Township Watch - August 2020


The following index should help you in locating an article of particular interest

General/Finance Committee - Wednesday, August 12th, 2020

Restoration of Portage Landing Park

Director of Public Works, Ken Becking, informed Committee that as part of their lease of Township lands Swift River Energy Limited (SREL) is required to restore Portage Landing Park to its condition prior to the construction of the power plant in Bala.  SREL has advised the Township that although they did tender the rehabilitation projects no qualified firm was capable of undertaking the project in 2020 due to a shortage of labour resources.  It is anticipated that SREL will still meet the required deadline of June 30th, 2021 to complete the necessary work.

Councillor Nishikawa voiced concerns that the $200,000.00 the Township holds in securities for the project is not adequate and that the developers “may walk” without completing the work.  Mr. Becking explained that there is currently an agreement in place between SREL and the Township and therefore, there is no ability to renegotiate the amount of securities at this time.

This item was on the agenda for information purposes and no resolution was read.

Council - Wednesday, August 12th, 2020

Solar Speed Sign in Bala

A motion was brought forth by Councillors Hayes and Zavitz to request that the District install a solar speed sign at the south entrance to Bala between the Beer Store and Windsor Park.  Although the speed limit has decreased on Muskoka Road 169 to 50 km per hour in this location, it is not unheard of to see a vehicle travelling upwards of 80 km per hour.

The resolution was read and carried.

The KEE to Bala

As reported in the previous two Township Watch reports, the KEE to Bala had applied to the Township for permission to hold several open air/outdoor events this summer.  At the June General/Finance meeting staff were asked to return with a staff report for consideration of the application.  A staff report was brought forward in July along with an amendment application from the KEE with a reduced number of outdoor events.  Staff had concerns that the events did not comply with Provincial restrictions and public health safety and Council deferred the application.

The KEE has since submitted written notice to the Township withdrawing their application.

Township Re-Opening Plan

CAO, Derrick Hammond explained to Council that the management team had prepared a report and recommendations on the re-opening plan -Townshop Re-opening Plan Township Re-opening Plan.  To begin, Township Clerk Cheryl Mortimer explained that due to social distancing requirements the Council Chambers cannot currently be used for Committee and Council meetings.  If social distancing requirements of 2 metre separation could be reached in the Council Chambers, a hybrid approach for meetings where some Councillors attend in person and others electronically could be an option.  The third option presented was to hold Township meetings in the Port Carling Community Centre where social distancing was possible for Councillors, staff, and members of the public.  Unfortunately, this option does not allow for webcasting meetings as the internet in the community centre is not sufficient.  Staff have obtained quotes to have the internet extended from the Township Offices into the community centre with initial estimates being $30,000.00.  These recommendations were further complicated by the Medical Officer of Health for the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit recommending that a social distance of 4 metres be maintained between delegates and Council.  As such, the Township will continue to hold its meetings electronically.

The second portion of the report, opening the Township offices to the public, was presented by Sarah Lehman, Human Resources/Health & Safety Specialist.  Ms. Lehman outlined that in keeping with the medical guidelines the Township hallways, stairways, washrooms, public areas and workstations are not large enough to allow for social distancing.  To date staff feel that members of the public continue to be served satisfactorily.  As such, it was recommended that the Township offices remain closed to the public until further information and advice is received with a potential re-opening in the fourth quarter of 2020 or even the first quarter of 2021.

The Director of Public Works, Ken Becking then spoke about re-opening facilities under his department.  Outdoor spaces are being opened but no special events can be held.  The Port Carling Library, which is its own entity, has been providing curb service and it is working well.  As contact sports are prohibited at the moment, arenas will currently remain closed and Mr. Becking does not see them opening in the immediate future.  Mr. Becking then presented three options for a gradual opening of the Township’s 13 community centres: 

  • Option 1 - open Bala, Port Carling and Ullswater which would incur cleaning costs of $2100.00 per week.
  • Option 2 - open the above 3 mentioned centres plus Minett and Milford Bay which would cost $3500.00 to clean weekly, or
  • Option 3 - open all of them at a cost of $9100.00 per week.

It was suggested that community centres be opened for 9 AM to 11 AM and 1 PM to 3 PM to allow for the necessary cleaning between uses. 

Mr. Becking further explained that 70% of Township staff are currently working off site which has been effective.  He suggested to Council that they must look at space allocation in Township buildings and considered an addition to the Township offices.

Council members then discussed the information that had been presented to them, commenting that:

  • it would be helpful to the public if the first thing added was a receptionist in the Township offices,
  • there would be substantial travelling from some areas in the Township to community centres suggested for opening in option 1,
  • opening these centres has to be done safely while completing the safety needs,
  • no community centres should be open in order to keep staff and the public safe,
  • the idea of opening up in phases to is see how things go, then Township should opt for option 1, and whether the library in Bala could be opened as it has its own entrance.

Mayor Harding asked Council if they wished to proceed with opening community centres.  It is important to note that COVID related illnesses are an exclusion to the Township’s insurance policy. If the Township were sued because someone became ill, the Township would need to demonstrate that they took an abundance of caution to make sure no one became sick while using Township facilities.  Council deferred the decision of opening the community centres for further discussion at the next Council meeting. 

During Council discussions the Township received an email from Minister Clark saying that the Township of Muskoka Lakes would receive COVID-19 funding in two phases to help with COVID relief and increased costs to the Township.  The anticipated amount is $616,000.00.  Having received this information, Mayor Harding asked Council if they wished to proceed with having the necessary equipment installed in the Port Carling Community Centre to allow for webcasting.  A resolution to install the equipment was read and carried.

Ed Note:  Although the Muskoka Ratepayers understand having the Township offices closed to the public may have caused some hardship for some people, we have not had any complaints from our members.  The board of the Muskoka Ratepayers commend the Township and staff for doing such an in-depth review and research before re-opening the Township and the offices.  We thank the staff for doing their utmost to keep everyone safe.

Torrance Barrens Conservation Reserve

The Torrance Barrens (The Barrens) is a dark sky preserve 1900 hectares in size located wholly on crown land in the Township of Muskoka Lakes and Town of Gravenhurst.  The lands were designated in 1997 and community groups built the trail systems located in the reserve.  In late 2019 the regulation of the property transferred from the Ministry of Nature Resources and Forestry to the Ministry of the Environment Conservation and Parks (MECP).  Unfortunately, The Barrens are being used for camping with related activities such as bonfires and garbage instead of walking, hiking and night sky viewing.

Mr. Becking informed Council that the conflicting uses had to be brought under control and recommended that a resolution be passed putting a “freeze” on camping and affiliated uses until such  time that the Province conducts a proper review of the policy document on the lands.  New boardwalks are required in the reserve as the MECP removed the old ones.  The staff report can be found here -Torrance Barrens Torrance Barrens.

It was suggested that the Township develop a group to guide The Barrens into the future by asking the Province to provide policy and guidelines on its use.  The Township is willing to assist with funding for the reconstruction of the boardwalks and put money aside in the 2020 budget to do so.

A resolution was read asking the Province to declare an immediate and temporary ban on camping and associated activities in The Barrens, as well as asking MECP staff to work with the Township and community partners to replace the boardwalks.  And lastly, that a memorandum of understanding be established between the Province, Township of Muskoka Lakes and community partners regarding the management and operation of The Barrens, including funds for education and enforcement.  This carried.

Ed Note: The Muskoka Ratepayers, who have been involved with The Barrens since the beginning, has participated in ZOOM calls regarding The Barrens and will continue to offer our support to community partners for The Barrens.

Official Plan Review

David Pink, Director of Development Services and Environmental Sustainability, reminded Council that in February they voted to remove resort commercial policies from the Official Plan Review (OP review).   Mr. Pink said he shares Council’s view regarding to how important this issue is and suggested as an interim approach, a policy direction regarding condominiums could be added to the OP review.  The Official Plan Review, Tourist Resort Policies report can be read here -Official Plan Review Official Plan Review

Before Council held a discussion on whether or not to add resort commercial policy to the OP review, Mayor Harding informed them that the District Commercial Resort Policy was discussed at the District Council meeting and staff were going to return with a report at the September Council meeting with a time table for the review.

Council then proceeded to discuss the addition of commercial resort policy to the OP review:

  • that the Minett OP amendment, which is being presented on August 31, 2020, needs to be completed at the Township level first,
  • that separate discussions are required for resorts,
  • different policies will be needed for large and small resorts,
  • that they do not support a joint review with the District as the Township is unique,
  • that the staff report only includes why resort commercial policy should not be included in the OP, and
  • that the public has been asking that this process start for years.

Mr. Pink informed Council again that his department was extremely busy with the Minett OPA, the OP Review and the Bala & Port Carling Community Improvement Plans.   He asked that they be permitted to finish the Minett OPA before starting the commercial resort policy review in the OP.  CAO Hammond also reiterated his concern about staff being able to manage so many tasks, his concern about the amount of resources and time staff have.  Mr. Hammond also stated that the Township should complete the Minett OPA before moving forward.  Mr. Pink further stated that he struggles to advise Council to do the commercial resort OP review without knowing what the upper tier/District will say, as the Township has to conform with their OP.

As requested, Mayor Harding provided his perspective on the addition of commercial resort policies.   He too has heard that the public want these resort policies added to the OP but he has also heard staff, and District staff; concerns that adding these policies would hold up “all the good in the OP”.  Mayor Harding felt that the amendment provided would provide some “short quick wins”.  The amendment put forth to Council is that Council will start the process under staff direction no later than the first quarter of 2021, or even this fall, with potential subcommittees to work concurrently with the District.  Mayor Harding said the reality is that they hear from staff and the CAO that the Township going forward with commercial resort policies on their own without taking into account what the District is doing may be foolish and cause more problems.

A resolution was read that policy direction should include that resort commercial lands remain commercial and that where resort commercial uses are under condominium ownership that policies be determined on usage for the owners for personal use.  Further that upon adoption of the OPA for Minett that an independent comprehensive review on commercial resort policies be undertaken concurrently with the District, starting no later than the end of Q1 in 2021.  The resolution carried.

Planning - Thursday, August 13th, 2020

Boathouse Usage

During a planning application for a boathouse that had three “boat doors” but only two boat slips with the “extra” space for storage of chairs, tables etc. committee held a discussion on the “extra” space as a comment was made that the “extra” space could be a sitting area to get out of the sun.  Director of Development Services & Environmental Sustainability, David Pink reminded committee that in the comprehensive zoning by-law boathouses were for marine storage only.  Complaints are being received by the Township that boathouses are being used for other purposes.  Once a complaint is received the Township investigates, offending furniture, TV, etc. are removed but in some instances just put back in place.  Mr. Pink reminded committee members that staff had identified this issue of boathouses having non-slip areas labelled as storage on site plans but being used for other purposes once the boathouse passes inspection.  Staff were not provided with any direction to research the issue further.

Committee of the Whole - Strategic Plan Meetings

Committee of the Whole met for four workshops in August to discuss the Township’s new draft strategic plan.  Consultant Chris Loreto from StrategyCorp facilitated the meetings looking for input from committee members on a vision statement, mission statement, values, goals, and initiatives that were then summarized and laid out in a draft strategic plan.  The following are the drafts that will be presented to the public at a future date, as presented at the August 25th, 2020 Committee of the Whole workshop:

Vision - Where generations live and gather in a breathtaking natural environment, enjoying recreation, history, and small-town character. These will be protected and enhanced for future generations, while encouraging thriving communities.

Mission - The Township of Muskoka Lakes Council, residents, volunteers, and staff will be excellent stewards of the environment, set clear and respectful expectations of each other, and work together to build a sustainable, thriving, and diverse community.

Values - Respect: The Township of Muskoka Lakes Council, residents, volunteers, and staff will be excellent stewards of the environment, set clear and respectful expectations of each other, and work together to build a sustainable, thriving, and diverse community.   Excellence: in environmental stewardship, responsible governance, and customer service delivery.  Leadership: that brings the community together on decisions and actions that will move the Township forward.  Resilience: is our ability to adapt to change in a manner that is true to our natural environment and community culture and traditions.  Sustainability: in decisions and actions that protect and enhance services to people, environment, culture, history, and economy.

Goals

  1. Preserve and Protect the Natural and Cultural Environment: Continue to preserve and protect the natural, cultural, environmental, and wildlife characteristics that make Muskoka Lakes unique.
  1. Strengthen and Diversify: Muskoka Lakes’ Economy Leverage Muskoka Lakes’ competitive advantages to grow and diversify the economy.
  1. Enhance and Sustain Public Services and Infrastructure: Prioritize high quality local services and infrastructure through continuous internal improvement and strong relationships with other government partners.

Initiatives (matched up with the numbers under Goals) –

  1. Continue to preserve and protect the natural and cultural heritage features of the Muskoka watershed found within the Township, including water quality •Leverage local and regional relationships to strengthen our response to climate change, and ensure that Muskoka Lakes remains adaptable and resilient to its effects •Communicate, market, and promote the use and preservation of our natural environment, including creating dynamic down towns that highlight the natural environment •Enhance septic management policies, practices, and infrastructure, and support these through greater education and communication for users •Develop and implement an Official Plan and leverage zoning by-laws to enable improved LPAT outcomes.
  1. Implement the economic development strategy, including housing, workforce, broadband, and transportation requirements •Establish criteria to assist in determining desired types of economic growth that will be prioritized for the Township, particularly light industrial, commercial, and year-round amenities and activities •Leverage existing infrastructure to establish community hubs that support a thriving community, with a focus on year-round amenities, cultural attractions, and ancillary services that contribute positively to a high quality of life.
  1. Develop and implement an actionable recreation and trails master plan that can leverage the Township’s infrastructure and natural features to improve community and visitor usage •Assess existing roads network and identify opportunities to make improvements and maintain quality •Strengthen relationships with the District to enable better communication and provide more input to decisions that affect the Township •Maintain a focus on organizational excellence and supporting staff to effectively deliver services to residents •Assess the Township’s current service delivery models and identify opportunities for modernization, digitization, and enhanced customer service engagement.

Ed Note:  The “initiatives” had not been reviewed by Committee at the time of writing of this report.

District - Engineering & Public Works Committee

Port Sandfield Bridge Closure

As reported in the June Township Watch - Township Watch - June 2020 - repairs are being proposed for the one lane bridge in Port Sandfield.  This was discussed at the Engineering & Public Works committee meeting on Wednesday, August 19th, 2020.  Although this has to be ratified at the District Council meeting next month the proposed closures are nightly from September 28th to November 4th from 9 PM to 5:30 AM.  There will also be a FULL closure of the bridge from October 17th to October 31st.  Councillor Harding, Chair of the Committee asked if work could be done 24 hours a day for three shifts to potentially decrease the length of the full closure.  Councillor Harding further asked if the work could be done later in the fall.  Staff indicated that they would speak to the contractor but the later in the year the work is done there is a potential that the concrete will need to be heated. 

An electronic Special Council meeting will be held
to receive and discuss
the draft Official Plan Amendment for Minett
Monday, August 31st, 2020.
Comments can be submitted at any time to - planning@muskokalakes.ca
 
A public meeting will be held to receive public input
into the Township Official Plan on
Saturday, September 26th, 2020.

Comments can be submitted at any time to - planning@muskokalakes.ca

 

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