By Darren Lum
Minden Hills councillors had no shortage of opinions about implementing an unopened road allowance bylaw permitted under the Ontario Municipal Act, which they discussed during a July 29 virtual meeting.
The policy was presented in a report by CAO Trisha McKibbin. An examination of use of public land across the township was carried out after a variety of complaints pertaining to one site, a public access to Gull Lake located at the end of Murdoch Road.
“One of those options is looking at use of unopened road allowance policy and looking at a lot of the locations within the municipality, a lot of use is happening, or a lot of concerns are being raised, on unopened road allowances,” McKibbin said. “While this may not solve everything, I think this is the first step in looking at some of these issues and what we can do to mitigate them.”
An increasing population has meant greater pressure on access to waterways and lakes, which are often accessed with unopened road allowances. Some of the complaints include noise, parking, environmental concerns and trespassing. A policy is expected to help staff and the fire department, which has expressed concern about accessing locations using lands that don’t have maintained vehicular access. Other concerns include real estate property listings referencing lake access, and non-lake front properties being permitted access through road allowances.
Township staff researched the topic by reviewing policies and bylaws related to unopened road allowance in effect in other municipalities, such as Highlands East.
The report said a policy or bylaw helps to outline the use of unopened road allowances, which helps to protect the township from liability claims, control expenses related to maintenance and improvement, manage public access where appropriate, protect the environment and adjacent waters, manage future transportation needs, and recognize and allow resolution of First Nation Treaty Rights.
Staff recommendations included that no person shall perform any work, remove any trees, soil or other material or erect upon or use any unopened road allowance or shore road without the specific written approval of the township, and that no person shall erect a dock or any kind of structure, and no person shall store any vehicle, boat, trailer on an unopened road allowance leading to water.
There were two questions for council from the report. One, whether to move forward with the creation of a bylaw, and what staff recommendations council wanted to include.
Mayor Brent Devolin and all the councillors were thankful for the report and are in favour of implementing an unopened road allowance bylaw.
There was some debate about whether this should be a staff- or committee-driven process. Councillor Pam Sayne said a public consultation opportunity is also needed.
For the second question, was whether there needs to be a case-by-case examination of applications.
Devolin wants an application process that accounts for the anomalies, but also for the vast majority of situations, so staff can handle it efficiently.
Minden Hills is in a unique position.
“We may be the guinea pigs in the leaders in this unless someone has found one across the province,” the mayor said.
He adds this process could take the balance of the council’s term.
McKibbin said this will work “hand-in-hand” with Haliburton County’s shoreline preservation bylaw and the unopened road allowance bylaw is one piece of a larger puzzle related to public land use.
McKibbin agreed with approaching applications on a case-by-case basis, as presented by councillors Bob Carter, Jean Neville and Jennifer Hughey.
She pointed out that successful applicants who are granted permission to use unopened road allowance do not take away access to anyone else.
“By granting one individual permission to use an unopened road allowance does not negate anyone else being able to walk across it. These are all pieces of the puzzle … just by granting someone permission does not restrict the use. We also need to be prepared we’re not providing any one individual more, or better access to the property,” she said.
This process for a bylaw could provide insight about what issues are out there, which occurred when septic inspection programs were implemented by municipalities, Carter said.
“There’s lot of people who have driveways or accesses that are running down road allowances to get to certain properties and so on. Just to have complete records on this would be a great step forward,” he said.
Devolin said this could lead to the discovery of other issues the township will need to deal with.
“There’s a snowball here. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t tackle this piece of it, but it will be intricately linked to at least three or four other substantial things that will be a by-product of it,” Devolin said.
Following the mayor’s comments McKibbin clarified there are two types of use that fall under this bylaw.
One is recreational use or access to the water, or another location, and the other are driveways located off of unopened road allowances and buildings that are located on unopened road allowance.
“It might be easier to separate out into two so that we don’t have one large bylaw that we’re then trying to decipher everything into,” she said. “And again based on the research I’ve done, that looks like how many municipalities deal with it is separating into two policies. That’s something as we delve into this I can bring back further information and refine what that might look like.”
McKibbin will have a subsequent report for council for when they meet again for the public meeting in August.
It’s about making sure things are done correctly, she said.
“I certainly don’t want to go down the road and put something in place that is just not going to work. I do think committees add some time to the process, but I guess it’s better to have that time at the front than at the back end when we don’t have something that works,” McKibbin said.