Consultants recommend up to two RVs on large Lake Clear lots

Eganville – The report is in and the consultants have recommended – based on science-based findings -- allowing one RV per lot on Lake Clear with up to two RVs on lots which are two acres in size or more as well as sparking some discussion on whether the lake should really be considered “at capacity” after all.

“We are trying to strike a balance between RV use around Lake Clear and the health of the lake itself,” J.L Richards and Associate Senior Planner Wes Paetkau told a committee meeting of Bonnechere Valley (BV) council and a packed council chambers last Tuesday afternoon. “Hutchinson (Hutchinson Environmental Sciences Ltd.) prepared the updated lakeshore capacity assessment for the lake and then we used this information and other sources to come up with a game plan for RV use around Lake Clear.”

The very in-depth presentation showed scientifically some markers show the lake in better health than previously thought, so there is capacity for more development on this “at capacity” lake. Using the Lakeshore Capacity Model and the updated capacity assessment, the report showed the potential for 146 permanent dwellings or 291 extended seasonal dwellings or 522 seasonal dwellings or two RVs on each residential lot which could be as many as 1,200. If RVs are allowed, there would be setback and wastewater treatment requirements and possibly licensing applicable depending on the situation in the recommendations.

Council received the report last Tuesday and the public will have until the end of December to comment. In the new year, council will make a determination on how to proceed with the issue. For council, it provides a scientific study which could be used to defend policy decisions. It could also possibly bring an end to an issue which was first brought up in May 2017 by a sub-committee of the Lake Clear Property Owners Association (LCPOA) asking for the use of RVs to be restricted around the lake. Since then, the issue has been the bane of two councils and was even made an election issue in 2022.

BV hired the consulting firm at a price tag of $50,000, using a modernization funding grant, and the initial stage of the report was presented last week. The findings vary from what has been stated repeatedly by the Ministry of Natural Resources about the lake being “at capacity” but do corroborate other presentations made in the past on the issue about water quality. Lake Clear was designated an “at capacity” lake prior to amalgamation of four local municipalities to create Bonnechere Valley and the issue of possible contamination of the lake water by RVs was one of the reasons used to object to RVs around the lake initially.

On Tuesday, Mr. Paetkau said the scientific findings, as well as looking at practices in other municipalities, find the township could consider up to two RVs on each lot and with 610 lots around the lake that could be many more RVs than the original 55 which raised the objection.

“This equals 1,200 RVs which is a lot of RVs, which is a recommendation we are not pursuing,” he said.

He said instead the total number of RVs needs to be balanced with land use compatibility and neighbourhood character, as well as allowing property owners to use the lake for enjoyment.

As a result, instead, the consultants recommended having one RV allowed on a lot which is at least an acre in size or two RVs on a lot of two acres or more.

He said the RVs would have to comply with the Official Plan, the Zoning By-law and have an aspect of licensing in some cases. His report showed there are around 51 RVs on Lake Clear on 27 parcels within 300 metres of the shoreline. He also pointed out the LCPOA counted 55 RVs in 2018, noting “46 appeared to be used for residency purposes.”

Official Plan and Lake Clear

If RVs are to be allowed on Lake Clear, there must be an Official Plan amendment. Mr. Paetkau said the Official Plan of the County of Renfrew allows for one dwelling only on a lot on Lake Clear, which can be permanent or seasonal and additional dwellings are not permitted, but RVs are not considered additional dwellings. His recommendation was to allow for seasonal RV occupancy and set a limit, not allowing use in the winter months. Use would be allowed from May 1 to November 29 in his recommendations.

He said the township could use licensing and include provisions for sewage disposal, inspection and enforcement. There could also be provisions for how long the RV could be used for.

The study recommendations included amending the official plan to have a 30-metre setback and make sure there is a potable water supply as well as sewage treatment in accordance with the Ontario Building Code. In terms of the Zoning By-law, there could be various provisions including licensing. He said one possibility is if an RV is only occupied for three consecutive days at a time there would be no need for licensing and there could also be no accessory structures and additions. Other possibilities would allow the RV to be used for up to a week once in the spring, summer and fall without a license. If an RV is used for special events it would not need to be licensed but the Chief Building Official would have to be notified.

Mr. Paetkau said the consultants looked at other areas including the municipality of Strong, North Frontenac and Whitewater Region to see what their policies allow. He pointed out all differentiate between temporary RVs and permanent/seasonal RVs. For example, North Frontenac allows one RV on waterfront residential lots regardless of whether they are vacant or developed, while Whitewater Region allows them on vacant lots only.

Scientific Background

In presenting the Lakeshore Capacity Model, Senior Aquatic Scientist Brent Parsons of Hutchinson Environmental said he has extensive experience in lake management in Ontario, having done hundreds of projects for municipalities, as well as lake management authorities and parks.

He showed Lake Clear is over capacity in terms of oxygen. He explained the goal is to have high oxygen. However, the report also found it had low oxygen levels historically.

“That was worth noting from that perspective it was always over capacity for development, prior to any capacity happening on the lake,” he said.

As well, the study findings on phosphorus concentration show the lake is under capacity.

“Water quality is good and there are no increasing trends in nutrients,” he stated in the report.

Mr. Parsons pointed out the current use of RVs is noncompliant, and impacts are unclear.

In his 23-page report, he noted the recommendations “were developed to help the township develop science-based planning policy for RV use.”

The recommendations based on this science-based policy were to “permit the use of one or two RVS on each of the existing lots if appropriate Best Management Plans (BMPs) are developed and enforced to ensure that impacts to Lake Clear are minimized.”

His recommendations also said sewage treatment systems should meet Ontario Building Code requirements. As well a 30-metre naturally vegetated shoreline buffer should be required on all lots, especially lots with RVs that have the potential to generate additional stormwater and wastewater.

Mr. Parsons also noted the water quality and Best Management Plan need to be monitored.

His report also showed while the County of Renfrew Official Plan states buildings and septic systems are to be set back at least 30 metres from the water, “it has been reported (Love Your Lake 2022) that 69 percent of the properties on Lake Clear are within 30 metres of shore.”

The County Official Plan also “encourages” the retention of natural soil and natural vegetation within 30 metres of the shoreline, it was pointed out in the report.

His report noted shoreline development, including RV use, impacts a lake through stormwater and wastewater inputs as well as associated recreational uses like boating.

“Impacts can be largely mitigated through implementation of BMPs such as property designed and maintained sewage treatment systems, the retention or establishment of naturally vegetated shoreline buffers and stormwater management feathers that maximize infiltration and minimize runoff,” the report concluded.

Council Comments

Following the presentation, council discussed the issue briefly and enforcement was a big topic.

“How do you police this?” asked Councillor Merv Buckwald.

“That would be up to by-law enforcement,” Mayor Jennifer Murphy said.

“My concern is having the resources to implement this,” agreed Councillor Tracey Sanderson.

Acknowledging she does not have a lot of the background information, since she was elected last fall, she said she does not understand why it has taken so long to come to a decision on this issue.

The lake has been deemed an “at capacity” lake by the MNRF, she added.

“I’m trying to figure out why we are going against that?” she said.

Mayor Murphy gave some background, pointing out there was a presentation by “a few” members of the LCPOA asking for the use of RVs to be regulated around the lake.

“There were also people who were upset photos were taken of their property by a few,” she said.

The mayor said members of council are not scientists in this particular faculty, nor are people around Lake Clear.

Council tried to get as much information as possible on the issue, she said. When government funding was made available, she said council agreed to have a study done to have scientific background for a future decision.

Coun. Sanderson said it did not say anything different from the MNRF in regard to Lake Clear being an “at capacity” lake. “Actually, it does,” said Mayor Murphy.

“Can you explain how an ‘at capacity’ lake is under capacity?” questioned Councillor Brent Patrick.

Mr. Parsons said all different lines of evidence have their limitations. It is a matter of how much weight is placed on different parameters examining water quality around the lake, he said. The province has placed a lot of value on the oxygen levels in the lake and this was based on lake trout in one lake in Algonquin Park, so there are issues with that.

“When you start to learn where these rules came from, that is why I try to look at various lines of evidence,” he said.

He said there are various measuring tools which are used and looking at all of them paints a true picture.

“Yes, there is less oxygen,” he said. “I think there was always less oxygen.”

In his study he looked at the other parameters, including phosphorus and water quality.

“When we look at these tools, they give us different conclusions,” he said.

Coun. Patrick said there are currently between 50 and 55 RVs and the study showed the lake could handle up to 1,200, so this was quite a disparity.

“Is there a provision for large property owners?” he asked. “If someone has 25 acres, is there not discretion?”

Mr. Paetkau said having a maximum of two RVs in the Lake Clear context was seen as the appropriate goalpost. However, there could be the possibility of a minor variance, he added.

Coun. Buckwald asked if he had 100 acres and four kids and they all wanted to have an RV on the lot if it would be allowed.

“Not in this scenario,” Mayor Murphy said.

Councillor John Epps asked about the assessment of the RVs. He was told only ones which have a deck or structure attached are assessed.

Township Feedback

The township will be receiving feedback until December 31 on the Lake Clear Capacity/RV Land Use Review. By the end of January 2024, the feedback will be reviewed and the draft final report brought to a committee meeting of council. After that meeting the final report will be presented and the project concluded.

Mayor Murphy asked for the public not to contact individual councillors on the issue but rather send all comments to the township office where they will be compiled and shared with all council. Members of the public in the gallery attempted to speak during the presentation, but the mayor noted only delegations were allowed to speak on Tuesday.

Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader