After years of tension surrounding the issue, the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) issued a decision on Sept. 2 to allow staff housing as an additional main use for the Bala Bay Inn, meaning staff employed at JW Marriott The Rosseau Muskoka Resort and Spa or any other tourist resort in the township can reside in any building or structure on the property.
The corporation that operates the JW Marriott in Minett acquired the Bala Bay Inn property around 2017 and started using a majority of the inn for staff housing in 2018, according to the LPAT. The structures LPAT refers to as prefabricated modular units (PMU), often called trailers by local council and members of the public, have become one of the main points of contention after they were placed on the property in 2018 without permission from the township. The operator of the Marriott applied for a by-law amendment through the Township of Muskoka Lakes to make staff quarters a main use for the property rather than an accessory use, allowing for staff housing in the inn as well as the PMU, but council voted it down unanimously in February 2019. The applicant appealed the decision, leading to a virtual LPAT hearing from July 13 to 16.
The hearing covered three main issues: whether the proposed changes degrade the character of Bala, whether the PMU degrade the site and its surroundings or are otherwise inappropriate, and if the proposed by-law amendment meets the necessary statutory tests.
The tribunal found that the proposal “does not impinge on the character of Bala” or create “substantive negative impacts” in addition to stating that the deployment of the PMU does not violate any official plans or Township Zoning By-law No. 2014-14 “other than to be subject to site plan review and approval by the Township as appropriate.” The tribunal also stated that the zoning by-law amendment “complies with applicable zoning, represents good planning and is desirable for meeting the staff quarter needs” along with being in conformity with the district and township official plans.
Cottager Scott Vickers, who was granted party status for the case as a representative for the residents group We Love Bala, said the group is shocked by the tribunal’s decision. He was disheartened that the LPAT said the amendment represented good planning and feels that the results of the case show that the system is broken and in need of an overhaul.
“The thing was stacked against us right out of the gate,” Vickers said. “I felt by the end of it we had tipped the scales, that they were starting to understand that this is a small town and this is not good planning. This isn’t what the town folks want. This isn’t what the council wanted.”
Muskoka Lakes Mayor Phil Harding expressed disappointment on behalf of council, but said they will work with the Marriott and the community to get the best outcome going forward.
“Obviously, as a council, we are disappointed that the community and their wishes could not be upheld,” Harding said. “Council will do everything we can during site planning control to mitigate the impact on the community.”
Leah Leslie, director of sales and marketing for the Marriott, provided a statement via email on behalf of the Minett-based resort.
“The LPAT decision is good news for JW Marriott and our employees, and we believe it is good news for Bala too,” said the statement. “Now all the plans that have been on hold can move forward. We intend to beautify the property with extensive landscaping and building improvements. Our destination has struggled with workforce availability for decades, and the LPAT decision is an important step on the road to recovery.”
For more information about the case, read the tribunal’s decision by clicking here.