AH pauses dock registration policy

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Algonquin Highlands council has delayed implementing a new license of occupation policy – outlining rules for dock registration on municipal land – until staff have had an opportunity to address questions posed by property owners who say they would be negatively impacted.

The proposal, tabled at a July 20 meeting, would require residents who own property across a municipal road from a waterbody – that has a dock or other infrastructure installed on nearby township land – to register them.

Planner, Sean O’Callaghan, suggested the policy would protect the township from any liability in the event of an accident, while also enabling staff to keep accurate records of the structures.

The original proposal called for residents to pay a $750 application fee up front when applying for a license and provide a $2,500 deposit to cover any potential legal fees. It also required a site plan identifying the location and size of the docks, and proof of insurance – set at $5 million by the township. O’Callaghan recommended licenses be renewed annually for $500.

Local residents James Cooper and Logan Percy addressed council Aug. 17, saying they represent a group of around 230 property owners who are against the policy.

“I would say we’re angry, we’re frustrated, and we’re confused. The anger is stemming from the fact we were not aware of the incoming bylaw. Nobody we’ve talked to had any understanding this was going to happen. Many people were blindsided by this,” Cooper said, noting he learned about it in an article in the July 27 edition of The Highlander.

Policy back in October

“In today’s environment, after finally getting through a pandemic and now being hit by higher costs of living, rising interest rates and higher costs of food, is it really prudent for council to thrust yet another expense on its constituents and make life even more difficult?” Cooper asked.

Policy in works for 10 years

Mayor Liz Danielsen noted the policy has been in the works since 2013 and discussed numerous times by council in the years since. She said the primary intent is to create a level playing field between waterfront properties immediately adjacent to the shoreline and properties across the road from a shoreline.

“While both are zoned shoreline residential by the township, the assessment and resulting taxation is less for properties across the road from the shoreline. Those properties immediately adjacent pay higher taxes and substantial fees to purchase their shoreline and for permits to build structures on that same shoreline,” Danielsen said.

“For many years, property owners [across the road from the water] have developed structures and used them without permit and at no cost, something which is not fair for those immediately adjacent… who follow the required process,” she added.

The license was set to come into effect as of Aug. 17, but has been pushed back.

Questions remain

Percy, who owns property on North Shore Road, said the policy “does not feel right at all.” He feels the fees outlined are too high, and has questioned the need for liability insurance. He also called on O’Callaghan to address whether the public would be permitted to use these docks. He also questioned how disputes over lot lines, and where docks can be located, will be resolved.

He submitted 42 questions to Danielsen, seeking answers before the township proceeds.

“We need time to understand fully what this is,” Percy said.

Cooper feels the fees proposed by Algonquin Highlands are “significantly higher” than those charged in nearby townships, such as Gravenhurst and Muskoka. Gravenhurst charges $853 for all new license of occupation applications, with 10-year licenses costing $1,337. The District of Muskoka charges a $626 application fee and annual renewal fee of $626, while requiring a $219 payment to cover legal fees.

Two of the other townships in Haliburton County all have license of occupation policies. Dysart et al’s is the most expensive, with applicants required to pay a $1,200 deposit on submission and a $500 annual renewal fee, while Minden Hills charges $500 for applications. Highlands East doesn’t have license of occupation fees.

Council makes changes

Danielsen suggested council reduce the required insurance coverage from $5 million to $2 million as a “sign of good faith,” while also scrapping the need to renew the license each year.

Deputy mayor Jennifer Dailloux said she wanted to take a “sober second look” at the policy and list of questions submitted by Percy to see what can be amended to make it more agreeable for locals. Coun. Lisa Barry said public education was important, noting council should take its time and ensure all issues are appropriately addressed before proceeding.

O’Callaghan said he would compile answers and bring a report back to council in October. Asked by CAO Angie Bird if council wanted to wait until next year to bring a revised policy back, Danielsen gave a firm ‘no’.

“We have been putting this off for a long time,” Danielsen said. “We’ve all agreed it’s a step we need to take. There’s a great percentage of our population who believe it’s the right step for us to take… as soon as we have answers to these questions, we need to decide where we’re going to land.”