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Shoosh! Innisfil council debates quieting Friday Harbour

In the first test of a new process for allowing commercial noise exemptions, how the nightlife at Friday Harbour impacts the surrounding neighbours is being put under the microscope
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The bar at Beach Club restaurant at Friday Harbour. Jenni Dunning/BradfordToday

Innisfil council is determined to make sure noise concerns about Friday Harbour don’t fall on deaf ears.

A decision to grant the Lake Simcoe resort its annual noise exemption was postponed to the April 24 meeting of council, after councillors referred the matter back to staff for additional information during their March 27 meeting.

Coun. Robert Saunders, who represents the ward where Friday Harbour is located, put forward a revised motion that differed from what town staff recommended and would significantly curtail the amount of noise that could legally emanate from the resort.

Saunders wanted to find a balance, but not at the expense of the legacy residents of the Big Bay Point area.

“We know Friday Harbour's request and it needs to create a vibrant atmosphere for the resort and to continue to develop and be financially successful,” he said. “I also acknowledge the concerns echoed by many residents in Big Bay area and Friday Harbour, as well as the community who would like to have peaceful enjoyment of their homes and outdoor space.”

The motion would restrict “outdoor amplified sound” to Fridays and Saturdays only, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., between May 17 and Aug. 31, inclusive. No outdoor amplified sound would be allowed at any other time, on any other day, including holidays.

“When they’re ready to come back to us with a very viable plan with noise mitigation … we are open to hearing your complaint again for an exemption,” Saunders said.

Chief among the concerns for Saunders was the noise emanating from Friday Harbour’s Beach Club and the volume of DJs at the resorts shouting over the already loud music they were playing. Moving parties from the Beach Club to the Lake Club and telling the DJs to keep their voices down would be among the concessions Saunders would want to see to help make the neighbours happier.

This is the first year Friday Harbour is facing extra scrutiny for what is an annual request for a noise exemption, thanks to a bylaw passed by council in February.

Previously, town staff were able to sign off on the kind of exemption Friday Harbour requested; now, that delegated authority is no more, and that responsibility is placed with council.

“When this request and the memorandum come to council, the public would have an opportunity to provide their comments to council prior to a decision being made,” the staff report indicated.

While councillors are often the first people residents reach out to when in need of a resolution to a municipal concern, complaints about noise in a commercial area could come more frequently following the process change enacted by council earlier this year. Saunders and Coun. Jennifer Richardson, who seconded the motion, were among the councillors who had received several emails from residents regarding noise at Friday Harbour.

But in the report on the matter, staff indicated while they had “received several concerns regarding noise emitted from Friday Harbour properties in the past,” only five complaints came in about the noise there in 2023, including one that was found to be within acceptable limits.

That’s the path residents need to take if they want their complaints registered and for the town to act, Mayor Lynn Dollin stressed.

“People phone their councillor and think that they’ve lodged a complaint, but it doesn’t work that way,” she said. “They have to call the Town of Innisfil and put it into the customer service inquiry for it to be counted. Complaining on Facebook doesn’t count.”

Deputy Mayor Kenneth Fowler wanted to know how staff dealt with Friday Harbour in the past.

“We have spoken to Friday Harbour in the past about noise concerns and this year we’ve recommended these conditions, which are a change from previous years, to help reinforce that if we do provide an exemption, there are consequences if noise goes outside of those times,” said town community services leader Mitchel Harris.

The staff-recommended option wasn’t as restrictive as what Saunders proposed, limiting outdoor amplified sound to approved days and times, with threats to nullify the exemption if the terms were breached and revocation of the permit at the town’s discretion.

For Fowler and Coun. Alex Waters, how that noise was measured was imperative.

“If we’re potentially going to revoke any noise exemption, we have to have a metric to base it off of,” Fowler said.

The bylaw limits noise to 90 decibels, Harris said, but the town lacks the equipment to take that measurement. Instead, when a noise complaint is lodged, it focuses more on the section of the noise bylaw around disturbing the peace.

Fowler was one of the councillors who wished to see the matter deferred, allowing for further discussion to occur between the town and Friday Harbour in the hopes of finding a solution ahead of the summer season.

Coun. Kevin Eisses agreed. He appreciated the residents’ concerns, but said part of finding a balance involves giving Friday Harbour the chance to independently make changes. 

“It seems unfair ... when they’ve had this request approved every year,” he said. “I’m having a hard time voting on this motion because I want to hear what Friday Harbour has to say about these conditions.”

Friday Harbour’s chief executive officer, Hani Roustom, was at Innisifl council March 27 and gave a delegation to councillors requesting a deferral. The extra month, he said, would allow his organization to do exactly what councillors wanted: Work together to find a solution.

“We’re very committed to working collaboratively with the town and the local community to address any concerns and find a solution that allows our resort to operate effectively during the summer,” Roustom said.

That solution, he said, should allow Friday Harbour “to be a destination for our community and doing that while minimizing any potential disturbances.”

The resolution passed by council referred the matter to staff, requesting a report at the April 24 meeting and that Friday Harbour be asked to supply information regarding any noise assessment or mitigation taken.

The motion passed 8-1, with Saunders being the lone dissenter.