(The text has been lightly edited to correct grammatical errors and add a couple of clarifications. These changes are noted in italics)
What seems like a title for a Zane Grey novel is the best description I could come up with concerning a dispute between the Town and a property owner regarding property access and development. Until last week I had no idea a Rabbit Canyon Trail even existed, or at least not the name of the trail. Then the Town of Parry Sound’s news release kicked things off.
The Rabbit Canyon Trail refers to the small ungroomed foot and bike path that leads from Waubuno Beach past the old pumphouse to the Tony Agnello Water Treatment Plant. I have walked and cycled along this path hundreds of times over the past decade. A small portion of the trail is located on private property located to the northwest of Waubuno Beach. The image below highlights the property (red) and shows the two trails. The trail closest to the shore is the Rabbit Canyon Trail. The property in question is about two-thirds of an acre with an MPAC assessed value of $95,000.
The history of the property is recounted in the Town’s news release pasted below.
My understanding is that the property was sold to an individual in 1998 as part of a larger deal that involved Town property on what is now Baycrest Drive. The sale of the larger property was made on the understanding, if not the condition, that the property would be developed as residences. This has been the case with almost all of the lots developed. The Baycrest Drive development has an approximate MPAC assessment value of $10 million. That is worth about $150,000 annually in tax revenue and perhaps another $25,000 a year in water services. My back of the envelope calculation suggests that the development has been worth about $2 million to date in property taxes with the promise of a similar ‘tax annuity’ going forward. That is in addition to the original purchase price paid by the Developer. It should be remembered that the Town has been collecting property taxes on the lot in question for more than two decades. (Note – this transaction was revisited by Council in 2006.)
The Developer and the Town entered into an agreement that has for the most part worked out well for all involved. The neighbourhood is one of the most desirable, and high priced, in the Town and has been a magnet of sorts for upscale folks interested in living in Parry Sound. While many professionals, like those who work at the hospital or in law offices, have chosen to live on a waterfront property in one of the neighbouring municipalities, a number would prefer to be closer to work and not have to worry about a well and septic. Beyond Baycrest Drive there are relatively few upscale residential options in the Town besides condo living. This relative scarcity of options has certainly helped the Developer in finding buyers. At the same time the Town has benefited from having upscale accommodations to attract necessary professionals. Housing is perhaps the number one challenge in the area, regardless of price. We are short on services because professionals from the GTA, and I include tradespeople here, who want to be close to nature can’t find reasonable accommodation, at reasonable prices.
The Developer it seems would like to develop the property that spans the two town trails. They had an agreement in principle to be permitted to construct some sort of a ‘bridge’ over the Rotary Algonquin Regiment Fitness Trail to access the property from Baycrest Drive. The Town, in reading their news release, has decided that while they may have agreed in principle to the access now feels that it is not now in the ‘public interest’ to permit it. I can understand their position.
But, the Developer has delivered on the promises they made as part of the original agreement. Can the Town unilaterally decide that they will not honour this part of the agreement? It’s not as though there isn’t documentation regarding the expectations of both parties with regards to this property.
But, the Developer has a piece of property that is both desirable and undesirable as a residence. Yes, it does in theory have a view of the Big Sound, but the property is also sandwiched between two trails and on land that folks have come to use as a public park. Does any homeowner really want people on the trail checking out what’s going on in their yard and house at all times of the day and night? And building a ‘bridge’ to access the property will require a right-of-way from property from a Baycrest Drive, impacting lot value there. The logistics of building a bridge also seem difficult, expensive, and frankly, unrealistic. After a ‘landing spot’ for the bridge there isn’t that much land to work with for anything more than a bunkie.
The Town doesn’t want to negatively impact the Rotary Algonquin Regiment Fitness Trail, an Amazing Place, with a bridge running over it. There won’t be much traffic or sound, but it really won’t provide a sense of nature. Would a bridge over the trail be any worse than the multiple trestles that crisscross the Town?
But, I think the Town wants people who do business with it to believe that the Town’s word and agreement can be trusted, even if it is little more than a handshake. This is now in question for an agreement that is much more than a handshake. Two current members of council were on council in 2006 when it revisited the agreement or understanding with the Developer. Did they at the time have no intention of honouring the outlines of the agreement? Or, did they have every intention of honouring it but now find it more ‘convenient’ to ignore it. There are communities in Canada who have well over a century of experience with governments preferring not to honour earlier agreements because it is not in the ‘public interest’.
Arguably the town holds the hammer, if not the sickle, in this situation. They have apparently simply said ‘nyet’ to the counterproposals offered by the Developer to address the impasse. I have not found that to be an effective way to do business. Failing to honour earlier agreements means that new developers will be more cautious in trusting the word of Staff and Council. If they are smart, they will attempt to gain their own leverage that can be pulled out when the Town backs off its commitments.
It seems to me that there is an agreement to be reached that may require all the parties to give a bit more than they would like. In the business world this is known as ‘taking a haircut’. But they can then move on to more important activities that benefit the Town and their own business.
I would suggest that if Staff and Council can’t handle this type of negotiation with some professionalism and ‘class’ they had better buckle up for when developers get ready to develop the property traversed by the Voldemort Trail. This the trail system that ‘shall not be mentioned’ on the other side of Salt Dock Road. There have been multiple no trespassing signs posted on the private property for more than a decade. This hasn’t stopped folks from treating it like municipal property. Securing legitimate public access to this trail if development on the property were to start will probably require the Town to exchange some waterfront rights to the actual North Shore Rugged Trail. I can imagine the screams that will be heard from people if the Town were to suggest that they won’t negotiate.
Let’s get this done, it’s a no-brainer. It’s time to head down to the barbershop and get a trim. Let’s not turn this into a Zane Grey sequel, ‘Shootout at Rabbit Canyon Trail’.
Disclosure: I have no financial or other material interest in the outcome of this issue, but I would like to have continued access to the Rabbit Canyon Trail. I would also like to see evidence that the Town does live up to its agreements, even if they are a handshake. It’s the basis of trust that permeates all parts of municipal government, and our trust in their decisions and actions. I have spoken to the representative for the Developer regarding this issue. I have not spoken to the Town. My experience has been that the Town will not discuss the issue with me because I am not a party to the matter. My understanding is that they won’t even speak with the developer’s representative in a constructive manner.