Stone Mills councillors debate new home builds on private roads

Adam Bramburger
Beaver Staff

Stone Mills Township council has requested a staff report on how similar, adjoining municipalities handle the prospect of new home builds on private or unassumed roads.

The request came following a recommendation from deputy clerk Roger Hogan  the municipality remove a section in its zoning bylaw that allows dwellings to be build on private roads in some cases.

At last Monday’s meeting, Hogan explained the current zoning bylaw gives council the freedom to permit building on lots that front unopened or seasonally-maintained municipal road allowances with access on unobstructed driveways if the homeowner enters into an agreement with the municipality that they recognize the unmaintained nature of the road allowance and does not require new road construction.

According to Hogan, recent changes in the Land Titles Act have meant those agreements only have the shelf life of a current owner. If the land changes hands, those agreements become null and void and, thus, future owners might look to the municipality to assume and service private roads.

With Hogan’s recommendation to delete the section from the zoning bylaw, he said property owners would then have to make application to the township for a zoning bylaw amendment or minor variance to build on private roads. They would be required to sign development agreements and those documents would stay with the land forever, not the owner.

Councillor Doug Davison was on council when it brought in the bylaw to restrict the building of year-round homes on unmaintained roads and he said that’s what he’d like to have.

“We said do not build year-round homes on an unmaintained road. You end up in the situation where the house burns down and the township gets sued because the fire department couldn’t get there or the ambulance couldn’t get there and I think you open a can of worms,” he said. “We need a simple thing that says no year-round building on an unmaintained road.”

Deputy reeve John Wise asked if any applications were outstanding to build on private roads. Hogan said there’s one being considered on a road where others have already been built. While acknowledging there is legal precedent to be considered, he said he kind of liked the idea of amending the bylaw.

“I don’t know what the answer is. We’ve been going back and forth on this since I’ve been on council, really, and that was back in the time dinosaurs walked the earth. We’ve never come up with a satisfactory policy,” he said. “I kind of like the idea of taking it out of the zoning bylaw, then we can treat every application on its individual merit. If we’re going to be draconian, I think we should go that route and let whatever hit the fan.”

Davison reiterated his opposition. He spoke about the precedent of the Red Cedar Point development on Varty Lake. A number of seasonal cottages were built there on a private road, maintained privately. As more of those buildings became year-round homes, there was political pressure for council to assume the road. Councillors supported that decision and there were costs to bring it up to standard.

“My concern here is if we start allowing people to build all over the place on unmaintained roads, there’s going to be a ton of costs we’ll incur. You don’t need a lot for one vehicle to drive a road, or two, but put 100 a day on it, it’s a different road. It requires different construction,” he said. “The Township of Stone Mills already owns more roads than any other municipality in eastern Ontario and we struggle every year with trying to maintain them. We can’t start taking on more roads. It’s a matter of looking after everyone’s pocketbooks to be quite honest with you.”

Wenda Lalonde asked Davison if the tax revenues from more built homes might offset the cost of upgrading road, but he stood his position. He estimated that a half-mile of road construction costs about $1 million. With only 33 per cent of tax revenues going to roads, he reasoned that’d take a lot of money.

Reeve Eric Smith said he felt if a change was going to be made that would allow building on private roads, council would have to be fairly certain that it wasn’t going to take over those roads in the future.

Hearing the further discussion, Wise said he wasn’t entirely comfortable with adopting the recommendation.

“I’m not comfortable with the recommendation at this point. I know we’ve been down this road before. I want to see a few other bylaws and situations, Roger. I want to see what Central Frontenac, for example, does and what some of the similar adjoining municipalities are doing. It’s not like we have some critical deadline here. Let’s hash it out again,” he said.

Council agreed and delayed a decision.

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