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Kings County Mayor says dangerous precedent for municipalities could be set by Lake George UARB decision

This graphic from a November 2015 County of Kings staff report to the planning advisory committee illustrates the approximate location of the RV's on the subject properties at Lake George.
This graphic from a November 2015 County of Kings staff report to the planning advisory committee illustrates the approximate location of the RV's on the subject properties at Lake George. - Municipality of the County of Kings

KENTVILLE, NS - There will be yet another appeal in the case of four recreational vehicles located with a cottage on two adjacent lots at Lake George.

On Dec. 20, 2017, the provincial Utility and Review Board (UARB) granted an appeal from owners Donovan and Juanita Methot, Mike and Lori Stoddart, Jeff and Wendy Carty and Rick and Heather Rood that overturned an earlier decision of Kings County council to refuse them a development agreement.

The UARB ruled that a development agreement is consistent with Kings County’s Municipal Planning Strategy (MPS) policies and ordered council to approve a development agreement.

This would allow the owners to keep four RV’s on their two lots in addition to an existing cottage at 103 O3 Road – which is the current use of the subject property. The subject property is zoned Seasonal Residential. The development doesn’t meet Land Use Bylaw criteria for development as-of-right or by site plan approval.

“On the facts before the Board in this case, the Board finds that, on a balance of probabilities, Council did not consider the criteria of the MPS (Municipal Planning Strategy) Policies for development agreements,” a written decision states. “Consequently, the Board finds Council’s decision did not reasonably carry out the intent of the MPS.”

The UARB hearing, which was before member Dawna J. Ring, took place on April 19 and 20 and on July 7, 2017.

At a special council meeting on Jan. 10, Kings County councillors emerged from an in-camera session to vote in favour of appealing the Dec. 20, 2017, UARB decision to the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal. Coun. Brian Hirtle, who earlier lost his doctor over the controversial RV issue, and Coun. Bob Best were the only councillors to vote against the appeal.

READ HERE about Hirtle losing his doctor over the Lake George RV controversy.

READ HERE about the owners appealing council’s decision to the UARB.

Mayor says board “exceeded jurisdiction”

Kings County Mayor Peter Muttart said in a Feb. 13 interview that the municipality has filed its notice of appeal. He said there are several grounds for the appeal.

Muttart said the 2017 UARB hearings were before a “one person board” and the board “exceeded its jurisdiction in a number of ways.”

He said the board substituted its own opinion for that of municipal staff in terms of whether or not there would be a development agreement. The process for a development agreement involves staff preparing an agreement that comes before council for approval but that never took place. Muttart said, from the municipality’s point of view, this wasn’t appealable.

He said the board placed a reverse onus on the appeal. The onus in an appeal to the UARB is on the applicants.

“The board in its decision determined that the onus was on the municipality, which is actually reversing the true onus, and so that was an error in law,” Muttart said.

Muttart said that once a written notice of appeal is filed with the appeals court, the court sets a date for a hearing. The hearing date has yet to be set.

Muttart said if the municipality didn’t appeal the UARB decision and this stood as a precedent for the way in which the board could examine decisions of municipalities in the future, that would be wrong from the municipality’s point of view. It could affect all future decisions of Kings County council and other municipal councils. In this sense, Muttart said Kings County council “felt an obligation to appeal it.”

The background

Kings County council voted in favour of a recommendation from staff on Dec. 6, 2016, to refuse an application from the proponents to enter into a development agreement to legalize the land use. The proponents filed notice of an appeal with the UARB on Dec. 20, 2016.

Council heard from planning manager Laura Mosher in May 2016 that staff determined there is no enabling policy within the MPS to facilitate drafting the proposed development agreement, as council had previously directed staff to do.

The UARB ruled on Dec. 20, 2017, that council was erroneously advised by staff that the MPS didn’t have any policies that would permit council to enter into the development agreement and that an amendment to the MPS was necessary to do so.

At the UARB hearings, Donovan Methot and Lori Stoddart presented evidence on behalf of the property owners. The owners purchased the two adjacent lots in September 2013. The eastern lot had an existing cottage that the owners repaired and a 1,000-gallon septic holding tank.

In the spring of 2014, the owners cleared most of the eastern lot, part of the western lot, and made a second driveway from the western lot to the O3 Road. After leveling the ground with gravel, the owners placed four RV’s in a semi-circle. They installed a second 1,000-gallon septic holding tank. Two RV’s are connected to each tank, which are pumped out annually.

Methot testified that they mainly use the cottage and, generally, only use the RV’s for sleeping. He said they didn’t obtain permits for the development because they didn’t know they had to. They were apologetic and wanted to work through a resolution.

The county received a complaint about the situation in July 2014. The owners were directed by the county to remove the four RV’s by Oct. 31, 2014, to comply with the Land Use Bylaw.

After county planner Ian Watson informed the owners of a provision in the MPS for a development agreement, the owners applied for a development agreement in May 2015.

In his testimony to the UARB, Methot expressed how the process was very personal and hurtful to the owners. He said the new mayor campaigned on a platform that specifically referenced their development.

There were numerous statements in the media and accusations about the owners that were personal and hurtful and-or which Methot and Stoddart stated didn’t happen. Methot said they kept quiet during these personal attacks and did not speak out about them.

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