Cottage Conundrum: Township giveth and taketh building permit

WATCH: (Jul. 31, 2014) Terry and Margot Canning planned to build their dream cottage in Lake of Bays, in the heart of Muskoka. But after getting permits to tear down their old cottage, the municipality did the unthinkable. As Sean O’Shea reports, local authorities withdrew the building permit saying they made a mistake.

Terry and Margot Canning survey the plans of their new cottage over a kitchen table.

It’s a two-storey, 1650 square foot home on Lake of Bays in the heart of Muskoka.

“It’s not a monster cottage – but it certainly had everything that we wanted,” said Terry, pointing out the new cottage is about twice the size of the one that held fond memories over almost two decades.

“I can’t believe it’s gone,” said Margot, standing with Terry on the vacant lot. By now, the couple expected to be building what they called their “dream” cottage.

Story continues below advertisement

The Cannings had hired a planner and an architect to get their new cottage through the planning stages. On March 17, the Township of Lake of Bays issued a demolition permit to raze the old structure and issued a building permit to construct the new one.

“We were really excited,” smiles Margot, remembering the day they got the news.

On the basis of those permits, the Cannings tore down the old cottage. A few days later, they got some unexpected, bad news. The township of Lake of Bays revoked the building permit.

“I didn’t know it was possible,” said Terry. His wife remembered the shock. “We’re in the real estate business; I’ve never heard of this in 35 years. It’s insanity,” said Margot.

The township says the building permit was issued in “error” because the local building department didn’t realize the couple wanted a basement in the new cottage. It would push the square footage of the new dwelling beyond acceptable limits, according to the town. But drawings for the new building clearly included the word “basement”.

At the municipal hall, Global News asked for a further explanation from Stephen Watson, director of building and bylaw services, the man who issued the permits.

“On the advice of counsel, no comment,” Watson repeated six times when asked what happened.

Story continues below advertisement

Earlier, over the telephone, Watson admitted responsibility: “I’m the chief building official. I’m taking full responsibility that we issued a building permit in error. Ok?”

It’s cold comfort to the Cannings who can’t contemplate construction because of the mistake.

“Nobody is accountable: there’s no ‘I’m sorry’ – there’s no ‘we made a mistake and can we make it up to you?” said Margot.

When Global News contacted mayor Bob Young, he sounded sympathetic.” Superficially from all the words you say it sounds wrong,” said Young.

A further statement from the township said: “the Township has no legal authority to reissue the building permit without a successful application to change the zoning provisions or without plans to build a building that comply with the zoning provisions and regulations.”

Lake of Bays has offered to let the Cannings build a new cottage without a basement, only a four foot crawl space instead. But the couple says that’s not a solution.

“We would have not torn down the old cottage to build that,” said Terry.

“We would have built our dream cottage somewhere else if we couldn’t have what we wanted here.”

BELOW: The Township of Lake of Bays provided the following statement to Global News


Sponsored content