Understanding Shoreline, Road Allowances, Setbacks and Permits

When it comes to investing your hard-earned money in a home, cottage or piece of land, there are a lot of things to consider that you may not have thought of -  Or that you may have thought of, but don’t quite understand yet.  In an effort to bring some clarity to the commonly asked questions on road allowances, shore line road allowances, setbacks, and permits I sat down with local long-time property developer and surveyor Paul Wilson of Paul Wilson Consulting to gather and summarize some of his expertise.  This is of course just the tip of the iceberg, but can help to point you in the right direction.

First, what’s the deal with road allowances?  

Every 1000 acres of land is bound on all 4 sides with a 66' foot road allowance and most of our lakes also have a 66' foot allowance for road measured back from the original shore.  Any lakes that have been raised by dams, a portion of the road allowance is now (seasonally) under water.  All road allowances are owned by the local municipality, and there is a process for you to close and purchase a road allowance from the municipality.  The process is rather extensive because there has to be a road closing bylaw, which is a public process.  Before your application to purchase can be passed by the municipality the request is circulated to neighbouring property owners and advertised locally.  There is a fee payable to the municipality to purchase the road allowance, legal fees to transfer title, and also a survey is a necessity.  The different municipalities charge fees differently. 
Why would you want to buy it?
When it comes to lake front properties, older buildings closer to the lake could be on land owned by the municipality -  This is a situation where it would be most beneficial to buy the road allowance.  Otherwise, right now the municipal act says you have exclusive use to the road allowance on your shore, but you don't own it and you can't control any rules that may change in the future.  Also worth considering; The most valuable part of your property is the waters edge and you don't own it until the road allowance has been purchased.
More recently, most municipalities required the developers of land to purchase the road allowances as a condition of approval of severance or subdivision, so for any more recently created lots the property you are buying will already include the shore line road allowance.  You can ask your realtor to confirm which properties do and do not have the shore line road allowance included.

Second, what’s up with setbacks?  

Rules governing building setbacks from lot lines, roads, and shore lines didn't even exist in Haliburton County until zoning bylaws came into effect.  At that time, all property limits had set backs implemented for where you are allowed to put a building.  They are different for different zones, but all waterfront zones require 30 meters from the high-water mark.  There is a process to not adhere to the setback requirements by getting a minor variance.  This is done through the committee of adjustments at the local municipality.  Expect an application fee, and the possibility of surveying fees.  It’s unlikely in our county to obtain a variance to deviate from the waterfront set back, but you may for lot/road setbacks or any other deviation from a by-law.  There are many situations in the county right now where buildings do not comply, and as long as they occurred prior to the existence of the by-law they are legally non-conforming (grandfathered).  This can add appeal to properties with an existing boathouse, or close to the water that can be expanded on or torn-down to build in the 'foot print'.  For specifics, including dock set-backs from the lot line, see the zoning bylaws for the township you are in.  In some municipalities the zoning bylaw even limits how close the dock can be from the projected lot line when projected out into the water.

What are you permitted to get a permit for and what permits will they not permit?

Permits must be obtained for building any structure bigger than a certain size, which also varies by municipality.  But these structures must still comply with all requirements of the zoning bylaw (set backs, % coverage, building area).  Permits are also required for any septic system installation.  Zoning bylaw, found at your local municipality, governs what you can and can't build - Things like minimum building area, maximum lot coverage and any accessory buildings you can build. 
How much you're allowed to improve shoreline & how - you can do anything on dry land as long as you adhere to the county cutting bylaw (https://haliburtoncounty.ca/services/forestry/)  stating what you can and can't cut.  But you can't do anything beyond the high-water mark without a permit from the ministry of natural resources.  These have been issued for erosion control and general shore line improvement.
Right now, floating docks do not require a permit from the MNR, but cribs do if they are over a certain size.  This is something you’ll need to consider if you want to build a landing area to connect your dock to your shore.

Last, when do you need a survey?  

Ideally… Always.  You should request an up to date survey from a vendor (seller) and if one is not available you may consider commissioning a survey or having lot lines marked by a surveyor.  This will make it easier to clearly define all of the setbacks, road allowances and high-water marks for your property.

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