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Water sports park temporary re-zoning denied

By Sharon Harrison
An application for temporary re-zoning for continued use of the water park, children’s day camp and a food stand at West Lake Water Sports on West Lake for this season has been denied.

Councillor Kate McNaughton was unsuccessful in her attempt to put forward a motion to have the application referred back to staff to determine the maximum usage for the children’s camp and bylaw enforcement safety solutions. In the end, all but two councillors (Forrester and St-Jean) voted to deny the application.

The council planning meeting saw 10 members of the public (nine against) provide comments, in addition to Warren Cole, owner of Edgewater Park and his agent.

Nearby residents’ concerns included trespassing and indecency, safety, environmental, constant and excessive noise and light, lake contamination, excessive traffic and lack of parking, excessive garbage and littering, inappropriate visitor behaviour, and lack of access.

The temporary use re-zoning application, which staff recommended be approved, would have allowed a food stand and the day camp use at the facility to continue to operate for a period of one year, while a more permanent solution was sought.

Shawn Legere, planner and agent for the applicant, said the temporary use application would allow the owners “continuation of livelihood on a temporary basis” and time to prepare a comprehensive planning application and supporting studies.

Matt Coffey, the municipality’s co-ordinator of approvals, clarified the application is to permit a water park, food stand and day camp on a temporary basis.

“Based on feedback, and there wasn’t much justification from the applicant to demonstrate the water park would have no impact on neighbours or any suggestion some of that impact could be mitigated, staff’s recommendation was not to approve the water park, but to allow the day camp and food truck to proceed on a temporary basis and for the remainder of this year only,” stated Coffey.

“The reason for that is we hadn’t heard a lot of complaints about the day camp or the food truck,” Coffey said, who added, “it our opinion it would be compatible with the neighbourhood.”

Coffey noted the jet ski rental and the pontoon boat rental operation is a separate item and is not included in the water park definition, noting the water park is mainly the inflatables in the water.

He further clarified any confusion that for the purpose of the report, a water park does not include jet ski rentals and boat rentals, stating they are separate users on the site and noted those uses are not considered to be part of a water park.

Legere said the owners have acknowledged they have outgrown the site as of the 2019 season and are actively looking to secure an alternative site in the County to better suit their needs, with four sites being considered.

Cole, owner of the park, noted the overwhelming support from the community having received almost 300 signatures. He further stated 78 per cent of concerned residents who purchased a home on Sheba’s Island did so after his business was started, and have been complaining for years.

“We do have all the necessary permits to run the water park and the jet skis and we have been here since the 1990s,” he said.

Local resident Don Mayne raised the lack of enforcement and also noted council issued a letter saying the water park, food stand and day camp would not be permitted on the open space without an amendment to the bylaw.

“Such an amendment would be contrary to the passive uses contemplated by the zoning bylaw,” said Mayne. “RFA is now claiming that the boat rentals existed prior to 1996, and argues that approval for boat rentals is not necessary, yet the boat rental sets a baseline of intense activity and this has not yet been sorted out.”

He noted the long-term residents who lived there in 1996 did not see any boat rentals.

“RFA needs to establish two things: that the business existed in 1996, and secondly, the aggregate 1996 intensity of activities for water and shoreline for both the campground and boat rentals.”

Mayne noted the County obtained its own legal advice saying that, “in recent years, the intensity of various water and shoreline expanded activities was excessive, and therefore, the non-conforming use is terminated.”

Steve Blakely lives within 160 feet of the business.

“We are routinely buzzed at high speeds by jet skis and boats; they are far too close to our docks where our family and our grandchildren swim. Pontoon boats are often overloaded, and operated erratically,” he said. “Inflatables in very shallow water are anchored dangerously and we see many rescues, near misses, stranded boaters and kayakers upset with people yelling for help, something that happened as recently as last weekend.”

Blakely stated the water park does not answer its emergency line.

“We strongly oppose the approval of a re-zoning on a temporary or full-time basis as the facility was not approved for the current uses, rather they proceeded to operate and expand without appropriate approvals,“ he said. “Since this business is operating outside permitted zoning usage, it is illegal.”

Another Sheba’s Island resident, Laurie Ackerman, was also against the temporary use re-zoning, stating West Lake Willy Waterpark should never have been allowed to operate in the first place.

“In this case, there is harm: harm to the adjacent property owners with incessant noise, polluted water from boat rentals, and run-ins with novice Sea-Doo operators, and close calls with family members.“

Ackerman referred to a June 10 planning document were the test for whether a site retains protection under legal non-conforming status relates to the degree of intensification.

“In the RFA planning document, it states ‘Edgewater Campground has 87 campsites’. In fact, they have 111 seasonal sites plus 44 transient sites, an increase that has never been approved.”

Jill Johnston representing some residents of Sheba’s Island also spoke to intensified non-conforming use that is not in alignment with Country’s pending tourism master plan or the approved 2021 Tourism Management Plan.”

“Sheba’s Island and Winn’s Drive is a peaceful residential community and sub-division, including the mostly seasonal residents in the residential campground,” said Johnston.” This is clearly not the location for a tourism business with such intensified activity.”

Sheba’s Island resident Laurence Cooke also urged council to oppose “this ridiculous use of a ‘residential’ property paying ‘residential’ taxes and they’re abusing this location to the detriment to all the other people on the island.”

Councillor Mike Harper asked staff what was being done to address intensity.

“By eliminating the water park, we will reduce the overall intensity of the site, but it doesn’t eliminate all the concerns about the jet skis and the boat rentals, and I do recognize that,” said Coffey.

Councillor Kate MacNaughton said she was familiar with the site and was concerned with the lack of parameters in the report and bylaw that will limit the activities of a children’s camp to be confined to a more complementary use.

“Based on my own observations, and what we’ve heard from the public, there are safety concerns ranging from a lack of watchful staff and lifeguarding, to poor quality safety devices, such personal floatation devices that didn’t have proper strapping, etc.” said MacNaughton. “Unless those are dealt with, I am reluctant to support this and would consider an attempt to refer back.”

Coffey noted safety is a good question and said he was not aware of any zoning bylaw that could deal with any water safety issues, noting regulations exist that the OPP deal with.

Planning manager Michael Micaud said with zoning, there is not a lot that can be done with safety standards with life jackets, etc.

“Ultimately through zoning, we can put some capacities to the number of camp goers to that type of facility, if council want to limit intensity.”

Councillor John Hirsch noted trouble supporting any of it.

“So much of the complaint has been about the boat traffic, unsafe operation, noise and so on and they admitted the intensity of boat operations is much greater than in 1996, which is the baseline for the non-conforming use status.”

He said if the other uses are eliminated, the boat rental will go away because it will get much smaller.

“People won’t come there if they can’t do all of these functions. I can’t support a temporary bylaw for all these functions and I would encourage the owners to find another location to operate where this can work more in conformance with bylaw,” Hirsch said.

Councillor Jamie Forrester asked if the complaints had been verified.

“There is a lot of damaging reports and accusations against this operation, but has there been any reports to WSIB (Workplace Safety and Insurance Board) or the OPP, or is it just hearsay because we should not be making decision on hearsay.”

Matt Coffey said he was not aware of any official violations due to water safety.

“We don’t have a lot of the answers because they are not planning or zoning related. Based on safety and operations of a business, that it’s not our bailiwick, it’s not what we do,“ said Micaud. “It’s not what we are here for. We are here to determine whether or not certain land uses can go operate for a certain period of time and once that bylaw ceases to exist, those uses cannot occur any more after that unless they apply for a permit zoning and/or an extension to the temporary use zoning.”

“We are looking at six weeks tops and because we can’t answer these questions properly, is it our policy to shut down businesses when we don’t have clear and direct answers?” asked Forrester.

Councillor Andreas Bolik questioned how council got here”.

“We have a business that’s been here for long time and it’s incrementally increased in scope and intensity that was legal non-conforming and nobody officially noticed until this business grew and grew, until bylaw found out there was a violation of the bylaw. There are still a lot of questions remaining unanswered.

The meeting is available for viewing on the County’s YouTube channel.

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