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Essa Township woman in 4-year dispute with conservation authority to house elderly parents on her property


For Lillian Reed and her husband, moving to a secondary home on her daughter's land was supposed to be their great escape, but it's since turned into a multi-year dispute with the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority (NVCA).

Living in the Roberta Place Long-Term Care Home at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Reed watched as 71 people died and hundreds more were infected.

In a desperate attempt to help her family, Reed's daughter, Laura-Jean Dawe, decided moving her parents into a secondary modular unit on her County Road 10 property would be the best for everyone involved.

Initial Approval and Setbacks

In 2021, Essa Township informed them that the regulations to do so were not yet in place but would be the following spring.

When they returned to apply for a permit, that's where the issues began.

"To apply for a permit, you have to have engineered stamped plans, and to have engineered stamped plans, you have to purchase the modular home," Laura-Jean Dawe told CTV News. "That's where all common sense went to die."

While approved in principle, the NVCA still had the final say.

According to email exchanges obtained by CTV News, Dawe was told her property sat on "hazard lands" in the event of a 100-year flood under the NVCA's Natural Hazards Technical Guideline.

Dawe wanted to build a prefabricated modular home above ground level, unlike her current home.

"You can add a 50 per cent addition of the original ground floor area to the home (onto the side, back, front etc.)," read part of an email exchange with the NVCA. "It cannot be its own contained suite (second living suite), and correct, there is no secondary access or kitchen. You can also add a full second story instead of the 50 per cent addition but not both."

Dawe rejected this, wanting her mother and stepfather to be able to live independently. Given that the home would have been elevated, she felt they were also safer if a flood occurred.

Appeal Efforts

Dawe hired an engineering and environmental study team to help with her appeal.

"We proved to the NVCA that under their own guidelines, this was a low risk," Dawe said. "They took all of our reports, they readjusted everything and came back with new anticipated guidelines where there would be 17 inches of water on Country Road 10."

Dawe said she attempted to appeal to the NVCA's board but wasn't given the opportunity to do so.

Eventually, she was forced to take delivery of the home or risk losing thousands of dollars to have it stored in an Innisfil-area storage yard.

Dawe said the Township reassured her it would issue her building permits retroactively once approval was granted.

"Our greatest wish is that they come together and communicate something favourably so that this Essa resident, and being a senior, can live her days out on this property," said Essa Township Mayor Sandie MacDonald. "We just think it is a good spot for them, and we couldn't see anything different."

The Township eventually advised Dawe to apply for a minor variance for relief from municipal zoning bylaws despite initially being told it was unnecessary.

"The NVCA led us all to believe that she should ask for an exception through their board or that the Minor Variance was not needed/applicable/the best route," reads an email exchange from the Township's former CAO in January 2023. "The Township has no concern with this home – as mentioned, we have many other unsafe situations that we are dealing with – others at real risk of frequent flooding."

The Township granted the minor variance last year.

"But the problem is, is that we have passed it, but then there's also other agencies and other levels of government that have their own protocol," Mayor MacDonald added.

NVCA's Continued Objections

Dawe said the conservation authority appealed the minor variance that was given by the council, pushing the dispute to the Ontario Land Tribunal this year.

At a meeting to discuss a possible resolution to the matter, she says the NVCA moved the goalposts yet again, suggesting it was more of a policy issue.

"Their goal now is to keep rural intensification to a minimum," Dawe added. "That's all there is to it."

Through her four-year battle and delay after delay, tragedy struck Dawe and her family.

One month prior to her parents moving in, her stepfather passed away, never getting to step foot in what would have been his final home.

"I'm just flabbergasted," Reed said. "I really feel that it's a vendetta. Whoever has said no, we're not going to let them move. Well, I'm sorry, but I'm here now, and I'm not going to move. If I have to chain myself to the building, I will not leave."

CTV News reached out to the NVCA for comment but was declined.

"NVCA has the responsibility to regulate activities in natural and hazardous areas in order to avoid the loss of life and damage to property due to flooding and erosion," it stated. "Under the Conservation Authorities Act, any development undertaken in an NVCA-regulated area without the written permission of NVCA is in contravention of the Act."

Dawe said her lawyer has advised her to go back to the drawing board on how to continue her dispute to avoid paying thousands of dollars more in addition to the hundreds of thousands that she and her family have already paid. She has not yet decided on her next decision but said she is not giving up her fight.

Her next Ontario Land Tribunal hearing is scheduled for June. Top Stories

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