This week’s meeting of Council includes a number of substantial issues on the agenda. Many of them are only preludes to more significant discussions in the meetings to come but they do lay out many of the key issues that Council will need to address in the months to come. I suggest you pay attention to the issues that may impact your interests and or business, because when it’s too late, it really is too late.
As an aside – I’m quite impressed by the work of Staff to proactively address issues facing the Council and the Town by means of their reports and recommendations. They are well done and largely require Council only to weigh the merits of the various issues and render a decision.
The big issue on the agenda is ‘free parking’ in the downtown. This was a suggestion raised by an embattled Mayor and Council a year ago when a motion was put forward to install parking meters on Bay Street that raised the ire of the local business community. It was also at a time when Mayor and Council were dealing with the blowback of their decision to terminate the appointment of the Chair of the Parry Sound Downtown Business Association (DBA), for petty and/or political reasons. (Yup, we forgive but we don’t forget.) That decision by Council resulted in three members of the DBA resigning from the board. Mayor and Council decided to throw the DBA some sort of bone, in this case the prospect of free parking to stimulate increased shopping in the downtown. So here it is in front of Council. More information can be found under Item 9.4.2. A reminder, there really is no free lunch, and I suspect no free parking. Someone will need to pay. If it’s the public, expect an additional 1.5% increase in your taxes at some point in the future depending on the final decision of Council.
Not all the issues on the agenda are discussed below, just those I feel are of some importance or require more immediate attention on the part of the public. Refer to the full agenda package at the Town’s website for a complete list of items and the supporting materials.
4.1, 4.2, 4.3 – Installation of audible signals at James and Seguin and Miller and Seguin. A series of letters offering support for the installation of audible signals at the intersections of James and Seguin and Miller.
4.6 – Request to consider the early adoption of Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) in Parry Sound. The Tesla people feel Parry Sound should have a public charging station for electric vehicles to permit their travel on the Toronto to Sudbury corridor. Isn’t this something that should be left to private industry? Do we have public recharging stations in Town for propane-powered vehicles? I’ll need to read it again to make proper sense of what’s being requested. It’s not likely to be a pressing issue.
5.1 – Tim Dyer, White Squall. Re: REEL Paddling Film Festival.
5.2 – Anne Bossart. Re: Update on activities at Tower Hill Gardens
Resolutions and Direction to Staff
9.1.1 – OPP Billing – Court Security Costs for 2015. It’s a Catch-22 for the Town. The Province agrees that the charges for court security are too high so they are offering a reduction. But the proposed amount would exceed the maximum allowable cost reduction for 2015, so there is no reduction. Pretty slick, you add a charge, and then reverse a portion of it, but the reduction can’t be collected.
9.3.1 – Withdrawal from Proposal – 71 Parry Sound Road. This is a big issue. It references the proposed development of the multi-acre property off of Parry Sound Road. The Town wanted to get contractual assurances that the development would proceed at a defined schedule, and if not, the property would be returned to the Town. The developers have balked at that proposal so the Town is preparing to rescind the development proposal. One interesting factoid – the Town would have been on the hook to provide water and sewer services to the edge of the development at an estimated cost of $2 million, with no likelihood of the cost being recovered from the developers or future residents of the development. If you want a deal real bad there is always someone who has a real bad deal for you. Good riddance.
9.3.2 – New Site Plan Control By-law – Request to Start. Our current by-law for site plan control is decades old. Staff is proposing to update the document to the 21st Century.
9.3.3 – Policy – Leasing Town-owned Lands and Water Lots. Staff has thrown a number of options at Council of how the Town can collect revenue from the Town’s water lots. Right now the Town receives revenue from the municipal taxes paid on the commercial assets that make use of the lots. So this is a way to squeeze out more revenue. Staff is asking Council to approve the development of a by-law in time for the March 3rd meeting of Council. That seems a bit too soon to permit effected businesses and the public to review the proposal and provide comment.
9.3.5 – Rezoning Application – Z14-07 – Parry Sound Dock Company Limited. This concerns the landlocked property off of Emily Street previously reviewed by Council. Staff is not supporting the rezoning request on the basis of existing policy but understand that Council has already given approval in principle and may choose to approve the request. We have seen this type of situation before where politics or common sense trump written policy.
9.3.6 – Drainage Regulation. This is pretty simple. Staff is telling Council that the Town can’t regulate drainage requirements for private lot development without requiring a site plan, which is expensive and burdensome. So, the Town will simply need to let neighbours fight it out in court if there is an issue.
9.4.2 – 2 Hour Free Parking. Kudos to Staff for doing the work and bringing it back to Council. There is so much in the council package that I’m left confused, 51 pages and 7 options. The core recommendation is that the Town remove all parking fees for a trial period of six months, and limit parking to 2 hours in certain areas and more in others. This trial will cost the Town about $85,000 and will be taken from the parking reserves, which has a significant surplus. It’s hard to tell what the net/net is for the Parry Sound taxpayer, but it seems that a free parking program with appropriate parking enforcement, there seems to be agreement that there will be abuse if there is no enforcement, will drain the parking reserves by 2018. And this would then require the DBA to pay up or taxes to the general public to be increased by 1.5% or so. One criticism of the proposal is that it was developed by Town Staff and the Parry Sound Downtown Business Association, a party with a very vested interest in eliminating parking costs. Who was there to represent the interests of the non-business taxpayer and explore other options and recommendations? Will there be an open meeting to present the proposal, the options and the implications? Or are residents expected to pick up on this issue from a 51 page report that I will say is comprehensive and in some ways incomprehensible. I guess it will be Council’s responsibility to take into account the interests of the Town residents who may end up footing the bill. The bottom line is that the Downtown Business Association is expecting free parking will improve their business and profits. If it will, and if it does, shouldn’t they be asked to cover the costs associated with the Town maintaining parking of any sort – resurfacing, snow removal, enforcement (if necessary), painting, etc.?
10.3.1 – Rezoning Application – Z14-06 – Waltmar Inc. – 2 Oastler Park Drive. Staff is proposing that the business be provided a two-year Temporary Use By-law if they agree to relocate the entrance to the property directly across from the entry to the Sobeys / Canadian Tire entrance at the applicant’s expense. A question for Staff and Council, is the property owner taxed on the assessed value of the empty lot or a lot with temporary improvements? It seems to me that taxes are based on the assessed value of the property and MPAC is unlikely to assess this property for a few years. This may be a ‘profitable’ arrangement on the part of Waltmar and/or the property owners, improved use at unimproved taxes. Why not move down the road a couple of hundred meters and get the benefit of Seguin tax rates?
10.4.1 – Agreement bylaw for shared By-law Enforcement Services with the Township of the Archipelago.
It’s an interesting agenda with more subtleties and potential conflicts of interest than I’m willing to go on record suggesting. Take the time to read and understand the issues, they may come back to bite us. Oh, let’s not forget that Council is also meeting on Wednesday to discuss the 2015 budget. I will be at both meetings and hope to see you there.
It will Take More Than Free Parking (Parry Sound in Black & White)