On August 25, after months of debates and deferrals, the Minden Hills town council denied a short-term rental’s application to rezone itself as a lakeside resort.
The rental, known as the Post House, sits on the southern shore of Lake Kashagawigamog in Haliburton County. Husband and wife Joel Baker and Helen Milstein purchased the property, which sits on a two-acre lot, in 2018, and submitted their zoning application in June 2021.
Council, however, wasn’t happy with how the rental has conducted itself. Despite the owners labelling the property as a short-term rental, neighbours argue the Post House has operated as a resort since it first opened.
During the August 25 meeting, Debbie Fitzsimmons, whose 90-year-old parents live next door to the Post House, said that the previous weekend the property hosted a wedding with 15 to 16 cars parked along the driveway. She also pointed out that the property houses an industrial-sized kitchen operated by private chefs who cook gourmet meals for guests. A feature common among resorts.
“From what I’ve learned in this process, any development requires appropriate zoning, a site plan, and sufficient infrastructure, such as septic capacity, to all be in place prior to permits being approved. This whole process with the Post House has been in reverse,” she said. “Neighbours trusted what was initially presented to them about the business plan for the Post House, and now we realize what a misrepresentation that was.”
On its website, the Post House says that it acts as a corporate retreat, providing a private getaway for colleagues, clients, friends, and family. The property includes four dwellings, one sleeping cabin, a garage/gym, a boathouse, as well as an industrial-sized kitchen.
The Post House is zoned as a residential lot, meaning it can serve as a home, cottage, or short-term rental. Through its application, the property aimed to be rezoned as recreational-commercial, allowing the Post House to operate as a tourist establishment, resort, or restaurant.
As a short-term rental, the entire Post House property must be rented out to a single group. Whereas if it was rezoned as a resort, the property could rent out each cabin to separate groups.
Minden’s town council held a public meeting in December 2021 to review the Post House’s application. During that meeting town councillors deferred their decision until the Post House completed a lake impact assessment and septic system review to ensure that the rezoning wouldn’t threaten the health of Lake Kashagawigmog.
The Post House employed a number of firms to complete these tasks, submitting the findings to the council. The Post House also assured council that it did not plan to remove any trees or vegetation from the property or add any new buildings.
After reviewing the results of these assessments and confirming that rezoning the property as a resort wouldn’t affect the lake, town staff recommended during a June 9, 2022 meeting that council approve the zoning application. Yet, the council deferred the decision again, wanting staff to further research what kind of restrictions and limitations could be put on the property if it was rezoned as a resort, especially if the property was sold.
After hearing from all stakeholders during the August 25 meeting, council denied the application.
“This is setting a precedent. What we see as a short-term rental…a short-term rental to commercial zoning, that means that every short-term rental we have on the lake could do the same thing,” said councillor Pam Sayne during the meeting. “The way they’ve gone about this to totally undermine the process by just doing it and then asking for permission and rezoning is not the way any of us do [things].”
Minden mayor Brent Devolin agreed with Sayne, adding: “I can tell you this, not only to the applicant but to future applicants, it’s about trust. If your actions betray the trust between us, our staff, and the public, it comes with consequences, and in this circumstance, I think it’s unanimous that we want to deny this.”
In response to the denied application, Post House co-owner, Joel Baker, said over email that they were disappointed in the ruling, especially after he and his wife addressed and satisfied all of the council’s requirements.
“As permitted under the Planning Act, we will be appealing this decision to the Ontario Land Tribunal,” he said. “Facts were mischaracterized during the meeting and had we been given the opportunity to respond, we would have been able to correct those misrepresentations. In the meantime, we continue to operate lawfully and respectfully under the township’s zoning bylaw and short-term rental framework.”