Expect some sparks to fly in Woolwich council chambers Tuesday night as the community reacts to a report asserting the township should go ahead with a developing a portion of Victoria Glen Park in Elmira.
Public response was immediate following the release late last week of a staff document in favour of clearing part of the woodland to build small residential subdivision: e-mails, web postings and phone calls launched opponents into action.
“We’re very disappointed,” said Elmira resident Cheryl Fisher in an interview this week. “It seems the money is more important than preserving this area.”
The money is some $1.5 million the township thinks it can raise by developing the parkland, funds it says it needs to help pay for its recent spate of capital projects, including the newly opened Woolwich Memorial Centre.
Opponents, however, want the municipality to come up with other options, maintaining the community voiced its displeasure at a public meeting in June, and in subsequent communications.
“Are you going to listen to us? The people of Elmira have spoken,” said Karen Orr, who lives near the parkland in the town’s north end.
“We were all under the impression it was a park – it should stay a park. There seems to be a definite majority of the town feeling the same way.”
The proposal would see a developer clear part of the forested area to make room for residential development. The properties in question are bounded by Victoria Glen Street, Snyder Avenue North and Dunke Street North. The Kissing Bridge Trail runs to the north.
The parkland under discussion runs along a portion of the existing Victoria Glen Street, and would front on either side of that route’s extension on an unopened road allowance between Dunke Street and Snyder Avenue.
David Brenneman, Woolwich’s chief administrative officer, called the plan a fair compromise, turning 20 per cent of the park into needed cash while helping the township meet provincial requirements for infilling projects rather than so-called greenfield development.
“We feel the township has a very good track record. This could be done in a responsible manner to ensure there is good access and linkage [to trails],” he said, adding this is the fiscally responsible thing to do.
He asked that they look at the proposal objectively – “don’t dismiss development outright.”
But opponents appear unwilling to give in, seeing the sale of parkland as a dangerous precedent.
“It’s not just Victoria Glen – it could be any park in town. We have to fight for our green space,” said Orr.
Angered by what they see as a dismissal of their concerns, opponents are organizing to lobby councillors and to make themselves heard when the staff report is tabled Nov. 3.
“We told you what we wanted, and you’re going to go ahead anyway,” said Elmira resident Rob Thompson in reaction to the recommendation. “It just seems silly the township is even considering this option.”
Opponents thought they’d made themselves clear, expressing disappointment their efforts were apparently disregarded by township staff.
Brenneman, however, challenged claims that staff simply dismissed the public’s input, saying the concerns helped shape the scale of the proposed development.
“We certainly were aware of the concerns that the public brought forward: they didn’t want to see any form of development.
“We think the development is the best choice, despite the public’s position.”
That position will be made clear again Tuesday night; at June’s public meeting, more than 120 people packed council chambers, and a full house is expected yet again.
Organizers are challenging the township to come up with other options for covering its capital spending blitz. They also plan to call the municipality on its claims only 20 per cent of the park would see development.
Fisher disputes the township’s position. The group considers even 20 per cent too much, but the facts look even worse, she said, when you realize the development would impact about half of the land now used for recreational purposes.
“They keep going on that ‘it’s only 20 per cent.’ It’s not. It’s much more than that.”
Opponents may also voice their displeasure with the way the township handled the proposal. While saying all along that it would look at selling surplus properties to help fund the capital campaign, the discussion centered on the old township hall buildings in Elmira and Conestogo, the former Elmira pool property, the former Floradale fire hall and some smaller holdings such as old road allowances. There was never any discussion of selling parkland.
“That came out of the blue. We feel like we’ve been blindsided by calling that land surplus,” said Fisher, noting the public is being asked after the fact to trade off green space for roads, bridges and other capital projects, with the staff report painting a picture of grim consequences.
“They should have been upfront in the first place,” added Orr.
Councillors will discuss the staff report in a committee-of-the-whole meeting that gets underway at 6 p.m. Tuesday evening.