The large crowd gathered at the Breslau Community Centre Tuesday night went home happy, Woolwich council having killed the prospect of selling off part of the adjacent parkland.
Most of those who came out on a very wintry evening did so to voice their opposition to the sale of part of Breslau Memorial Park to the Waterloo Catholic District School Board. The few supporters who did show up were likely less disappointed than the opponents would have been if the vote had gone the other way.
In the end, it was the 10-to-1 turnout by those in favour of keeping the park intact that swayed things. Coun. Mark Bauman played the hero, reversing course to split the vote evenly at 3-3, enough to defeat a motion that the township declare part of the land as surplus, a prelude to selling it off. The arguments made and the volume of opponents that showed up, versus the numbers of those in favour, led to the Ward 2 councillor’s change of heart.
The numbers were nothing like an even split.
The plan to sell parkland to the school board had been a divisive issue since it was first made public early in 2015. Even after township efforts to get the word out via a community taskforce did little to bridge the divide. While informal canvassing of households in Breslau by taskforce members showed 36.5 per cent were in favour, 34.6 per cent opposed and 21.5 per cent undecided, the split was nothing like that through the many public meetings and the feedback received by the township.
Prior to the vote, councillors had heard plenty of reasoned arguments for scrapping the deal – and few in favour of going through with it – and more than a few pleas to do right by the people of Breslau, who have a long, bumpy history with the township. Past history and more recent animosity towards Woolwich officials left many feeling the community wouldn’t get a fair shake, that the sale was a done deal no matter what the people said.
“For them to come down here saying they want to listen, then vote in favour after hearing what we had to say, well … that would say something,” noted vocal opponent Matthew VanderMeer after the meeting.
He and others who took up the cause of defending the parkland argued throughout the process that the sale would weaken community spirit, discourage volunteers and set back fundraising among those eager to make the park improvements Woolwich touted as the end result of the $1.75-million deal. Forego the money, keep the parkland, and rely on the community to raise the money itself, in partnership with the township, they argued.
Now, the residents will have to follow through.
The only way things get done is by the community leading the way. A big fundraising effort will be needed to upgrade what everyone acknowledges as a rundown park. The township, too, will have to act, setting its own financial plan for contributing to maintenance and upgrades at the site. Both parties will have to sit down cooperatively, trying to put aside past grievances.
Some kind of committee, rolled out as a way to involve the public when the township was on track to sell the land, will be needed to set priorities and lead fundraising efforts. It’s at that point that Breslau residents, having argued they have a history of coming together to raise money for community projects – rather than selling off parkland, residents can raise the needed money, they said – can put their money where their mouths are.