Strat Plan Part 3: The Waterfront

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The waterfront. It defines us geographically, historically and culturally. What could be more important to Collingwood than its waterfront that covers the entire northern border of this sleepy, lakeside town?

Well, pretty much anything else it seems, if you you’re on Collingwood Council. Pick the most irrelevant, pointless, self-aggrandizing effort – like rewriting the Code of Conduct or flying around the country to party at taxpayers’ expense – and this council will eagerly pounce on it as a priority rather than deal with waterfront issues.

Council is determined to hold up growth and development on this all-important area until sometime before the next Ice Age. Or until the waterfront master plan is developed, which may take longer. This imaginary plan isn’t even in the discussion stage, hasn’t been approved, budgeted or initiated. Yet Deputy Mayor Saunderson uses the idea of a notion of a possibility of a potential proposal for a plan in the undefined future to halt waterfront growth. When you can’t decide: send in The Procrastinator! (enter Arnie in leather jacket, red eye gleaming…)

But what about our budding woo-hoo strategic plan? It lists but one objective for this significant area: Public Access to a Revitalized Waterfront. That’s a pretty limited vision. But perhaps our collective committee isn’t really aware of the waterfront. Perhaps they never visit it. As as Montaigne said,

Of what use are colours to someone who does not know how to paint?

“Revitalized” is a flaccid buzzword: the term isn’t defined and there’s nothing in any of the action items to describe what they mean by it. Sure, it means to impart new vigour, but that’s too vague to base any realistic, budgeted plan on. The rest, as you will read, is woo-hoo.

You have to admit this is a pretty pointless objective since we already have public access to all of the publicly-owned waterfront land and have had it for decades. I wonder why no one pointed out this very basic fact to the participants. See my Montaigne quote, above.

Why did no one point out the uncomfortable fact that most of our waterfront is privately owned? Any plans to access private land are simply wishful thinking. Or drug-induced.

Private land can’t be part of a public plan. That’s not merely unrealistic – it’s arrogant. Maybe this council has secret plans to expropriate some private waterfront property. Won’t they be surprised to find the legislation doesn’t allow expropriation for trails?

DilbertThe three main areas of existing public access are through Harbourview Park, the Spit (with its mis-named “Millennium” Park) and Sunset Point. That’s a lot of public land and access. Kilometers of shoreline and trails.

There is a public path and trail around the Shipyards property, as well as the berm and amphitheatre, and the sewage treatment plant. Plus there’s public access at White’s Bay and the land on the west side of the harbour. No problem accessing a single centimetre of any of that land.

Revitalizing – whatever that means – any of that land won’t alter access. Besides, how do you “revitalize” wetlands and natural growth areas? Or rocky beachfront?

The previous section of the plan already said the town should incur no more debt, do no more spending. So how is anyone going to revitalize anything without funds? This sort of fuzzy-headed thinking is why this stuff is all woo-hoo rather than something practical.

Participants were asked to prioritize the following goals and action items. They’re worth examining in detail.  Try not to wince.

Goal: Ensure a comprehensive Waterfront Master Plan (WMP) that provides the basis for an Amendment to the Town’s Official Plan, guides future development as well as preserves natural and cultural heritage and improves public access. The waterfront is defined as border to border within Collingwood.

Well, since this magical waterfront plan hasn’t been started, won’t be started for at last another year and won’t come to any conclusions until perhaps 2017 at the soonest – this merely solidifies the reasons to delay doing anything positive or active about the waterfront until then.

It is, however, a superb excuse for council to avoid decisions for half their term or more. This will be known as the Council That Planned for Plans. The Procrastinator’s approach to modern governance. By the time council is ready to make a decision it will be campaign time.

But what sort of amendment (who capitalizes this stuff?) are they requesting? This is beyond vague: amendments are specific changes, not some nebulous flight of fancy, Can someone actually make a decision on something so egregiously undefined? Or do they all have crystal balls with which to foresee what sort of amendment is proposed, and aren’t telling us?  Anyone who chooses this option is clearly making an uninformed decision. No surprises there, of course.

As for guiding development – this is what an official plan does already. Don’t they know that?

And as for improving public access: it’s already there. Any remaining land that doesn’t have it now is private property. Council cannot force public access onto private land. Not even the Politburo at council can do that.

Given the saccharine nature of parts of this strategic plan, is there any reason to believe a future waterfront plan won’t be a similar stew of woo-hoo codswallop and generic feel-good gooeyness? And don’t you just love the slew of acronyms and initialisms we’re getting through this process. I’ll CBSP your WMP any time…

Goal: Create a corridor linking the downtown to the waterfront

Another thing that is already done. It’s been in place for the past six or so years. I’m surprised none of the participants ever walked from the downtown to the water to discover it. It could have saved them a lot of mental anguish. In fact, you can walk from downtown right along the shipyards property on a public corridor and right into Harbourview Park.

There’s even a cruise boat parked there, right at the end of the downtown. Funny they didn’t know that, either.

There is a small, two-block section east of Hurontario missing the walkway that will be completed when the Shipyards resumes development (assuming council doesn’t try to stop them until the next magic plan is developed…). That’s in the Shipyards site development agreement (another thing this group probably didn’t read).

You have to wonder why people were selected for this committee who apparently know nothing about our town. Ah, yes, of course, friends and supporters of council during the campaign…

Goal: Explore partnership opportunities to improve public access to the waterfront.

Since we already have public access to a huge swatch of public land that runs from Black Ash Creek to Heritage Drive, and from Sunset Point to the Pretty River, what sort of “partnership” do we need?

Council has already ruled out any partnership with private developers. Local developer Steve Assaff offered to trade the town six acres of pristine waterfront land in that empty section between the parks in exchange for a small, weed-infested, landlocked dead zone called Block Nine (the lot with the mosquito breeding ground locally known as Saunderson’s Pond – it should probably be renamed Block None because none is the amount of serious thought council put into making its decision to hang onto it…).  Council said no.

That exchange would have created even more public access to the waterfront and linked the public waterfront sections and allowed for more trails to connect Harbourview and Sunset Point. But our Deputy Mayor and the rest of the Politburo decided they needed their magical plan before they could make a decision. When in doubt: procrastinate!

Apparently we elected people whose main purpose at the table is to sit on their backsides and wait to be told by unelected folks what to do. A rather different definition of the word “leadership” than I know.

So much for these “partnerships.” Council in its wisdom (insert appropriate guffaw here) shot the legs out from under any possible future cooperation. No need to “explore” this goal further. Maybe next term things will allow for more normal “explorations.”

Then after this single goal come the action items. Unlike the items under the fallaciously-named section for accountable government (it really should have been named “Ways to propagandize our plan”), there are some items here that require actual action, not just talking about it or stamping logos on everything. But as expected, there’s a lot of bunkum and woo-hoo involved.

ACTION ITEM: Develop Terms of Reference for the WMP. The WMP may include elements such as attraction of tourism, shoreline management protection, preservation of natural areas, future development, public access, and water and land uses..

Let’s see if I have this straight. The so-called strategic plan committee was actually created to set the terms of reference for yet another plan… so we have to plan to plan. Straight from the Department of Redundancy Department.

Isn’t it a bit curious that this group now thinks it is empowered to create the terms for a plan that has not even been discussed by council nor approved in any budget? Was that authority in their terms of reference? I don’t think so. And where was the public input on developing these terms? Curiously missing.  Well, who needs accountability and transparency anyway?

But did you get the definition? The WWP may include…. all sorts of things no one at council has even mentioned in a public discussion. An apparently another committee of council’s friends are going to develop policies for local land use. Did you elect this shadow government?

ACTION ITEM: Investigate alternative financing, such as through a Community Improvement Plan, to fund downtown improvements and public facilities along the waterfront. These improvements could be integrated with the WMP.

Like most upper-tier funding plans this one is short-term and won’t outlast the current government (now that an election’s been called, it’s essentially toast). Sure, there will be others, but nothing for at least a year, maybe longer (they tend to arise just before an election).

But what sort of improvements do they want? Another vague notion without enough information to make an informed choice. And what have downtown improvements to do with the waterfront?

The ‘downtown’ portion of the waterfront is pretty small. Basically a small patch of brickwork and some walkways. It’s not big enough for anything grand in the way of “public facilities”; probably nothing bigger than a kiosk or a washroom, so why do we need to get “alternative financing?”

Or is this where they plan to build the space port? Or maybe it’s for a larger-than-life bronze statue of a former mayor they worship…

And this is from the same group that in the previous section wanted to put a hold on assuming more debt. Isn’t that a contradiction? Have I used the word hypocrisy in this post yet?

ACTION ITEM: Explore opportunities to extend the bike path along the waterfront and beyond.

Uh, the bike trail already extends along the waterfront in all of the public lands available. You can’t extend it through private property without the owner’s permission. And there isn’t a lineup of property owners offering it. What “opportunities” have arisen? Are there land owners suddenly willing to have strangers trespass on their property? Not likely.

This council also said quite clearly it didn’t want that six-acre block of waterfront that could have extended the trail along one of the few areas it doesn’t run. It has already shown disdain for extending the waterfront trails.

A local service club recently offered to build an accessible concrete trail to the water at Sunset Point. That was shunned by Council because the imaginary waterfront plan hasn’t had the proposed preliminary pre-meeting to plan for it.

ACTION ITEM: Explore opportunities to work with landowners and groups to improve public access to the waterfront.

Don’t you love this language: explore opportunities…  who is providing these opportunities? At the present no one is. So there aren’t any opportunities to explore. And how can you improve access to a waterfront that is already accessible over many kilometers?

No one wants the public to traipse through their private property. Little wonder: who wants the noise, the litter, the lack of privacy, the reduced security and the loss of land? Will the town offer compensation or just try to take the land?

This, remember, is the same group that doesn’t want to add more debt (in section one). So how do you get private land without buying it? It’s like they’re trying to blow and suck at the same time.

Notice there’s nothing in this section about adding more docks to attract more boaters, or exploiting the harbour’s economic potentials. Nothing about the terminals or what to do with them. Nothing about events or activities at and on the water. Nothing about finding common ground for all the users of the water, for establishing space for uses. Nothing about water quality or safety. Nothing about waterfront commercial development. Nothing about protecting shore line and environmentally sensitive areas. Nothing about a public marina. Nothing about extending infrastructure along Heritage Drive. Nothing about restoring or retaining our shipyard history or heritage.

Nothing about the wastewater treatment plant either. That is a critical oversight. Upgrading or moving it has been a major local issue for at least the last 25 years. Maybe if these people had actually walked the waterfront they might have noticed it. It’s the big facility east of Harbourview Park and west of the berm. Hard to miss. Just sniff…

Most of this is simply section an excuse to plan to plan for another plan – which is really just a way for council to rationalize avoiding making decisions until then. There is, of course, that little bit of council’s secret agenda peeking out – those references to taking private land to extend the trails.

But there’s nothing strategic about this section. Just more woo-hoo.

Next post I’ll look at what it proposes for economic vitality.

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