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Innisfil resident banned from town hall over right-of-way dispute

Michael Oerbach says the saga shows the town has lost touch with its residents in favour of 'generic algorithms'
Innisfil resident Dr. Michael Oerbach was restricted from visiting town hall for a period of two months after the Town of Innisfil deemed he violated its respectful interactions policy. Oerbach had been communicating with the town about a right-of-way next to his home. Shane MacDonald, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Town of Innisfil has used its respectful interactions policy to restrict a resident from visiting town hall unannounced for a period of two months. A notice of trespass has also been issued to prohibit him from visiting a town-owned lake access point adjacent to the resident’s home.  

The town informed Innisfil resident Michael Oerbach of the decision Sept. 15. 

The town alleges Oerbach threatened town staff in an aggressive and intimidating manner when they attended the lake access point located at 2865 Purvis St., to perform maintenance.

Oerbach denies the allegations. 

“It's all hearsay,” Oerbach said, noting he has appealed the town’s decision. 

While things seem to have come to a boiling point, the right-of-way dispute has a long history.

Oerbach has been in communication with the town about the right-of-way beside his house since at least 2017, when a chain-link fence was removed. Oerbach said the fence’s removal has led to illegal dumping on the right-of-way. 

“I had to put a fence up immediately, because I valued the privacy I used to have,” he said. 

According to Oerbach, the chain-link fence stood in the right-of-way since 1998, after the town allowed homeowners with deeded access, Oerbach included, to install it at their expense. The fence was locked; only the town and deeded homeowners had access. 

According to the Town of Innisfil, a deed of transfer shows the town purchased the right-of-way for $10,000 in 1998. 

In 2017, the fence came down.

“There was a fence in place for quite some time, but, unfortunately, it was repeatedly vandalized and tampered with, so there comes a point when we have an obligation to change direction and try to find a solution that is more efficient,” said Town of Innisfil spokesperson Johnny Keogh. 

The town installed a surveillance camera across the street from the right-of-way to "deter mischief, protect public safety and to better enforce town bylaws."

Oerbach said he has been documenting the situation and claims town staff have visited the right-of-way at least 60 times since the fence came down. 

“They are ridiculous in terms of expending our money on frivolous stupidity,” he said. “The bottom line is you can just put the chain link up with gates then walk away (and) never come back again.”

Oerbach suggests an unlocked gate would serve as a visual cue to deter illegal dumping while still providing public lake access. 

“We aren’t confident that a gate and fence would serve as the right visual cue to the community, as typically this signals that an area is restricted, is private property, or inaccessible, which does not align with the master plan that was assembled with input from residents from across Innisfil,” Keogh said. 

Oerbach says the right-of-way saga shows the town has lost touch with its residents in favour of “generic algorithms.” 

“One size does not fit all,” he said. “It's the principle, it’s consideration for the neighbourhood.”

According to the town, Oerbach is the second resident to have restrictions imposed on him under the respectful interactions policy since it was passed by council in 2019. 

“Town staff makes every effort to work with residents to come to a resolution first, as this is always our preferred outcome,” Keogh said. “The decision about whether to implement any restriction goes through a vigorous approval process and is only implemented as a last resort when  all other efforts have been exhausted.”

Keogh says the town has a responsibility to residents and town staff to ensure that any behaviour considered as offensive, threatening, embarrassing or bullying is not tolerated.

Shane MacDonald, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Barrie Advance