Decision to sell Fiddle Park slammed by Rotary Club, citizens

May 25, 2018   ·   0 Comments

Special to the Citizen

As the 70’s Motown hit song says, “and the beat goes on.”

The proposed sale of Fiddle Park, announced at the last Shelburne Council meeting, is still resonating strongly with the town’s citizenry.

Letters are being written and social media is alive with comments, few of which are complimentary and many of which are ill-informed. However, the message is very clear, the people are not pleased.

Rumours abound as to who is actually behind this sale, but to date no concrete evidence exists as to who actually did all the ground work and orchestrated the sale. One thing that is known is that the sale was in the works for a considerable time and no one was the wiser. The fact that the identity of the developer is being kept a secret is not a surprise, but it certainly is a bone of contention with residents. As can be expected, allegations of back-room deals and profiteering are being thrown about, with relish, but no real facts exist to confirm or deny them.

What is known is that the sale is not going to solve any of the Town’s financial burdens, but it may help to lessen one or two. CAO Denyse Morrissey stated that since no plan has currently been submitted to Council for its consideration, the specific economic benefits of the sale cannot be determined. However, in general she expects that there will be numerous jobs, both full- and part-time,  created in the local economy, primarily, but not wholly in the construction industry and affiliated services. New homeowners will support local businesses and alternatively attract new business to the town and hence new jobs. The population base is often one of the criteria for determining the viability of locating a business in a new area. Naturally, the expanded taxation base aids the Town coffers and development charges pay for related services in the development. More residents, especially families will also support the educational system in Shelburne.

Several of the other players in this discussion, have not been forthcoming. In particular, KTH has so far declined to comment on the issue, despite numerous attempts to contact upper management. Their lack of comment does little to enlighten the public as to the disposition of the largest employer in Shelburne, who according to earlier sources, may well have an agreement in principle with the Town that no residences were going to be constructed within a certain radius of the plant. It has been noted that both the truck noise and the ground vibrations associated with the KTH  operations are noteworthy in Fiddle Park.

Sandra Gallaugher, president of Shelburne Rotary Club, says the club “is very disappointed that the Town of Shelburne Council doesn’t feel that Fiddle Park is worth saving as a park.”

Noting that as a service club “we put in $25,000 originally for this park with the understanding that this property is protected and designated by the town as ‘Special Tourism.’ We trusted at the time that the Town would preserve both our heritage as the Fiddle Park and maintain a recreational component for use by all the town’s residents.”

She added that every year the park is being used more and more for events.  “The Rotary’s Heritage Music Festival/Canadian Open Fiddle Championship that is in its 68th year is having a Bands and Brew Festival after the parade this year in the park.   There are also a number of campers that enjoy coming that weekend and camping out.  We hope with our new venue this year in the park that we can attract more campers.”

She said this will not happen once the park is sold.  “As council says, ‘they will move the park to existing parkland in town.’ The existing parks cannot handle this amount of people, nor do they have room for camping and most [parks] are in residential areas.   I would like to see a more concrete plan before anything is sold.”

Observing that there is “a lot of passion to keep this park,” the Rotary president said, “We hope that Council will reconsider their decision or come up with an alternative plan. The town will grow since we are so close to the GTA, but does it make sense to sell off parkland?”

When contacted for comment, Greg and Heather Holmes, the most well-known of those with a vested interest in the park, since they organize and run the Pickin’ in the Park Festival, had several insights to add. It is well known that they raised some $125,000 for the building of the pole barn in the park and Greg had a number of comments concerning that.

His and Heather’s original idea in building the festival was to show the service clubs in Shelburne that you could organize and build an event such as this and bring recognition and income to the town, by utilizing the existing infrastructure to its fullest. In Greg’s opinion, the idea that Pickin’ in the Park could just be moved somewhere else in town is unrealistic. He feels that if the festival were severely downsized it could be hosted at the fairgrounds, but it would be a shadow of its present self. This year alone, the festival is expecting over 300 travel trailers to arrive in the park for the event. There is no other place in town that can accommodate that many trailers and RVs and especially not the fairgrounds. Greg went on to outline the contributions of many of the supporters of the project, noting that the Kinettes, who originally contributed $25,000 to the purchase of the park, also contributed an equal amount to Pickin’ in the Park and were responsible for installing the kitchen facilities in the snack bar, on site, in Fiddle Park. He estimated that their total contribution to the park might exceed $100,000.

For their part, the Holmes intend to run the Festival this year and perhaps next, but after that Greg can’t see a future for it in its present incarnation, in Shelburne. He also cannot see his building being moved to another location, where the festival could utilize it. For him, the logical thing would be for the Town to give him back his investment and for him to then return that money to the people and organizations  that donated the funds, for the pole barn to be built.

The public outrage over the sale has materialized in various forms, from letters and social media, to petitions to demand that the sale be scrapped. The largest if these, an effort from resident Wendy Simpson, currently has over 800 signatures and counting. The Holmes say that they have some 200 names on one of their own and there may be others as well. This accounts for a minimum of 1,000 angry citizens and it does not stop there. One letter to the editor, from Sharon and Edd O’Gorman, titled “Note to Shelburne Council Members,” expressed their outrage at the proposal and at Council for voting unanimously to support the sale. They feel that the decision was underhanded and question both the integrity and the ideals of the current council members. Both the O’Gormans have been very active in community activities, including the Co-op Nursery School, the Kinsmen Club and the Block Parent initiative in Shelburne, and ended their letter by saying: “All we can say is that it must have been one hell of a deal for someone, but not the taxpayers.”

It is clear from these types of comments and reactions, that a large segment of the population in town, are far from pleased with their Council’s decision and want answers and explanations. Council may feel that they are making the best fiscal choices for the future of Shelburne and its growing population, but they are treading on sacred ground for many residents and may be doing so at their peril.

It is, after all, an election year and without there being adequate explanations and transparency concerning this matter, the residents may well speak with their votes rather than their voices.

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