Plans for Muskoka Lakes’ first affordable housing units have shattered before they ever began.
First affordable housing quashed before it begins in Muskoka Lakes.
CONTROVERSIAL MAYOR.At the centre of the affordable housing fail, just one of the many controversies during her term of office thus far, is Mayor Alice Murphy, seen here with supporter Tom Millar on the night she won the election.
Markham-based housing developer Greg Knight is withdrawing his plans for Muskoka Lakes’ first affordable housing units and is laying the blame at the mayor’s feet, despite her claim that she supports affordable housing.
Knight wrote a letter to Muskoka Lakes council members last week to say he is cancelling his plans for two affordable housing units in Bala because of Mayor Alice Murphy’s “lawless, bullying approach.”
“Frankly, I don’t want to invest any (more) money within Muskoka Lakes while it is under her leadership,” the letter said.
Attempts to reach Murphy for a response to these comments were unsuccessful.
Plans for Muskoka Lakes’ first government-subsidized affordable housing units were already selected by the District of Muskoka to be recommended to the province to receive $100,000 capital funding to build the units through the Investment in Affordable Housing program. The arrangement would not subsidize the renter, but would require the landlord to rent the units at lower than market value for 20 years.
The plans for 1001 Grey St., Bala included three residential two-bedroom apartments and approximately 2,000 square feet of retail art space.
Karen Ellis, former Muskoka Lakes mayor and 13-year council member, said the proposal by Knight was “massive.”
“It (affordable housing) is something that we want, but I guess the biggest problem is cost. When developers want to build in Muskoka Lakes, affordable housing isn’t really their No. 1 priority,” she said.
It’s been an ongoing issue in the area, she said, and she expects it will continue to be an issue.
“It’s unfortunate that it’s come to this because we need it,” she said.
At a District of Muskoka council meeting on Dec. 3, Murphy voiced her concern that the township was being bypassed in the district’s decision for the housing units, but her recent concerns have revolved around zoning.
Two of the reasons the site was chosen were that Muskoka Lakes is currently without publicly subsidized affordable housing and the proposed plans also fit into the current zoning, needing only minor amendments to the site plan.
In a letter to this paper, Murphy said she is “highly supportive of attainable and accessible housing,” but she does not support housing, other than ancillary, in the core commercial corridors of Muskoka Lakes’ urban communities.
One of the two urban communities identified in Muskoka Lakes’ official plan is Bala.
“I view this as short-term reactive planning and not reflective of the development of successful and walkable retail-focused areas that are critical to the long-term financial health of our communities. This view is consistent with our official plan, but unfortunately our C3 zoning has not yet been appropriately updated,” she said.
One year ago the zoning for 1001 Grey St. was changed to allow a yoga studio on the property. Under that zoning, there could also be affordable housing.
“If Mayor Murphy were truly supportive of attainable housing, I expect she would stand behind the zoning bylaw she so very recently ascribed her signature to,” Knight said.
Knight said he invited relevant members of council to attend a site plan meeting on Dec. 12 because “Muskoka Lakes highly politicizes site plan processes.”
Councillors Ruth Nishikawa, Brad Burgess, Mayor Murphy, CAO Chris Wray and interim planning director David Pink attended the meeting.
The site plan process is not usually public, nor does it generally need to come to council except for final approval.
In another letter leaked to the Bracebridge Examiner, the mayor said, “any consequent change in use, particularly if inconsistent with our official plan and the understanding of the community, should involve the input of full council.”
In the letter, the mayor tells district and Muskoka Lakes staff, councillors and Greg Knight that she is concerned about Knight’s volunteer involvement with the Muskoka Attainable Housing Advisory Table (MAHAT).
She said she is concerned about the transparency of the process that awarded funding for housing to a member of the committee.
Rick Williams, commissioner of community services for the District of Muskoka, said the MAHAT committee was not involved in the project.
“We did not use the MAHAT advisory committee at all on this project and we would not use it to make recommendations on contracts or project approvals,” he said.
At a district council meeting on Dec. 17, councillors approved a plan to shift the $100,000 for affordable housing from Bala to Huntsville if Muskoka Lakes doesn’t go forward. The recommendations need to go to the province by Dec. 31.
“(We’ll) continue to try to work with Muskoka Lakes Township on future possibilities where there’s more time to finalize the arrangement,” Williams said.
To see Knight’s full letter to Muskoka Lakes council, go to cottagecountrynow.ca.
— With files from Alison Brownlee