Rocks and trees and water. And hills.
These are at the heart of beautiful Muskoka, and Gryffin Bluffs has lots of them. Especially hills.
People have been building roads in Muskoka for more than a hundred years. A century of experience has been put into road standards. To design well, just follow the standards.
This page provides an overview of road standards, and explains how Gryffin Bluffs roads differ. If you would like more details, download a copy of the complete roads presentation. Also learn more about reasonable road maintenance. To learn moer about actual road issues some owners experienced in the winter of 2017/2018, please see the road history here.
The Town of Huntsville and the District of Muskoka have set down road standards that are safe and functional. They set steepness of maximum grades for fire trucks, the minimum width for cars to safely pass, and depth of ditches to allow proper drainage. Only roads that meet these standards can be assumed – that is to say taken over, and then maintained by the Town.
But there is nothing to stop someone making a private road to a lesser standard. That is the case in Gryffin Bluffs. For example, according to the standards, Gryffin Bluffs roads are too steep for fire trucks, too narrow for cars to pass, and ditches are not deep enough for good drainage.
For seasonal access to a few small cottages, a private road like that might be just fine.
The Institute of Transportation Engineers has established road usage rates for single family homes on unpaved roads. For seasonal recreation properties, it is 3.16 trips/unit. That means a road like Gryffin Bluffs Lane, which the Institute says is suitable for 50 trips/day (ignoring winter hills), would work reasonably well for up to a maximum of 15 summer cottages.
Unfortunately there are 26 in the condo itself, plus up to another 14 adjacent lots. Some lots will have more than one household (one has been approved already). With more than 40 households, the road would be nearly three times over maximum capacity even just for cottage traffic.
However, many owners and prospective purchasers in Gryffin Bluffs are planning to make it a year-round home. That means more traffic, with engineering standards indicating that year-round homes generate 9.57 trips/unit. By that measure, Gryffin Bluffs roads are suitable for a maximum of only six year-round homes. With forty homes, the road would be nearly seven times over maximum capacity.
If someone built a bridge for 6 tons, then loaded it up with 40 tons, the most wonderful magical thinking wouldn’t stop the bridge collapsing. Gryffin Bluffs roads aren’t magic. No road works properly when it is overloaded enough – ask anyone from Toronto.
While Gryffin Bluffs roads may not collapse like an overloaded bridge, at best there will be tedious traffic jams. There are sometimes already delays of 10 or 20 minutes when a truck needs to unload.
Gryffin Bluffs is reputed to have acres of trails, but in practice there is only one short trail (near Lot 23) that is regularly used. Everyone else follows the road.
Unfortunately there is no trail in parallel with the roads. Pedestrians are left to compete with the cars for the narrow road. Dog-walkers currently use the road as an off-leash area, scrambling to catch their pets when cars come.
There are risks with good maintenance, and in summer weather. Imagine what happens when kids are walking to the school bus stop on a dark winter morning. See the construction pickup truck gaining speed on Gryffin Lodge Road, getting ready to take a run at the icy Gryffin Bluffs hill. Now add some falling snow.
No, you’re not going to let your kids walk on Gryffin Bluffs roads, not in the winter. Instead you’ll add to the traffic by driving them down to the bus stop. But the fact that pedestrians have to share the narrow road with cars makes winter maintenance a real safety issue.
Road standards discourage cul-de-sac development. When there’s only one entry or exit, it’s just too easy for it to get blocked. In fact, cul-de-sacs are officially considered to present a life-safety issue.
Gryffin Bluffs has extremely restrictive access. With only one narrow road for dozens of households, there will be hundreds of cars a day having to go up and down the steep hill by the entrance.
And while Gryffin Bluffs has set an official policy of requiring 4WD vehicles, the policy is kept pretty quiet. There are no warning signs posted that the roads and hills are unsuitable for trucks or regular cars. Several times in the winter of 2017/2018 roads were completely blocked by trucks that could not make it up a hill.
The limited emergency access makes winter maintenance extremely important.
The necessary road width is closely related to traffic volume. As noted above, according to established standards, the road width of 4m in Gryffin Bluffs is suitable only for about six homes.
For the actual traffic volumes based on the full number of homes – potentially forty-plus – Gryffin Bluffs roads would need to be 6.5m wide, with an additional 1.25m shoulder on each side, for a total of 8m.
A minimum road width of 8m is also what is required by the District of Muskoka Emergency Services for fire truck access. (Though at least some purchasers in Gryffin Bluffs did not know it when they were sold their lots, the District of Muskoka does not consider there to be any fire truck access to Gryffin Bluffs.)
If roads are not wide enough for vehicles to pass, passing places are needed. Typically, passing places are built frequently so that vehicles can pull in when they see oncoming traffic, and there is no need to back up.
Unfortunately this was generally not done in Gryffin Bluffs. There are two near the entrance where the road splits, but none elsewhere. Instead, driveway entrances were counted as passing places, even though they are too short to properly pull into, and they are located too far apart. One vehicle almost always has to back up, and sometimes they must back up a hill, and around corners, before reaching a passing place. It’s tough in the snow, or at night. And when vehicles go off the road, the road is still so narrow that they typically block the road for everyone.
It’s possible to cope with just about any other road deficiency, but if a hill is steep and there’s even a little snow or ice, no regular vehicle will make it up.
Standards for road grades, or steepness, are given in percent. A grade of 5% means for every 100 feet forward, the road rises 5 feet. Most roads are built with a maximum grade of 8%, which is considered the maximum regular grade for a fire truck. Rural roads may be allowed up to 10%, and low-volume private roads in Gravenhurst in hilly areas are allowed up to 12%.
Roads in Gryffin Bluffs far exceed any of these standards. The grades on the road – the only entrance/exit that can cut off access to the whole development – are up to 18%. On some side roads, such as parts of Ruby Lane and Lofty Heights Trail, the grades are over 20%. These are steep even in the summer, and unusually steep for winter use, and exceptionally steep for winter use with higher traffic volumes. When combined with a narrow road width and cul-de-sac emergency risk, such grades would be essentially unheard of for any new road.
Winter ice, steep hills and narrow roads are never a good combination. Because of the combination of all the risk factors above, winter maintenance in Gryffin Bluffs is absolutely critical.
When vehicles can’t pass on hills, poor maintenance means a vehicle sliding down a hill is eventually going to hit a vehicle charging up. There have been several close calls already. While vehicle damage is bad, poor maintenance also increases the chances of something much worse, such as a vehicle sliding into a pet, or a pedestrian.
Maintenance is a matter of money, and good maintenance costs. The maintenance budget set out in the condo declaration was apparently based on the maintenance budget for an adjacent development, Mary Lake Highlands. However, many differences – including the fact that there is twice as much road in Gryffin Bluffs – mean the roads budget for Gryffin Bluffs will likely need to be around $42,000 per year.
Unfortunately, the current MLH-based maintenance in Gryffin Bluffs provides an annual budget of only $13,000, far short of what is required. This has proven to be woefully inadequate, with vehicles off the road, tow trucks that can’t even climb the hills, and access to the entire development sometimes blocked for more than 10 hours at a time.
Restricted Maintenance in Gryffin Bluffs
The unit owners of Gryffin Bluffs voted in the fall of 2017 to deliberately restrict maintenance. Instead of removing snow with 2” of accumulation, which was the engineering recommendation, the standard was set to 4”. Higher accumulations lead to more packing, more ice, and deeper ruts. The unit owners also voted to require four-wheel-drive vehicles in the development, and to avoid sanding until 4WD vehicles could not make it up the hills.
Unfortunately not all owners were able to replace all their vehicles with only a few weeks’ notice. Similarly, visitors, courier companies, delivery companies, and construction workers didn’t all have 4WD vehicles, and could not make it it. Even tow trucks found maintenance in 2017/2018 to be terrible, with one operator describing Gryffin Bluffs as having ‘the worst roads in Muskoka’.
You might expect that emergency services, such as fire and ambulance, would not allow this. That turns out to be wrong. They regard it as the responsibility of the private road owner to perform adequate maintenance. If emergency services can’t get in, it’s the private road owner’s fault.
According to the District of Muskoka, emergency vehicles such as ambulances in Muskoka are 2WD. The net effect of the Gyffin Bluffs vote to reduce maintenance standards is that emergency vehicles are blocked from using Gryffin Bluffs roads.
Condominium laws in Ontario are meant to prevent this. Condominium corporations, together with their boards, have a legal duty to perform maintenance on common elements, including that laid out in the condo declaration. The Gryffin Bluffs condo declaration legally requires year-round road maintenance to be ‘reasonable’.
You can read what the developers and the board consider to be ‘reasonable’. If you don’t agree, perhaps because you aren’t comfortable sliding down icy hills backwards, Gryffin Bluffs roads may not be for you.