Madam Chair, Your Worship, Councillors and Staff:
Thank you for arranging this public meeting and allowing all of us to address you.
I appreciate that you are well within your legal rights to sell parkland and open space, even when it has been conveyed to the Town by a developer or has been dedicated to a well respected and loved citizen. Is it morally and ethically acceptable? That is for each of you to decide based on your own fundamental beliefs and values.
I very clearly have an emotional attachment to Don Maynard Park. The land was dedicated to dad in 2003 while he was alive, by a Mayor, Councillors and Town Staff who were very appreciative of all that my dad had done for this community over several decades. I am not currently a resident or taxpayer of Mississippi Mills, but I lived here for 48 years and I expect to move back. I care deeply for Almonte where I was born and raised, and Ramsay and Pakenham where I worked and played and my kids participated in sports. It bothers me to see my town being ripped apart with many people and groups feeling that they have to square off with the Town because they don’t believe that they are being heard and doubt that the Mayor and Councilors really have their best interests at heart.
I am concerned that you are relying far too much on the 2013 Parks and Recreation Master Plan prepared by Stantec. I am not sure how many of you have actually really looked at the Plan.
The Master Plan uses data taken from a 2013 survey that was not readily available to every resident of Mississippi Mills. Only 220 surveys were completed and based on Question 15 “Provide the Address of Your Home in Mississippi Mills”, almost 10% of Respondents did not live in Mississippi Mills so their responses should not have been included. Of the Respondents who lived in Mississippi Mills, 81% were from Almonte when only 38% of the population of Mississippi Mills lives in Almonte. This leads to an immediate skew in favour of facilities in Almonte. Stantec’s reasoning for declaring Don Maynard Park as being surplus to the Town’s needs is that it is “adjacent to Holy Name of Mary elementary school site that has a developed playground including a play structure”. This is saying that parks are only for kids when in fact they should be developed for every age group. A similar argument is given for declaring Munro Meadows Park surplus “(It) is not required for neighbourhood park purposes. For example, all of the lots in the subdivision are of a size that a play structure could easily be located on them without the need to use public land”.
A May 1, 2011 document titled “A Research Paper Prepared for the Association of Municipal Managers, Clerks and Treasurers of Ontario” reports:
CE (Citizen Engagement) provides an opportunity for citizens to have a say in matters affecting their lives and in fact, values the rights of citizens in this regard. Its principles include the sharing of information, power and mutual respect between governments and its citizens. It requires a commitment from government to work with its citizens in a consistent and ongoing way so that they gain an understanding about issues in their community, identify potential solutions that might exist and provide an opportunity for those citizens to use their knowledge to help develop policies and programs that affect them. It means citizens are full participants in the policy process and that their input has actually been given significant weight in the development of policy
The report further says:
From a citizen’s perspective, CE demonstrates a commitment by government to be accountable, democratic and transparent. It brings awareness of issues to the forefront and provides an opportunity for learning and discussion. It also provides the public with the opportunity to participate other than just at election time. Lastly, it empowers citizens and promotes a sense of community involvement. What it accomplishes in the end is the cultivation of trust and civic capacity which may ultimately result in increased levels of civic engagement and political participation. For all of these reasons, it should be
questioned why governments don’t participate in CE practices more often?”
This report was written by the Chief Administrative Officer of Mississippi Mills, Diane Smithson. Mrs. Smithson’s report very accurately reflects the principles of the Community Official Plan of Mississippi Mills. The very first paragraph of the Plan states “The Mississippi Mills Community Official Plan is a legal document containing the goals, objectives and policies which guide the development, growth and change of the Town of Mississippi Mills. This Plan is intended to assist Town Council and its various committees, municipal staff, developers, government agencies and the public in their efforts to maintain and strengthen the environmental, economic, physical and social fabric of the Town of Mississippi Mills.”
Most municipalities have an “Official Plan” created by elected officials and their staff. Mississippi Mills has been much more inclusive with its “Community Official Plan”. Section 1.1 of the Plan includes the statement “The Mississippi Mills Community Official Plan has been developed through extensive community consultation and reflects the collective views and values of the community. There has also been consultation with government agencies in order that the Plan may reflect the policies and practices of the various public bodies involved in the management of growth and development.”
Over the years several Councils, not just the present one, have veered away from the Plan when it comes to parkland and open space. Section 3.7.6 of the Plan states in part “It is a goal of this Plan to: Promote and develop public open spaces to service the recreation, leisure and quality of life needs of the community.
Section 3.7.9 (1) establishes “Development Standards for Parks” that must be followed. These are very specific and not optional. The section states:
The development of new parks or significant changes to existing parks SHALL be carried out through a three-stage process.
The first stage SHALL involve public consultation on the function of the park, needs of the anticipated uses and specific features or characteristics valued by the residents.
The second phase SHALL include the development of a general concept plan and cost estimate, prepared by a recreation planner or landscape architect, in conjunction with interested members of the public.
The final stage SHALL include a detailed site development plan and the implementation and phasing of the park plan.
In a legal document such as the Community Official Plan, the word shall means must and there is no other interpretation.
Every park project currently in process in Mississippi Mills is in non-compliance with the Community Official Plan. Of biggest concern is the Gemmill Park project with its huge price tag.
The public was never consulted about the function of the park, what they would like to see incorporated into design or even who would be the users of the facilities.
There was not a concept plan with a cost estimate prepared in conjunction with interested members of the public. The original concept plan was completed on June 9, 2000 with revisions completed on June 23, 2016. The “Public Meeting” for input was held on June 29, 2016, after the revisions to the concept plan, so input was not considered. .And the only estimate for the project is a “Class D Cost Estimate” dated March 7, 2016, that estimates the costs to be $ 992,404 plus HST for a grand total of $ 1,121,416. Class D estimates are usually the initial estimates to rough out a project and are recognized to have variances of +/- 30%. The concept plans shows very long service runs from Bridge Street and Naismith Drive but no cost estimates are available for the servicing. The estimate being used can only be based on the 2000 concept plan because the June 23, 2016 revisions were made after the date of the estimate, March 7, 2016.
And there were not final, detailed site development plans prepared for the recent RFP. Projects this poorly planned go 3, 4, 5 times over budget and more. We have all seen provincial and federal projects go horribly over budget. Once you start, you can’t really stop. The Town has no concrete funding for the project. One of their sources was going to be the sale of Don Maynard Park and Block 42 and possibly Munro Meadows Park, but any rezoning of these lands will be appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board and the appeals would not be heard until 2017. Grant money from Canada 150 has not been confirmed. Funding will have to be taken from the current budget at the expense of other budget items, or will substantially deplete reserves. Gemmill Park is a boondoggle and planning needs to be started over with the proper input from the public, proper drawings and accurate estimates.
The Gemmill Park project creates at least two environmental concerns. The Park has the butternut tree which is an endangered species and there are guidelines in place to protect it. And according to the “Ontario Recovery Strategy Series” published by the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Rapids Clubtail Dragonfly”s “habitat should include the section of the river containing the rapids, the pools below the rapids, plus the wooded shores on either side, extending inland to include any forest which is within 800 metres of the shoreline. Roughly half of Gemmill Park, including the areas where the project is planned, is within 800 metres of the shoreline and is certainly forested.
As I have said before, my children, dad’s other grandchildren and I are upset that the Town would consider doing this to my dad who was honoured while he was still living and could appreciate the recognition. We are not mad, just very sad. We saw dad overcome with emotion when the Don Maynard Park sign was unveiled during the August 17, 2003 park dedication. Dad always tried to stay composed but this recognition meant so much to him that he teared up and could not speak for a few minutes. I knew that this was likely going to be the last time that my dad was able to spend much time outside of his home in the company of peers, friends and family. His health was failing and he was hospitalized just a year later in August, 2004 and died on October 17, 2004. I spent many days with my dad as he lay in the hospital for the last two months of his life and he often spoke with pride that the Town considered him worthy of such an honour. My dad did not give so much of his time to help the Town and mentor students for the recognition; he was truly an altruistic man. In his own words dad “just got interested in the town” and wanted to help out where he could. And he did, from helping establish the first Parks and Recreation Committee in Almonte and serving on it for over 20 years, to being active on the Almonte Arena Building Committee, to being on the fundraising committee for the new gym at the high school. Dad taught and mentored two generations at Almonte High. He always tried to include as many kids as possible in sports regardless of athletic ability or ability to pay for proper sports gear. One of dad’s former students told me that when he went to gym class in long pants and long sleeve shirt because his family could not afford the extra expense for gym wear, dad outfitted him completely without anybody knowing and dad paid for the clothes himself. Everybody who wanted to be on dad’s football teams was on dad’s football teams. Our benches could never hold all of our team. And if you were from Middleville, Pakenham or other rural areas dad would drive you home in our huge station wagon after practice because buses did run that late. Shortly before he died, dad told me that he was content with the life that he lived and the contributions that he made to help his adopted town and its residents, and the thousands of students that he taught and coached.
Although our family is upset at the thought of losing the dedicated “Don Maynard Park”, we know that dad would be much more upset at the thought that parkland and open space was being taken from the people. Dad encouraged physical activity in people of all ages. It was important to him to help the Town improve and acquire parkland and he would not sit idly by now while the Town tried to say that any parkland was “surplus to the Town’s needs”. This is why many of us are trying to speak for him.
I experienced firsthand one of dad’s greatest attributes; he never lost faith in anybody and was always there if you needed a hand up after being beaten down by life. As I struggled with alcohol and depression and had damaged and destroyed pretty much everything good in my life, my dad never judged me or gave up on me. It has taken me a long time to get where I am now in life, and I owe a lot to my dad for helping me believe in myself. 12 years after his death, I still get strength from my dad. My dad didn’t quit on me and I won’t quit on him as you try to take away his park, as you dispose of parkland and open space and allow every park in Mississippi Mills to fall into ruin in direct contrast to his visions for the Town that he loved.