Ask yourself this... If you owned a home that was destroyed by fire in Fort McMurray, or a flood of the Red River, or a flood of the High River and were subsequently told by the municipality you could not rebuild because there ‘might’ be another event that could destroy your home what would you do? To add insult to injury, the municipality effectively sterilizes your property by down zoning it with no compensation what would you do? That your neighbour who is on the lot immediately next to you whose house remained intact can continue to enjoy the privilege of enjoying their property? Would you feel fairly treated? And yes, we do live in Canada.
Hastings Drive is a 3 kilometer stretch of beach and forms part of a 42 kilometer sand peninsula well known as Long Point, Ontario. Hastings Drive was a registered as a plan of subdivision by the Ontario Municipal Board in 1954. There are 150 lots. The defining moment of this story came during a storm in late fall 1985, when Lake Erie was at a record high water level. The combination of the water level, and the storm ferocity did in fact destroy 40 cottages in Long Point, only 16 of which were on Hastings Dr. Almost all the cottages off the Old Cut in Long Point Proper were destroyed or badly damaged. Others were badly damaged along Erie's shoreline. Long Point had widespread flooding closing the causeway access and stranding all cottagers. Flooding covered the harbour area of Port Dover above and below the lift bridge. Turkey Point and Port Ryerse experienced significant flooding.
When the municipality reviewed the damage they made a decision to downzone and sterilize Hastings Drive and no where else, despite the damage and destruction elsewhere... Cottage owners were told that Hastings Drive would be closed, and no one could rebuild. As a result;
● At least a dozen cottagers voluntarily removed their intact cottages to other locations, St. Williams, Port Rowan, Turkey Point and Booth’s Harbour since they were convinced by the municipality that Hastings would be no more. This meant flatbed trailers were able to drive down the ‘road’ to lift up said cottages
● cottages that were damaged were burned down by the County..
● 24 cottagers refused to move their cottages off their land so the County had no choice but to backtrack on what they had told the cottagers and repair the road.
● the cottagers that had voluntarily removed their intact cottages were not allowed to return their cottages to their Hastings property. Yes, really.
It should be noted that many of the cottages that were destroyed were built during a time with limited building code restrictions....in the 1950’s, 60’s... But things have changed DRAMATICALLY in terms of the current building code and technological advances for structures on shorelines.
Since 1985 some owners continued to fight for their property rights, trying to use their land despite harassment, ie. cottagers calling police when using their property. At least one owner had a trailer on the property from 1986 to 1991 (and a building constructed from a bedroom). Other lot owners gave up fighting for their property rights, the odds were stacked against them... they stopped paying taxes on their properties and the County now has ownership of 47 lots. Sweet.
Several years ago the County of Norfolk Planning Department undertook a Comprehensive Zoning By Law Review. During that time some vacant lot owners organized their efforts to look for justice in having the Hastings Drive special zoning designation lifted to match the rest of Long Point. There was hope that they would be given the same property rights as those who were able to use, put in shore line protection, build on and develop their property. What we were opposed by included, but not limited to;
● Some Hastings cottagers (not all) opposed changes that would allow property owners of vacant lots to have any rights to use their property for anything except possibly a picnic. Can you imagine. Ironically, we are fighting for rights that would help them to rebuild and renovate their cottages.
● A Provincial Policy statement that is relied on to mean that if the area is flooded that everyone else on Hastings will have access off their property but vacant lot owners won’t.
● Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) putting property owners rights behind the Fowler Toad which is at its most northerly limit, is not endangered in the US and is considered an adaptable amphibian.
● A planning department that could but won’t acknowledge that Hastings Drive is no more of a dynamic beach than the rest of Long Point
● A complete disregard for private property rights...something that our parents and grandparents fought and died for in the World Wars.
The issue became so contentious that Council excluded Hastings zoning for special review outside of the Comprehensive Zoning By Law Process. They undertook a $35,000 study to look at the issues. Cottagers, vacant lot owners were brought together for two stakeholders meetings which was hosted by MHBC Planning and Urban Design. The input received was brought forward to meetings of the “Technical Advisory Committee ". This group included MNR and Long Point Region Conservation Authority (LPRCA), County Planners, one cottage owner and one lot owner. The study group came up with 9 possible options including possible zone changes, trailer useage, shoreline protection etc.
What happened next was a shock as on May 10th, 2016 the MHBC consultant put forth a draft zoning bylaw which proposed even greater restrictions on lot owners. The draft zoning was so restrictive that it could not get a Councillor to second the proposal. The draft proposed that there be no parking on a vacant lot after 11 pm making lots where motorhomes existed illegal, and cottagers were still unable to rebuild. The Councillors confronted a confused consultant and planning department by directing that 2 draft bylaws be brought back for their review asap, 1 which allowed trailers (as in Option 5 from Study Group), and 1 which allowed development (as in Option 7 from Study Group)
At an In camera meeting May 24, 2016 the Option 7 Development disappeared without public input. According to our sources the next day the mayor has second thoughts about public perception and directs planning to come up with a valid reason for the removal of our development option. Planning department sent out a letter on Jun 6 stating that septic systems are not allowed on Hazard lands and thus no permits to build will be given. We were also told that Option 7 was dropped as a result of advice from their legal staff, Solicitor Client privilege that they could not disclose to us. The Ontario Ombudsman is now looking into that ‘in camera’ meeting to determine the legality of that closed door process.
Following the May 24 secret incamera meeting the mayor directed the motion for the new bylaw which still contained Option 5 AND Option 7, to be brought back to a "public meeting" on June 14. Only problem is that the public was not made aware of this because it was added to the agenda mere hours prior to the meeting. It was at that impromptu meeting that Option 7 was "publically and officially" dropped
The hopes of cottagers who wanted to renovate and lot owners who wanted to build were dashed.
At the July 12, 2016 Council meeting the draft bylaw (Option 5) was tabled, and ultimately approved by Council with a 52 vote. Recreational vehicles are allowed for the time period Apr 1 to Oct 31 on Hastings, as well as docks, piers and wharfs. What attendees heard was that the decision could be appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).
LPRCA without the approval of its board, who are in part the Councillors who recommended the zoning, informed the Ministry of Municipal Affairs that Norfolk County had enacted a Bylaw which did not conform to the recommended provincial policy. Five appeals to the OMB opposing the bylaw have since been lodged... One from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs. So our battle continues just to hang onto the 1st small step of allowing trailers.
This has been a great waste of time and money both in individuals lawyer's fees and the $35,000 spent by the county. There have been devastating storms along Erie's edge since Hurricane Hazel. However in the past 30 years there have been storms but no damage. Current predictions are that water levels in the Great Lakes are going to decline, so the likelihood that the same level of damage is unlikely, especially if rebuilding is allowed with today’s technological advances.
All that we are looking for is the same zoning as the rest of Long Point, who can build and renovate. They have experienced similar damage over the years but they retained their property rights. We are continuously told that the 3 km Hastings beach is dynamic, but anyone who has walked the Long Point shoreline will realize that it is all dynamic.
Communications of this story was undertaken by the Shoreline Group. We are a group of Vacant Lot, and Cottage Owners on Hastings Drive who are questioning and challenging the municipality decision to remove our property rights. To join our group, or for more information please email firstname.lastname@example.org If you live on the Long Point shoreline this could happen to you.