The Township of Muskoka Lakes has made some changes to its planning process.
As of January 17, those looking to build in the area may have to undergo a pre-consultation with town staff before submitting their application. The change is intended to streamline the planning application process.
“A lot of applications were landing on my desk without any pre-consultations,” says Bryce Sharpe, the township’s manager of planning. “When that occurs, there may be missing information. And then you have to backtrack and start from square one, trying to get a hold of people and explain, ‘Well, we’ve reviewed your application and X, Y, and Z are required.’”
Pre-consultations are mandatory for zoning by-law amendments, official plan amendments, site plans, and condominium or plan of subdivision applications. There’s no fee for the pre-consultation, and it can be booked through the planning department’s email.
Previously, Sharpe says the township didn’t see a need for pre-consultations. Applicants would drop into the office if they had questions. But when COVID hit, the planning office closed to the public, cutting off that resource. “We were still doing pre-consultations via Zoom,” he says. “But it seemed like there were a lot of incomplete applications being submitted.”
During the pre-consultation, staff will go over an applicant’s proposal with them, pointing out any requirements, such as a necessary study or elevation drawings. For the pre-consultation, staff ask that the applicant provide them with the property’s tax assessment roll number, a brief description of the proposal, a site plan, and any preliminary drawings.
Due to restrictions under Ontario’s Planning Act, a pre-consultation isn’t mandatory for minor variance or consent applications, but Sharpe strongly recommends booking one anyways. He also adds that staff can waive the need for a pre-consultation under certain circumstances.
“Say there’s been a recent application made on a property and it’s been determined that a further exemption to the bylaw is required after the fact. We may say, at that point, we’re very familiar with the property. Given what’s proposed, I don’t think we need to pre-consult, just go ahead and submit your application,” Sharpe says.
“The intent is really just to make the whole process more streamlined and to identify requirements up front versus after the fact.”