The issue of the JW Marriott’s staff housing in Bala is on the table again as Muskoka Lakes council and the Minett-based hotel prepare for a hearing with the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) next week.
JW Marriott The Rosseau Muskoka Resort and Spa applied for a by-law amendment to use the Bala Bay Inn and nearby trailers as staff housing, but the amendment was voted down unanimously by township council in February 2019. The JW Marriott appealed the decision, leading to the LPAT hearing scheduled to begin on July 13. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the hearing will happen via video conference and is expected to take about four days. Muskoka Lakes Mayor Phil Harding is unsure what to expect from the LPAT hearing, he said, but council knows their by-laws and that’s what they’ll be defending.
Harding has opposed the Marriott’s use of the inn and trailers for staff housing from the beginning. He said he wasn’t surprised when the resort appealed the decision, but council maintains their position that it’s a hotel and a commercial area that should be used in that capacity.
“We have expressed council’s position and we have expressed what’s appropriate on that site,” Harding said. “We’ll have to let the board decide.”
The trailers were placed in the inn’s parking lot years ago without permission from the township, but Harding said that the legal action against the JW Marriott to remove them has been stayed during the LPAT process. Council voted down a proposal to allow the trailers in May 2018, but they have remained on the property ever since and the inn has been used to house staff despite local by-laws.
Along with defending their position in the case, Harding said council recommended that a group of locals act on their own behalf and hire a lawyer and planner to represent their interests during the hearing. The group followed their advice, and cottager Scott Vickers was granted party status for the case as a representative for the residents group We Love Bala. The group has been working to garner support since they formed earlier this year, and they continue to fundraise to cover the costs of their lawyer and planner.
Members of the group oppose the hotel’s staff housing in Bala for many reasons, ranging from the impact on the main streets and waterfront area to a lack of onsite management. In addition to other concerns, Vickers said that people are fed up with the fact that the Marriott broke the law and nothing has been done about it. Given the fact that the Marriott is selling condos, Vickers believes they have the means and should house staff on their property, instead of half an hour away in Bala.
“This is not how you go about building the community, this is how you go about destroying the community,” Vickers said. “If the Marriott’s got so much money and they’re telling us how great they are, then maybe they should have had the foresight to build their staff quarters on their big beautiful property in Minett.”
Representatives for the JW Marriott declined to comment on the hearing.
To learn more about the issue, read the article below. For more information about the residents group We Love Bala, visit their website.