Shelburne Council quashes plan to sell Fiddle Park to developer

June 21, 2018   ·   0 Comments

Special to the Citizen

Shelburne Council unanimously voted to rescind the proposed sale of Fiddle Park Monday evening, to the applause of those assembled.

After a tumultuous month of protest and recrimination from residents, it became clear to Council that the sale of the park was not in the least way a favourable road to where the Community at large was expecting to go. Although undoubtedly there were residents who  might have been in support of the proposal, they never appeared, either at the scene or on the radar, as the issue progressed to Monday’s end result.

In discussions after the meeting, those councillors who chose to speak presented several possible reasons for the failure of the proposal, but perhaps the most prevalent was poor communication and approach, from many sides.

Councillor Wayde Mills opined that had the entire process been more public and transparent, the outcome may have been different. In his mind, had the Town entered into early conversation with the industries involved and had they, possibly, presented an option of relocating the park, as had been done on all previous reincarnations of Fiddle Park, then the public perception might have been more favourable.

In the end, it was not and what was originally perceived as a, “walk in the park” project, suddenly and surprisingly developed into an all-out confrontation, with the Council unanimously on one side and residents resolutely on the other.

Despite rumours of back-room deals and dubious inter-personal dealings, no confirmations of either were ever presented.  It was suggested by some that  the Town’s ex-CAO was involved from the beginning with the proposed purchaser, Tribute Communities, but again no proof was ever presented and no  solid evidence brought forth to confirm it. Considering that the past CAO was actually retained by the Town to maintain a smooth flow of communications with the various developers and developments in Shelburne, while the newly hired one, Denyse Morrissey got up to speed, would indicate that such would not have been the case at all.

After all was said and done, it is an election year and the residents voices were heard by Council and the decision to not sell the parkland was unanimously supported, in a recorded vote. Prior to that, several members of Council chose to speak to the sale, with the Mayor being the first to explain that with sober contemplations come sobering decisions.

Mayor Ken Bennington explained that in his 18 years on Council, he has always intended to serve the community for which Council existed and that after all was said and done, he had heard the people who elected him and he could and would no longer support the proposed sale.

Councillor Walter Benotto concurred and added that he felt that the community that would have risen there would have been isolated from the rest of Shelburne, due to its location on the very eastern edge of town.

Councillor Mills added that the role of leadership always involves the necessity for hard choices, but also requires that those who lead would also listen to those they serve. Sometimes, and this being one of them, what appeared to be right, may well be wrong and a change of attitude would become necessary. He noted however, that with all decisions come consequences and that this too would bear some, as time progresses.

Councillor Dan Sample stated that this was by far, perhaps, the most difficult decision that Council has faced and he commended the townfolk for speaking out and making their views apparent to Council!

Council is preparing legislation to revoke the designation of Fiddle Park as “surplus land” and will amend the Town’s Official Plan to remove the residential zoning provisions from the land. Although, a future Council could reverse this action, for the present the park cannot be used for any purpose other than a recreational facility.

Since the park is seriously under-used at present, it will now fall to the residents who supported it remaining a park to see to it that it becomes everything that they want  it to be and is fully utilized as well. In the future, this could see the tax rate rise in order to allocate monies from the budget to facilitate improvements to Fiddle Park and other town recreational facilities.

In other business, Council heard an update from Sharon Morden as to the progressions of the Feral Cat Rescue, since last it was heard from and to ask Council for a donation towards its move to Melancthon. She reported that all was moving ahead and that the required re-zoning had been approved. Construction would now begin and several items would require additional monies over and above that which has already been raised. Mayor Bennington presented a motion to allocate $1,500 towards this effort and it was unanimously carried by Council .

Next up, the long-standing issue of sewage lines for two homes on Owen Sound Street was re-visited. The homes, 501 and 503 do not currently have sewage service from the Town, but rather connect to Town sewer mains via inadequate lines which travel through private property, without an easement to allow the Town to service the lines as necessary.

Apparently, this was done by the Town in the 1960’s, when rules and regulations were less strict. The current owners, Bruce Lemcke and son Carl, were unaware of this situation when they purchased the homes, as no records were in evidence nor were there any apparent documents placed with the Town. When they were informed of the problem, they approached the Council for relevant solutions. At this point, after several studies and reports, it has been determined that new service lines would have tombs provided in order to service the properties and that these could be accomplished by only one or the other of two options, neither of which were economical solutions.

The Lemckes feel that this is a Town problem, since they have unearthed first-hand testimony and Provincial records that indicate that it was done by the Town in the first place and is therefore not the owners’ fault. The Town sees things from a different light. Councillors Steve Anderson and Randy Chambers feel that it is a Town problem and that the homeowners should not be paying to update the Town sewage infrastructure, but rather only the actual costs of connection to the sewers. Mayor Bennington, although sympathetic, worried that the Town could be seen to be supporting a loss of development fees, since the son had intended to demolish  one home and build a semi-detached unit instead and then sell that. In the end, Council asked Staff to prepare accurate costings for installing the mains in each option and present this for a final decision at the July 9th Council meeting.

Finally, the long-awaited OPP costing, was to be presented at a special Council Meeting on July 16th, but due to the upcoming municipal elections in October, Councillor Mills suggested that the meeting be postponed until early January 2019. This would then allow the new Council members, if there were to be some, a chance to hear the presentation before having to vote upon it, as the OPP indicated that they would postpone, but would not repeat the presentation, to the new Council.

In addition, Council could find themselves in a lame-duck situation before the election and would, by law, not be allowed to vote on the matter, until after the election. Council saw the reality of this possibility and the relevance of postponing and a motion to so inform the OPP  was accepted and Staff so instructed.

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