Ontario Economic Development workgroup last fall, in conjunction with Parks Canada. Until such an announcement is made, we have restricted insight as to what is being considered.

However, the BRLA Government Affairs Committee, chaired by Mr. Doug Kirkland, has met with Parks Canada, is monitoring these developments and offers the following details accumulated to date:

  • This initiative is still a long way from being a "done deal". 
  • Negotiations between Parks Canada, the Government of Ontario and a very successful European canal boat tour company are in place but far from complete.
  • This successful European canal boat tour company has toured the length of the Rideau Waterway with an eye to opening an operation here.
  • The business model is NOT COMPARABLE to the disastrous 3 Buoys pontoon houseboat incursion that Big Rideau Lake residents endured in the 90’s.
  • This model calls for low speed keel boats with added handling and navigational features (bow thruster & GPS) with a high level of boat operator training. 
  • The tour company is known to have strict and enforceable operational standards.
  • It is expected the prime target renter will be “high-end” European tourists looking to explore our UNESCO World Heritage site from the water, using the boats as transportation to take them to land based venues.
  • This is a key component because the Province’s goal is to deliver new business ($’s) to local merchants and businesses along the Rideau system.
  • We should expect to see regional infrastructure investments to facilitate these tourists – municipal docks and docking services being the most obvious.  
  • We should also expect to see business investments in communities around the lake to cater to these same tourists – restaurants and grocery stores to top the list.
  • It is probable that the base of operations will be Smiths Falls.
  • Rental packages are more likely to be weeklong rather than the weekend party models seen elsewhere.
  • Parks Canada will be an integral component in this venture, thereby ensuring a level of responsibility and accountability not seen in the 90’s.

We take relative comfort in what we have seen so far, understanding that this matter is a Provincial initiative and therefore we cannot dictate its evolution. However, Doug and his Committee have already met with and discussed Parks Canada’s role in administering this matter and we have been asked for input as the plan takes shape.

When more details are known, we will advise you immediately and in the meantime, if you have questions or comments please don’t hesitate to contact either Doug or me at:

governmentaffairs@bigrideaulakeassociation.com / president@bigrideaulakeassociation.com


Water Quality and Aquatic Plants Research

From Buzz Boles, Chair of BRLA Environment Committee

The Environment Committee of the Big Rideau Lake Association was re-established early in 2016 and has been very active on issues of concern and interest to our membership.  These include protecting lake water quality from  impacts from over development on undersized lots [thusly the recent BRLA OMB initiative], keeping up to date on the status of invasive aquatic plants and animals, assessing cormorant impacts on the lake, and concerns about watercraft safety and fish conservation related to frequent bass fishing derbies. Periodically we want to report on these various issues to our membership. 

Recently the BRLA received a copy of a general information and scientific paper [below] covering 20 lakes some of which are very nearby and which provided insights  into [1]  how zebra mussels affect lake ecology, and [2] water quality changes over the past 150 years by measuring phosphorous levels in  various lakes.

We think this is credible and useful information for our membership to have  on lake water quality and environmental issues. We recommend it highly for reading by everyone.

We also need your feedback on these issues.  We welcome your comments here (click on the title) or email me directly at environment@bigrideaulakeassociation.com with any comments or questions.

BRLA Involvement in OMB Hearing

from BRLA President, Brian Hawkins

In June of 2015, your Board filed an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) against a Township of Rideau Lakes Committee of Adjustment decision regarding a significantly undersized waterfront property on Big Rideau Lake. That appeal is now complete and we await the Hearing Officer’s written decision.

I am writing to advise you of the rationale for your Board’s decision, to assure you that this decision was not taken lightly and that it is not BRLA’s intent to become involved in frequent OMB appeals.

Here are the facts:

·      The appeal challenged a single decision made by the Township’s Committee of Adjustment.

·      This action was brought to the Board by the Environment Committee and was approved unanimously by the Board.

·      In reviewing the Committee of Adjustment’s decision, your Board felt that the very same process which we are all held accountable to when developing our private properties was ignored by the Committee of Adjustment.

·      The Committee of Adjustment did not demand sufficient information from the applicant to permit a proper review of the application and ignored the written input from the technical review agencies

·      The Board felt that if not challenged, the decision could stand as a precedent for future applications which could sidestep existing Provincial, County and Township Official Plan requirements, putting our lake at risk thereby affecting the value of our members’ property investments.

·      The hearing, originally scheduled for one day in November, was extended by two full days, April 28th and 29th.

·      While it is inappropriate to forecast the Hearing Officer’s decision, we are very pleased with his verbal comments at the end of the hearing. He noted that the Official Plan needs to be reviewed and that the Township’s process was deficient.

·      The Township’s lawyer agreed that additional conditions were warranted.

·      The BRLA was represented at the hearings by an interested neighbour on Upper Rideau Lake and most of the technical research was provided by a current member of the BRLA, who also appeared as an expert witness on our behalf.
These services were provided “pro bono”, we are most grateful for their efforts and generosity..

When the decision is handed down, we will update you immediately.

In the meantime, if you have questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to contact me at president@bigrideaulakeassociation.com, or click on the title above to leave a comment here.