Poplar Beach cottagers want township to reconsider extending their leases
By Liz Dadson
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Despite having two years' notice that their leases will expire in September of this year, owners of seven cottages on Poplar Beach, along Boiler Beach Road, are making one last effort to have Huron-Kinloss council reconsider its decision.
Miles Dadson and Carl Mowbray made their presentation, on behalf of the Poplar Beach Association, last night (July 19) at the regular council meeting.
Dadson noted that the major issues for not renewing the leases are objections by the neighbours, and environmental problems - basically, poor septic systems.
"We have spoken to many neighbours in the area who do approve of our leases and do not understand why we are being treated this way," he said, noting there is a small group that is disgruntled that the leases were allowed at all.
"It does not make sense that council would make the decision to tear down seven cottages at huge costs just to satisfy a few," he said.
As for the faulty septic systems, Dadson said the cottagers are fully prepared to find a solution to this problem. They spoke to Randy Knight of Pinnacle Environmental Technologies Inc. which is working on a system that would service all seven cottages, pumping to one septic bed. They also had local contractor Rick Elliott look at the property and he advised there is enough room for conventional septic systems.
"We want to partner with council and work together to fix whatever issues we have," said Dadson. "All we ask is that we be treated the same as any other ratepayer. We pay our taxes and contribute to this municipality. We believe we are good stewards of the land.
"Council has told us that the reason they did not want to renew our leases is for two reasons. We feel both do not have any merit. The shoreline does have issues but we do not feel we are responsible. There are many other elements that contribute. We want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem."
Mowbray noted that the seven cottage owners represent close to 225 years of residency at the current Huron Township site - four of the seven have 30-plus years at Poplar Beach, three tenants have been here 60 years each, and one cottage is 100 years old.
"We have contributed close to $300,000 in taxes to the township in the past 30 years, plus a yearly rental fee for leasing the land," he said. "With the escalating costs of lakeshore properties through the mid-2000s, our average 500-square-foot cottages are currently assessed at $1.6-million, generating in excess of $20,000 in tax dollars per year plus land rental fees of $200/cottage per year. We will put $600,000-plus into the tax base over the next 30 years. This is for seasonal use - six months of the year and at current assessments."
He said the cottage owners police the beach in front of the cottages and help maintain the beach. They allow public access and continue to be friendly with neighbours and passing strangers. They also support the local community by shopping and spending while they reside at Poplar Beach.
"With all the positives we believe we bring to the township, we continue to run into road blocks for lease renewals," said Mowbray. "Our families love the lake and our cottages and we don't want to leave."
He said the owners have watched their land be rezoned from seasonal residential to hazard land back in the early 1980s, as the developers behind were able to rezone the upper lands from hazard land to residential properties, even ravine land not suitable for mountain goats.
"We were accused of causing the water quality issues in the front of our cottages at the same time as the upper development kept growing and installing more drainage through to the lake without any filtration," he said. "Our septic systems over the years have been proven safe and if needing repair, were looked after."
He said in the 1980s and early 1990s, the cottagers went from a lease to a non-renewal of the lease to a chance to purchase the property, and then back to a lease. "It is unbelievable that in the beginning, cottagers would commit their time and dollars to erect a cottage for such a short time frame and just pack up and vacate. Some of the agreements were in the 1960s and council was trying to evict less than 20 years later. Something is grossly wrong here, folks."
Mowbray stressed that the environmental issues are important and the cottagers will comply with requirements to deal with any deficiencies.
He has obtained two opinions and quotes for removal and
relocating the cottages. The cost would be about $20,000 to $25,000 per
cottage, plus the area by the beach would have to be disturbed to
remove the cottages.
"If we look at the original wording of the first lease, it was very specific that these 'houses' were permanent structures approved by the municipality with the intent not to move or tear down," said Mowbray, adding that the cottagers also hooked up to the municipal water line, assuming they would continue to lease the land.
He also laid out the pros and cons for eliminating the leases.
"From a business perspective, this is a very poor decision," he said. "A lease was put in place to generate income for the township and its people. In a nutshell, it's a no-win for all sides.
"We ask council to review the situation and reconsider the resolution passed in September, 2008. We look forward to working with council in the future to improve the environment along the lakeshore, leading the way for other cottagers."
"This council gave notice
about these leases so it could get the matter closed," said councillor
Jim Hanna. "It's not safe to have the cottages there. They are close to
the lake. You have septic systems under water."
Mowbray said the last time there was a high-water season was in 1986 and his system was not under water. "Boiler Beach Road was under water back in the 1970s," he said.
"This council and previous councils have had their heads turned on this issue," argued Hanna. "The township owns the land and is trying to maintain the safety of that land for all cottagers."
Dadson said the cottage owners were given totally different information about the issues regarding why the leases were being eliminated. He said there are septic systems in Poplar Beach that are very sophisticated.
"We never knew that sewage was the issue," said Mowbray. "If we didn't know, how could we research it."
"We have had a huge amount of pressure from taxpayers along the lakeshore about water quality," said mayor Mitch Twolan. "We've been hammered for the past several years. It's frustrating."
"We would like to work with council," said Dadson.
"Let us do a really good analysis on what the septic systems are doing," added Mowbray, "and then we can bring that forward."
"The leases expire Sept. 25," said administrator Mary Rose Walden.
"I understand the importance of your cottages," said Twolan. "You're asking council to take another look and see if there's something you can rectify. We're not promising anything."
"I'm not going to change my mind on this matter," said Hanna, "so you bring your report with cautious optimism."
Hanna suggested the cottagers' report be in by Aug. 15 and then a decision by council made by the end of August.
"That may not be reasonable," said councillor Lillian Abbott. "We have to give these folks a chance. Maybe by the end of August."
"They have had two years for this," said Hanna. "That's ample time. Unless we have compelling reasons to change this, the leases expiry date stands."
Council agreed to accept the cottagers' information by Aug. 20 and then go from there.
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Tuesday, July 20, 2010