A developer is suing the Township of Muskoka Lakes for $22 million in damages.

Legacy Cottages say in a press release, that legal action against the township has commenced, claiming a breach of contract. The lawsuit centres on moves made by the Township to block development of a 43 unit resort property that had initially received approval over a year ago. Development in the Village of Minett has been a continuous political feature in the election with the Muskoka Lakes Association and Friends of Muskoka organizing protests to the project.

“As ratepayers and community members, we did not want to have to take such action.  But having made a number of requests for township council to reconsider its hasty decision to pass an interim control bylaw on our property, we’ve had little choice but to take civil action to remedy the situation” says developer John Mehlenbacher in the press release.

In the press release, it is noted that Phil Harding, who is currently running for mayor against incumbent Don Furniss,  “walked on to a council agenda” the interim control by-law that effectively stalled the project after Legacy had demolished the 32 cottages on Lakeside Lodge’s property.

Harding rejects the assertion by Greg Knight, a representative of Ken Fowler Enterprises, a minority partner in the project, that the introduction of the interim control by-law was a political move on his part.

“In May of 2018 I wasn’t even running for council,” says Harding. “I had zero intent to run for council.”

Harding was also emphatic in his assessment of the press release and its timing.

“There are some business and or developers within Muskoka Lakes that are concerned that a change in government will increase transparency,” said Harding. “The press release and the timing of the press release is actually designed to influence the current outcome of the upcoming election.”

Knight says he felt it was important that taxpayers know exactly what was at stake financially for ratepayers.

“This court action comes after several other attempts to more easily address what council has done,” Knight said. “It’s frankly our only recourse left  in what has been nothing but an astonishing process for these developers.”

Knight used an example of a single property owner asking for and getting permission to tear down an existing cottage, get all the permits from the town, begin construction and then be told you can’t actually build that now.

“I think anybody would be out of their mind,” contends Knight. “And that is the case with these developers in this case.”

Harding, who is currently a councillor in Ward C, says council and the insurance company have been made aware of the legal action. He was not aware of what the deductible might be on such a lawsuit.

“We are not aware of any other example within the Province of Ontario where a municipal council has passed such a bylaw for a project so far along in the development process,” says Knight.

Mehlenbacher explains the motivation of the lawsuit, which includes initial investments and potential profits that might be made from the completion of the project.

“We have sunk millions of dollars into the property, relying on the agreement we made with the township council less than a year ago.  Anyone with any sense of property rights should find this move by township council absolutely inflammatory” says Mehlenbacher.

Mayor Don Furniss has been publicly steadfast in his support of the protection of individual property rights.

The developers had supported Furniss in his 2014 campaign, with Ken Fowler Enterprises providing $2,800 of Furniss’ $11,916 campaign contributions. (To View Mr. Furniss’ 2014 Campaign Contribution Audited return, click here.)  

In response to a request from the MyMuskokaNow Newsroom, Mayor Don Furniss said he could not comment on the matter.