Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) concerning developments in muskoka

The Development Crisis

Developers are trying to push through Applications and changes to the District Official Plan that will allow for high-density, multi-storey and freestanding residential waterfront subdivisions on commercial zoned properties, by claiming that these homes are “resorts”.

There are over 100 waterfront commercial properties in the District of Muskoka that could become residential subdivisions.

Friends of Muskoka is currently opposing 5 waterfront residential developments on our lakes  – including up to 3,600 units at the Resort Village of Minett

Friends of Muskoka encourages development that brings full-time jobs and sustained economic benefit to Muskoka. We are against high-density, residential waterfront development that only benefits the developers, will not create long term local employment and threatens to destroy Muskoka’s greatest asset — its lakes.  

The Development Reality Check

Developers are building high-density residential subdivisions on the waterfront on property that is zoned commercial.

At the Resort Village of Minett:

  • 3,600 units on 4,000 feet of waterfront = just under one foot of waterfront per unit, at densities of up to 25 units per acre.
  • This could be more than all the cottages on Lake Rosseau and Lake Joseph combined, with more people than the population of Bracebridge.
  • Each unit has a potential to have 3 – 4 bedrooms for 4 or more people which would result in 18,000 people in one little bay of waterfront.

Residential waterfront subdivisions are not permitted in the Township of Muskoka Lakes. 

Developers are trying to take advantage of special densities allowed on commercial “resort” properties to subvert these rules and advertise them as residential units. It is unethical and environmentally unconscionable. 

Normally a residential waterfront property must have at least one acre of land, 200 feet of waterfront, and 66 foot setbacks.  Developers don’t want to be subject to the same stringent rules as residential property owners. They are claiming that their residential developments are ‘resorts’ that can be built at commercial density, up to 20 times that of a residential property, for the sole purpose of monetary gain without regard for water contamination, pollution (including noise), traffic, and ancillary pressure on infrastructure and services (roadways, hospitals, waste etc).

In reality, the developers are proposing to build residential units disguised under the planning applications as a commercial “resort” which by legislation is intended for short-term use by tourists. These homes are being marketed and sold as individual residences with very minor or non-existent rental requirements – so are de facto residential units on commercial property.

The developers’ proposals represent a “fundamental change” to the long established restrictions on commercial property use and to the rights of Muskoka residential lakefront property owners who were not consulted or communicated with for buy-in.

Developers have no vested interest in sustainability. Once the units are sold, they will move onto the next project leaving a legacy of environmental damage that will forever damage the quality of our lakes.

The Environmental Impact

The lakes operate in an ancient landlocked lake system with minimal water renewal. There is no natural expulsion of contaminated sediments — they recirculate in the lakes’ water column.

Shoreline development is one of the main contributors to deterioration in water quality. That is why we have shoreline buffers, setback requirements and reasonable density limits on waterfront properties. 

The residential waterfront developments in Muskoka are like a Florida development without the ocean outlet to allow for refreshed water.

Science is already telling us that the quality of our water in Muskoka will deteriorate with the advent of more frequent storm events and warming temperatures. Excessive shoreline development will only make things worse. 

A recent provincial health alert that a blue-green algae bloom in Three Mile Lake and the Clark Falls area in Lake Rosseau has made the water unsafe for drinking or swimming is clear evidence of our diminishing water quality. The alert states:

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit would like to inform residents and visitors that a blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) bloom has been confirmed by laboratory testing in the Boyd Bay / Indianhead Harbour area of Lake Muskoka. The health unit advises that human or animal consumption of this lake water should be avoided.

Lake Rosseau has a Precambrian Shield geological base which has little to buffer the water from excess nutrient loads causing algae blooms and e-coli bacterial level contamination.

Each wind/water churn event (wind, boat traffic, swimming, walking on the lake bottom) will see these excess nutrients/contaminants stirred back into the water column further degrading the state of the bay and the lake, encouraging more algae blooms, parasites and further water contamination. 

We know increased nutrient and contaminant loads will not only degrade but can kill the water column in the area by depleting it of oxygen due to the algae blooms, thereby creating a eutrophic portion of the lake killing the local ecosystem.

The water column is buckling under the strain of the current infrastructure, accommodation, marina, aging septic, water parks and resorts.

By the time phosphorous concentrations reach our chosen limit, our shores will already be overdeveloped. You can’t unbuild but you can choose to build wisely.

The Local Services and Infrastructure Impact

Up to 18,000 people swimming, boating, adding to road and water traffic, waste removal, septic tank stress, increased accidents and injuries, increased pressure on already stressed medical facilities, hospitals and emergency fire and safety services. 

The Precedent Setting Impact 

If the residential developments now being proposed on commercially zoned properties are permitted for sale as multiple residences, the precedent will be set for these residential projects to be developed at over 100 other waterfront commercial properties around the Muskoka Lakes.

If allowed, this development will create a colossal collateral alteration of our entire Muskoka lakes region.

The Legal Proceedings

Opposing 5 residential waterfront developments, at Township Council and before the Ontario Municipal Board and the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal: Villas of Muskoka (23 cottages on 800’ of shoreline); Touchstone/MIST (100 new condominiums); Legacy Cottages (43 residential units on 470’ of shoreline); JW Marriott (40 new 3 to 4 bedroom residences); and the Resort Village of Minett (up to 3,600 units on 4,000’ of shoreline).

Both the Township and District Councils recently decided to conduct a full review of the Resort Village of Minett policies since they were adopted 10 years ago and may no longer be appropriate development for the area. Friends of Muskoka made recommendations that were included in the Terms of Reference for the Steering Committee being formed to oversee these studies.  

In May 2018, Township Council made a logical and responsible decision to grant a one year stay on development in the Resort Village of Minett while studies are completed to determine what is appropriate and sustainable development in this area.

Established a constructive working relationship with District of Muskoka planners and consultants who are conducting a review of the District Official Plan – it will set the framework for development in Muskoka for the next 20 years, so it is imperative that we get a well-considered plan.

Convinced District planners of the importance of reviewing residential waterfront development on resort properties – they will conduct a separate review of the resort policies in the District Official Plan.

The Legal Costs Incurred & Projected to Challenge the Current Development Proposals

Incurred: $400k

Projected: $400k over the next 6 months.