Cottage Life: Carling settles with owner over cottage built without permit

Township of Carling settles with former Tokyo Smoke CEO over cottage built without permit

A dispute over a controversial cottage built on a Georgian Bay island has finally been resolved.

On Nov. 7, the Township of Carling, a three-hour drive north of Toronto, entered into a settlement agreement with Alan Gertner, the owner of an in-progress cottage on Morlock Island. Gertner, the former CEO of Tokyo Smoke, a lifestyle brand with ties to cannabis, started construction on the cottage in the fall of 2020 without a building permit.

As part of the settlement, Gertner will be allowed to keep his cottage where it is but has lost building permissions for other structures on the island and will have to pay for all staff time that went into negotiating the outcome of his cottage.

Gertner bought the three-acre island in 2018. At the time, a small, 1960s cottage sat on the property. In 2019, Gertner applied for and received two building permits from the Township of Carling. One permit was for a 49-square-metre sleeping cabin, and the second permit allowed for a 17-square-metre enclosed porch to be added to the existing cottage.

In the fall of 2020, Gertner determined that the enclosed porch couldn’t be added to the existing cottage due to its structural condition. Instead, he broke ground on a new cottage on the opposite side of the island without applying for a building permit. Contractors started work on the new structure, building it within 4.6 metres of the waterfront, violating Carling’s shoreline protection bylaw, which stipulates that all new builds must be 20 metres back from the waterfront.

In December 2020, Gertner applied for a building permit for the new cottage without telling the township that construction had already started. When the township discovered how close to the water Gertner planned to build, Carling’s planning department said that a survey of the property needed to be conducted to see what kind of impact the build would have on the surrounding ecosystem before a building permit could be issued.

Soon after, the township started receiving complaints from neighbouring properties about a cottage going up on Morlock Island next to the water’s edge. The township’s chief building official, Naythan Nunes, visited the site in May of 2021 and found contractors working on a structure that had already been framed and roofed. He issued a verbal stop-work order to the contractors, who complied.

All work on the property froze and the township fined Gertner for building without a permit. The township didn’t release the fine amount, but under Ontario’s Building Code Act, an individual who builds without a permit can be fined up to $50,000 for a first offence.

In the meantime, the township debated whether to grant Gertner a building permit with an amendment to the township’s official planning act, allowing him to keep his cottage in its current location. If the township decided not to grant the amendment, Gertner would have to pay to relocate his cottage 20 metres back from the water.

This process extended into the winter of 2021/2022. During this time, Gertner negotiated with the township to allow his contractors to put up the cottage’s siding to protect the interior from the elements. The township agreed, but let Gertner know that there was still the possibility the cottage would have to be torn down, making the siding a gratuitous expense.

In late January 2022, the township held a council meeting to allow Gertner to plead his case while also hearing from neighbouring property owners about their thoughts on the cottage.

The neighbours were unforgiving. Most speakers said the township should not grant Gertner the amendment, voicing concerns that the decision could set a dangerous precedent, convincing others that they could also build without a permit.

During his opportunity to speak, Gertner apologized to the community for betraying their trust by building without a permit. He did, however, point out that from an environmental perspective, his cottage was in the best location on the island. Gertner’s lawyer, Michael Cook, expanded on the argument, noting that the cottage damaged minimal vegetation and didn’t impact fish habitats or any endangered species in the area.

Council deferred its decision on the permit until an outside professional planner could draft a report on the impacts of the build. Gertner said he would also have an outside planner conduct an assessment.

In July, council reconvened to decide the fate of the Morlock Island cottage. John Jackson, a planner based in Parry Sound, recommended that council deny Gertner’s application for a building permit, stating that the cottage is unlawful.

“The appropriate requirement is to have the owner remove the offending structure,” Jackson wrote in his report.

After listening to Jackson, council was quick to deny Gertner’s application.

Unwilling to tear down his cottage, Gertner filed an appeal with the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT), which adjudicates on matters of land use and planning in the province.

But before an OLT hearing could be scheduled, Gertner’s lawyer sent the township’s solicitor a settlement agreement on October 21. After careful consideration, the township agreed to the settlement, allowing Gertner to keep his cottage.

In a statement, the township said that it agreed to the settlement because all other structures on the island were legal, the planning report showed that construction of the new cottage caused no negative environmental impacts, and there was concern that Gertner’s OLT appeal would succeed. The township’s solicitor also pointed out that Carling had granted permits to builds in the past that were less than 20 metres from the water without a site-specific official plan amendment.

“Carling Township Council, after much deliberation, careful review, and extensive discussions with the Township Solicitor as well as the Solicitor’s internal planning staff, has come to the decision that it was in the Township’s best interest to enter into a settlement agreement with the owner of Morlock Island,” the township said.

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Request for Fall Newsletter Content

We are looking for articles of interest for our Fall newsletter.  If you want to submit an article for the WCA Summer newsletter, please contact Nanci Wakeman with your submission in WORD format by October 14. Articles should be 250-700 words, and if including photos - please provide high-resolution photos (one or more, including photo credits – who took the photo, plus captions).

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Fun with Phrag: Video Highlights WCA Members in Action

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Webinar: 10 Steps to Avoid Boating Tragedy

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TC Energy (TCE), formerly TransCanada Pipeline, has received permission to do a feasibility study for an open loop system Hydroelectric Pumped Storage Plant (PSP) on the federally owned shoreline of the Department of National Defense (DND) Training Centre in Meaford. This proposed facility has serious and potentially harmful implications for local communities, the environment and Georgian Bay’s aquatic ecosystem. Pumped Storage Project: Why Are We Concerned? The proposed pumped storage project by TC Energy threatens to cause significant disruption and permanent changes to the existing natural habitat. Save Georgian Bay is concerned that the proposed technology will cause fish mortality, water turbidity, and water and air pollution during the construction phase, and will require the installation of high-tension power lines from Meaford to Essa Township near Barrie. We believe there are many better alternatives that should be considered in place of the current one. Although the project is proposed for a site on the west coast of the Bay, the Georgian Bay Association is examining this project because we have several concerns about its environmental impact on Georgian Bay, notably an increase in fish mortality, water turbidity, water temperatures, and habitat destruction. These impacts will affect the entire Bay, and we are concerned about the precedent it will set. Have Your Say We wanted to bring an important matter to your attention regarding the proposed amendments to Ontario Regulation 53/05 and potential regulations under the Ontario Energy Board Act, 1998, specifically related to the rate regulation of certain pumped storage facilities. The Minister of Energy is currently seeking public input and feedback on these proposed changes, and your voice matters! This is a valuable opportunity for you to share your thoughts, concerns, and insights on this crucial topic. As advocates for the protection and preservation of Georgian Bay, we have a unique opportunity to voice our concerns and make a difference. Your voice matters in this crucial conversation. We encourage you to participate in the public consultation process by submitting your comments to the Minister. Your input could help shape the direction of these regulations and influence decisions that will impact the future of our energy infrastructure and its potential impact on our natural environment. To submit your comments online, please follow the guidelines provided by the Ministry on their official website: Alternatively, please click here to generate a pre-populated email. Let's work together to ensure a balanced and informed discussion on this matter. The deadline for submitting comments is 11:59 p.m. on August 24, 2023, so please don't miss this opportunity to make your voice heard. Thank you for your commitment to creating a sustainable energy future for Ontario. Together, let's continue to stand up for Georgian Bay and ensure our collective voice is heard in this critical matter.  

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2023 Newsletters

WCA Summer Newsletter August 2023 WCA Spring Newsletter May 2023 (more…)

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The Township of Carling will be holding an open house to discuss the possibility of transitioning from two transfer sites to one more centrally located site. The Open House will be held: Monday, August 14 at the Carling Community Centre from 5:30 p.m.-7:00 p.m. Please drop by to learn more about why the Council for the Township of Carling is considering this option. We look forward to seeing you there.

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Dogfest 2023

  Sunday August 13, 2023 Carling Community Centre 2 West Carling Bay Road Your Dog must be Vaccinated and Leashed Registration: Aug. 13, 2023 11:00 am to 12:00 noon Dog fest show starts at 12:15 pm. Location: Grass area beside Baseball  eld. Leash up your Furry Pal for a Fun Filled Contest or come as a Spectator Additional parking South of the Baseball Diamond. Numerous Categories available to enter Any donation to PAWS will be Greatly Appreciated  

Photo of - Fun With Phrag: Volunteers Needed to Cut Invasive Phragmites on Franklin Island

Fun With Phrag: Volunteers Needed to Cut Invasive Phragmites on Franklin Island

The West Carling Association (WCA) is looking for volunteers to cut phragmites stands on the Bay on Wednesday, August 16. A group led by WCA Board Member Richard Wilson will be departing Snug Harbour on Wednesday, August 16 (Friday the 18th in the event of bad weather on the 16th), with guides from Georgian Bay Forever (GBF) to do seasonal cutting of the phragmites stands on Franklin Island. If you would be interested in helping, there is room for a few volunteers to come along. Some light physical work is involved, likely on the shore or in shallow water. Bring a life jacket, a sharpened spade shovel and work gloves. What are phragmites and why should we be concerned? Invasive phragmites are aggressive plants that spread quickly and outcompete native species for water and nutrients. Biochemicals are released from its roots into the soil to hinder the growth of surrounding plants. Identifying this invasive can be difficult due to the existence of native subspecies. Invasive phragmites generally reach heights of up to five metres and have tan stems with blue-green leaves and large, dense seed heads. It can grow so densely that it crowds out other species. If you are unaware of what it looks like, there is a large patch on Nobel Road (old Highway 69) just south of the former 559 intersection. What is being done to eliminate these invasive plants? GBF has developed a strong and effective program engaged in Georgian Bay shoreline phragmites eradication. Many of the stands they monitored and managed have been successfully eliminated. Coastal stands of phragmites can be combatted by cutting their stems just below the water surface, which effectively drowns the plant. Several years of repeated cutting have been shown as an effective method to eliminate a stand. WCA completed the first step in our efforts to eliminate these invasive plants by conducting a thorough survey of the Carling Township Coastline in mid-June, looking specifically for the presence of invasive phragmites. In all, we identified six stands, with Franklin Island, Bateau Island, and Deep Bay being the host locations. The outcome of the mapping project was reported to WCA members and Carling Council at the Annual Members Meeting on July 29. If you are interested in assisting Richard with this important project please contact Richard directly at or by phone 416-417-6833.

Photo of - Floating Home at the Centre of a Cottage Country Feud

Floating Home at the Centre of a Cottage Country Feud

“Not everyone can pay millions for lakefront property”: This man’s floating home is at the centre of a cottage country feud Joe Nimen believes his shipping-container houseboat is a masterpiece. His neighbours in Port Severn say it’s an eyesore. Now, the Ontario government is threatening to ban vessels like his from overnight stays on provincial waters


Three years ago, amateur engineer Joe Nimen got to work building his dream home: a collection of four shipping containers fashioned into a floating cottage. In Nimen’s eyes, the four-season structure is a feat of ingenuity and environmental stewardship. For his many critics in the Port Severn area, however, it’s an unsafe eyesore with no business being on the water. At the core of the conflict is whether this dwelling qualifies as a houseboat (Nimen says it does) or whether he’s simply exploiting a loophole to avoid zoning regulations and property taxes. The Ontario government recently weighed in on the conflict, announcing plans to ban floating homes from overnight stays on provincial waters. Nimen says most of the relevant waterways are federal but that he appreciates the publicity boost for his company, Life on the Bay, which makes and sells vessels like his. Here, he tells us how he built a seaworthy home, why he isn’t bothered by his critics and what he sees as the real issues in cottage country.  Let’s start with how you ended up living in this…boat? Cottage? What do you call it? We call it a floating home, but technically it’s a houseboat. It’s aways been my dream to live on the water. My parents had a cottage on Port Severn, and we would boat over in the summer. I loved the idea of a home that you could sail from Port Severn to Parry Sound or Toronto. For years, I was making plans on AutoCAD, a 3-D design software. Do you have a background in construction? I studied engineering and later did some work installing foundations for buildings and docks. In October 2020, my girlfriend, Erin, said she was sick of hearing me talk about the houseboat idea—so I knew it was time to take action. We sold our house on Lake Nipissing and used that money to fund the project, with the hope that eventually we could make similar homes to sell. The house I’m living in cost about $350,000 to make, but some of that was spent on equipment. I bought the shipping containers off Kijiji. I had to create something that could endure the winter, when the lake freezes over. It was a lot of trial error. There were nights in February when we woke up with no water because the pipes had frozen. But we got there. For those who haven’t seen it, can you describe your home and how it works? Basically, it’s two pieces, each made from two 16-metre shipping containers that sit on top of wooden barges. The first piece is our work area and garage, where we store snowmobiles, ATVs and other seasonal items. The other half is our home, plus an outdoor deck area with patio furniture and a barbecue. When we want to move, we attach the whole thing to a tugboat. Can you park it anywhere, or are there rules? We’re allowed to anchor anywhere on Crown land for up to 21 days. After that, we have to move at least 100 metres. To the best of my knowledge, most public waterways—lakes and rivers—are federally regulated. When did you first get the floating home out on the water? About two years ago. I remember sitting on my couch, having my coffee as we moved across the lake. I couldn’t believe we actually did it. It was a great day, but I guess not everyone felt that way. By the following week, we’d gotten visits from representatives of our township, the adjoining township and fire services. People were wondering, What the hell is this thing? Did you anticipate a negative reaction? When I look back, there are some things that I should have taken into consideration. At that point, it was a work in progress, so all of the mechanics were visible from the outside. It didn’t look like a nice finished home yet—it was more like a huge science project. I can see why people were a bit alarmed. Plus, the spot we chose was a high-traffic area. For me, it was sentimental: it’s near an island I visited as a kid. Do you think some cottagers might have interpreted it as you shoving your giant non-taxable flotilla in their faces? That absolutely wasn’t my intention, but I see how it may have come off that way. You mentioned visits from local authorities. What did they inquire about? I think they wanted to make sure we were following all of the rules, and to the best of my knowledge, we have been. We’ve had two safety inspections from Transport Canada, both times with no issues. For the most part, people who take the time to come aboard tend to be pleasantly surprised. I realize that not everyone is convinced, but no one has ever said anything bad to my face. Fair enough, but behind your back, people are saying that you have no business plopping your unregulated home in an area where you don’t pay property taxes. My response is that we live on a houseboat. From a categorization standpoint, it’s the same as any other cruising boat with a washroom and a kitchen. We’re federally regulated by Transport Canada, we pay to keep our boat at a marina and the marina pays property taxes. And we’re not unregulated. There is a Transport Canada building code for boats, called the Construction Standards for Small Vessels, with hundreds of rules around fire escapes, electricity, plumbing, sewage and more. We follow all of them. I’m glad you brought up sewage. Wastewater and other environmental concerns are key talking points among your critics. We have our own sewage treatment plant built into our boat. It’s been tested and approved by Environment Canada, so I’m pretty sure that’s good enough. It’s funny that all of these cottagers are talking about their environmental concerns—a big part of why I built this place is because I wanted what my parents had but didn’t want to cut down trees, dig into the land, blast the rock and disturb the squirrels. We’ve come up with a way to have all the fun of a cottage without disturbing the natural environment. So I’m not convinced that’s their real motive. Any theories about the actual source of outrage? I think there are people who are upset that they had to spend three million dollars on their cottage and we didn’t. What about the eyesore factor? The mayor of Severn called your place an “ugly sea can.” Like I said, that first summer it was a prototype. These days, it looks like most modern cottages. Your company, Life on the Bay, sells these types of vessels. How many orders have you gotten so far? We have five under construction, plus three that are paid for but not underway yet. Since this latest comment from the provincial government, my phone has been ringing off the hook. You’re referring to a recent announcement from Doug Ford, who said he’s banning floating homes from staying overnight on provincial waters. Isn’t that bad for business? I don’t think it will be. Like I said, we’re talking about federal waterways, so I’m not sure that the province has any control. But, by bringing publicity to the issue, they’re driving traffic to our website. I should really send a thank-you note. Who do you see as your target market? We get a lot of interest from people who want a cottage but can’t afford to pay two million dollars, which is what a fixer-upper in this area costs. Instead, for $700,000, you can buy a brand new three-bedroom, two-bathroom floating home. We also have even more-affordable options. Maybe you’re downsizing after retirement—How else could you get a home for $300,000? I’m not sure that bringing affordable housing to cottage country is going to help your case. I understand that there are people who want lakefront property to be exclusive, but I don’t think it’s up to them. And, honestly, I think the whole situation is being exaggerated. Yes, my boat got a lot of attention, but it’s not the out-of-control invasion some are making it out to be. If anything, what’s out of control is how all of the accessible shorelines up here are private property—not great for families who just want to spend a day on the beach. Maybe that’s the invasion we should be focused on. I’m just giving people a chance to enjoy the water.  

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