Well this has become interesting if you are a fan of municipal politics and zoning.
Please take my comments in the same light as you would a sportswriter who follows the Maple Leafs and is offering an analysis of the team’s prospects; who might be traded and possible changes in team management. I’m just watching and offering some thoughts on what is likely to happen. I’m not particularly interested in the outcome. This may seem a bit cold to some but as you may discover it’s easier covering the Leafs if you’re not a Leafs fan. It allows for a little bit more perspective. I realize that there are people involved who will be impacted whatever the final decision.
I am of course referring to the request from The French School Board and Canadore College in Parry Sound to permit the use of the Canadore facilities for French elementary school education in Town. I will not rehash the arguments for, or against, the request but start with the decision of Parry Sound’s Council last night and forecast what I see as the near and longer term outcomes.
Last night Council resoundingly rejected Staff’s recommendation that the necessary rezoning request be approved to permit the use for a one year period of the Canadore facilities for a French elementary school. With a recorded vote the proposal was unanimously defeated.
In my experience the proposal of Staff was made in the best interests of Town resources and existing best municipal practices as outlined below and provided the opportunity for a negotiated settlement in the next twelve months. The decision of Council was political. They are after all politicians. They might like to think of themselves as judges weighing the facts and making decisions in the best interests of the community. But the request for a recorded vote clearly indicated that they didn’t want to be on the ‘wrong’ side of an unpopular issue. Having watched and followed Council for about nine years now I have come to realize that they really don’t want to oppose vocal organized groups – witness the fluoridation vote. If possible, they prefer to hand off the decision.
My belief is that the French School will be located at Canadore for the coming school year. The French Board is interested in renting the space and Canadore is interested in renting it to them. We have a willing seller and buyer. There is little or no time to make alternate arrangements on the part of the French Board and the basement of a church is not at all practical. It’s like asking them to move to the back of the bus. Terrible optics even if they are not real.
Canadore is not going to call the police to have the students, teachers and administrators removed from the campus. The Town won’t either, even if it had the standing to do so.
I am sure that the French Board will appeal Council’s decision last night, or I would in their position. This means the issue will be brought before a municipal tribunal for review and a final decision. It will take at least twelve months for the necessary hearings to take place and a decision to be rendered. The coming school year is safe. The French Board can in the interim make arrangements for the following year although I expect that it won’t need to.
I mentioned earlier that I think Staff made the ‘safe’ recommendation for a one-year use of Canadore. That’s because it will be very hard for the Tribunal to deny the appeal of the French School Board and reject their rezoning application. They may even suggest that it be extended to two years or more. I’m sure Canadore will present information that they do not have enough students to use the complete facility and that the French School can be accommodated without compromising their services. I suspect that Canadore will also argue that the revenue from the rental is critical to their financial future with the many Provincial Government cuts to education. The overall argument will be that there is unused space available and there is a group interested in renting it. It’s not as though the space is being rented for use as a Cannabis Store, a fast food establishment or a bank. The proposed rezoning is quite consistent with the established zoning and existing use.
What does the Town argue in return? Probably something like, the French School will make it more difficult for Canadore to deliver the post graduate and adult education services that were part of its charter. Canadore will probably respond that the remaining facility resources are quite sufficient to meet the education needs of the community. Canadore will likely argue that having excess unused capacity will not increase enrollment or programs but may in fact cause them to reduce offerings because of the financial squeeze brought on by the loss of a committed tenant.
The Town also will have a bit of a cost issue related to any appeal. Because Staff recommended that the property be rezoned, they will not easily be able to argue that the rezoning shouldn’t be approved. That means Council will need to go to outside counsel to defend their decision. The cost may be on the order of $50K or more. The French Board on the other hand has greater resources and I would imagine at least one staff Planner and Lawyer to organize and present their case. Parry Sound Council faced a similar situation about 7 years ago but dodged a bullet when the party who lost the rezoning request chose to fold their tent and not take it any further. More recently there was the case of the Royal Bank of Canada move to the south end. I was the person who opposed the move and appealed the decision. It cost me about $1K to win the first round but I folded after realizing that it would cost $40K to move to the next stage and parties that had initially offered support did not step up. The Town in the RBC move case had no financial liability because the developer picked up the costs that I expect were on the order of $40K just for taking me on in the first round and not winning. You’ve got to know when to hold them and know when to fold them.
That’s how I see it playing out in the near term. In the long term I think Canadore will wind up their operations in Parry Sound and retreat to North Bay in the next few years. What are you going to do about that Council? Have you unintentionally killed formal adult education in Parry Sound because of politics? But come election year they won’t have to take criticism for making a tough decision. They can blame the Tribunal.
Bonus prediction – the Leafs will be better than the Senators. Actually they have to be better. This prediction thing isn’t too hard if you consider the issues, identify alternatives, and don’t have a stake in the outcome.