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  • Writer's pictureThe Low Down

What the dock!?

[Regarding the Chelsea dock bylaw] … The municipality of Chelsea needs to determine what distinction should be made between private properties, which hold title to waterfront, and other properties now owned by the municipality. It seems the municipality wishes to assert authority over private docks, much as it does with buildings, sheds or septic systems. To the extent the same objectives apply (e.g. safety, environment, aesthetics), it is reasonable to regulate use of waterfront land.

I assume there is no debate that the municipality of Chelsea now owns waterfront land, previously the property of Hydro-Québec. Some of this land has been, by happenstance and history, available for the private use of property owners contiguous to it, sometimes separated by the community trail. Public access to the community trail makes possible public use of the public lands owned by Chelsea. The fact that the municipality owns waterfront land does not mean that all such lands are or should be available for use by the general public. The municipality owns many properties that are for the exclusive use of the municipality and those authorized by the municipality.

It is up to the municipality to decide whether the land that it owns should be available to the taxpayers who financed purchase of the land, or more broadly to anyone who wishes to use the land. Many homeowners have enjoyed private use of those waterfront lands now owned by Chelsea.

Some argue that those homeowners have special rights over the use of those lands, due to their previous use (and perhaps maintenance) of the land. Indeed, many have already lost a degree of privacy where the rail trail passes close to their property, as the trail is now available for use by the general public. However granting those homeowners exclusive use of those waterfront lands could be considered a privilege, not a right....

Declaring all publicly-owned waterfront lands open to the public is not a safe or sustainable option. When the municipality considers opening a new area of waterfront for public use, it is reasonable to provide for the protection of the residential communities around the area, in order to preserve their use and quiet enjoyment of their own properties. However, no single group of residents has the right to determine how publicly-owned lands are to be used. Throughout Canada, when publicly-owned lands are made available to the public, there are normally no residence requirements for use of the lands. A particular case would need to be made to restrict the use of public lands to local residents. For both public and private waterfront lands, environmental preservation can be accepted as an overarching objective.

With this background, the following principles seem to be a proper part of debate on the use of waterfront in Chelsea:

  • The environmental integrity of all waterfront properties must be protected;

  • The use of privately-owned waterfront lands by their owners should be regulated to achieve stated municipal objectives, such as environmental protection. However, once a permit has been issued for a particular use, there is no justification for any special tax or charge for approved uses of the waterfront, unless specialized municipal services are received;

  • The municipality has the authority to decide which of the waterfront lands it owns should be made available to the public. The municipality has the obligation to consult with area residents to limit the impact of any decision, but the authority for the decision rests solely with the municipality;

  • Municipally-owned waterfront can be made available to the public where required municipal services can be provided;

  • “The public” includes all individuals, whether or not they are residents of the municipality. Any restrictions on this interpretation should require a specific rationale consistent with municipal objectives and the Charter of Rights;

  • Municipally-owned waterfront can be assigned for the exclusive use of private owners of contiguous lands at the pleasure of the municipality. Charges for such private use can be considered as rental fees.

David Beattie lives on Meech Creek in Farm Point, loves to walk along the Gatineau River and yearns for completion of the Community Trail.

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