Haliburton County considers regulations for seasonal cottages

Haliburton County Photo by Shutterstock/John Fader

On October 14, during a committee-of-the-whole meeting, members of the Haliburton County council voiced concerns over proposed criteria put forward by the planning department that would affect a cottager’s ability to convert their seasonal property into a permanent dwelling.

The county asked the planning department to explore potential options to deal with the increased interest from cottagers wanting to live at the cottage year-round. “We’ve had numerous requests from current property owners [and] potential property owners” looking to convert, said director of planning Charlsey White.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic a number of seasonal residents have already moved to the area full time. “We want to encourage that. We want to be that supportive community,” White said. But to ensure it’s done properly, there needs to be a county-wide standard, she added.

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As it turns out, cottagers can’t necessarily start living at their cottage permanently. Properties in the area are zoned as either seasonal or permanent. Twenty years ago, White said, this distinction was made based on a property’s accessibility—whether it was on a municipally-maintained road and if the county and municipal services, such as EMS, fire, or even Canada Post, could reach it. Today, these factors are still relevant, but the main distinction between seasonal and permanent is based on whether the property meets the Ontario Building Code.

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To find out whether your property is zoned as seasonal or permanent, White said it should show on a property’s MPAC assessment. Additionally, most municipalities have online maps under their zoning bylaws that will state how a property is zoned.

If your property is zoned as seasonal, this means you are not allowed to live there permanently. It is, however, possible to convert your property from seasonal zoning to permanent zoning. Currently, Dysart et al is the only municipality within Haliburton County that has explicit regulations around converting a property from seasonal to permanent. In Dysart, to convert, you must receive a Certificate of Occupancy from the municipal council.

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To receive the certificate, you must prove permanent occupancy is compatible with the surrounding area; your water supply and sewage disposal are designed for year-round use; your property has safe and adequate access, and that the building complies with appropriate regulations, such as fire, health, and safety.

In other Haliburton County municipalities, the conversion process is less clear and is being enforced by the municipality’s bylaws. To convert your property, White said you would need to have a conversation with the specific municipality to see what’s required.

To clarify the process and introduce a standard across all of Haliburton County, White proposed four main requirements for the conversion: the dwelling must have frontage on a road that is publicly maintained year-round; it must be compliant with the Ontario Building Code; it must have an adequate supply of potable water that does not come from a lake, and it must have a Class 4 sewage system.

Dysart et al Deputy Mayor Pat Kennedy, however, pointed out the difficulty of policing these regulations. “Are we going to go around and knock on doors and say, ‘You’re living here permanently because we see the mailbox at the top of the hill and therefore you can’t live here?’”

According to White, municipalities do have the authority to zone a property as strictly seasonal based on the level of municipal services it receives and any other reasonable land use issues. An Ontario Superior Court decision made this clear in 2014 when Prince Township, Ont. confronted the same policy, ruling that municipalities did not have to convert properties zoned as seasonal to permanent.

But not all council members at the meeting were convinced that the policy would be this straight forward. “I don’t see how you would stop anyone from moving into their cottage and then tell them they can’t be there,” said Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt. “That just opens up the ‘us’ and ‘them’ can of worms again, which as we know from April and May of this year was highly contentious.”

She added that any cottager told they have to complete these changes and pay this money to convert their property from seasonal to permanent is going to want a taxation cutback.

Algonquin Highlands Deputy Mayor and County Warden Liz Danielsen understands the need for this policy, but says it needs refining. “We’re not going to be going around telling people they can’t live in their seasonal house, but when they want to convert the building to a permanent residence, it would have to meet certain standards,” she said.

Since the regulations were only a proposal, White said that she could revise them and present an updated version at a later meeting, if the council directed her to do so. Speaking with White over the phone after the meeting, however, she said there has been little interest from councillors in pursuing these regulations further.

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