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A fight is escalating in Muskoka over the most quintessential of cottage-country debates: How long should a dock be?

The popular cottage destination located two hours north of Toronto has been at odds over a possible dock expansion nearly the size of a football field on Lake Joseph, one of Muskoka's main lakes.

Brothers Michael and David Shaw, who own the Cove Marina, sought approval from the Township of Muskoka Lakes in mid-April, initially proposing to expand their dock system in Foot's Bay in Lake Joseph to 298.6 feet long. Currently, the bylaw only allows docks to be 66 feet in length.

Although amendments to the proposal reducing the dock by 24.1 feet as a compromise initially had the support of some councillors and community members, the application was ultimately turned down during a council meeting on Wednesday.

David Pink, director of planning in the Townships of Muskoka Lakes, says the Cove Marina now has 20 days to appeal the decision with the municipal board.

"My gut would say that I'd be surprised if I didn't see an appeal," Mr. Pink said.

His gut is likely right.

Michael Shaw is furious. He blames a councillor changing her mind late in the meeting for the rejection of the amended proposal, which he said garnered "overwhelming community support in every respect." Now, he says he has no choice but to appeal.

"I spent a year of my life on this; I don't even know how much money I've spent."

The dock currently in place already exceeds the bylaw by nearly 100 feet in length. The expansion would have cost the marina $300,000 if it had been approved.

According to Re/Max North County Realty, the average cost of a cottage on Lake Joseph is $2.4-million.

Jeffrey Seigel has lived in Foot's Bay for nearly a decade. His main concern is how the dock and increased boat traffic would affect Muskoka's ecosystems. Since the Shaws began operating the marina in 2011, Mr. Seigel says boat traffic in the bay has increased four to six times.

Muskoka Lakes Mayor Don Furniss says he supports the expansion and doesn't believe it raises any environmental concerns, saying: "It's not as if people are dumping gasoline or sewage into the lake."

While many Foot's Bay residents acknowledge the marina won't be dumping gasoline or sewage into the lake, they suspect the environment would suffer as a result of the expansion. The mayor has been criticized in the past for his environmental record. In 2014, residents of Bala Falls in the Muskoka Lakes region said Mr. Furniss's support of the construction of a hydroelectric plant at the falls was lethal to Muskoka's ecosystems.

Mr. Shaw says the expansion won't disrupt the environment, and that the dock would be part of the solution to Muskoka Lakes' lack of access points.

He believes nearby residents are also concerned about their property values decreasing and that "they had to understand that at some point in time when you buy in a bay with a marina, the marina is probably going to expand at some point along with the growth of the number of boats on the lake."

Some residents have argued that shoreline development and boat trafficking can scare away bass and other wildlife species, as well as discourage growth of shoreline and aquatic vegetation.

Mr. Shaw says he understands residents' concerns and is willing to compromise to reach an agreement that will make both parties satisfied.

However, he says the marina "desperately needs" more boat slips.

According to a boating-impact assessment retained by the Cove Marina from a local environmental consultant, an average of 44 boats per hour pass through Foot's Bay during the peak hours of boating season. Sixty-eight per cent of the overall traffic is associated with the Cove Marina.

The opposition believes the amount of traffic is not only unsafe, but an infringement on the peaceful use of the bay.

Although the original proposal would have leased some of the boat slips to the exclusive Öviinbyrd Golf Club, the amendment did not allot any boat slips to the club. The club was recently involved in a battle with residents living in Stills Bay on Lake Joseph over the club's alleged use of docks in a residential zone for commercial purposes.

The crackdown on Öviinbyrd's use of docks originally left the club looking for a new place to dock the boats and float planes that shuttled people across the bay and onto the shores of the club.

District and Township Councillor Ruth Nishikawa says she hopes there can be an agreement that will protect Muskoka Lakes' taxpayers while addressing the shortage of docks in the marina.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said boat slips might have been leased to the Öviinbyrd Golf Club. In fact, an amendment did not allow any boat slips to the club. This version has been corrected.