By Dan McNeil
(March 2019) – An examination of Port Stanley’s 1989 Official Plan allows one to review community attitudes in a different time. What were the intentions and objectives 30 years ago and how do they apply today? Traffic and parking were concerns, especially as the village was adapting from being a summer destination to a year-round place to live.
The 1989 policy promoted access to Lake Erie and its beaches for everyone. Its objectives included:
- “To promote the rehabilitation and redevelopment of the Lake Erie beachfront lands to revitalize this area for the enjoyment of residents and tourists alike;
- “To provide and maintain public access to and along the Lake Erie beachfront; and
- “To secure beachfront lands through the purchase, lease and/or easement agreements for public open space purposes … ”.
The Village of Port Stanley did a great job preserving public access to Lake Erie. Central Elgin today promotes the four public beaches available to residents and visitors: our Main ‘Blue Flag’ Beach, Little Beach just off the berm, Pumphouse Beach and Erie Rest Beach at the western end. Each has its unique ambiance, with people visiting the beaches year-round.
Part of the charm of Erie Rest is its history. In 1889 John Mitchell owned most of the lakefront west of the Village. He filed plans for subdivisions of “summer colonies” along the beach. Later he developed lots inland and provided these lots “deeded access to the beach.” Finally, he established a beach area at the western end for all residents of the Village. Legal documents quote him saying: “The beach was to be kept inviolate for the children of Port Stanley.” That is why it is a public beach available to everyone. For different historical reasons, the beaches west of Erie Rest are privately owned to the water’s edge.
Port Stanley’s four public beaches are seen as ‘community beaches’ with the emphasis on a wide demographic from teenagers, young families with children, to retirees. About 10 years ago, Council decided beach services, including managed parking, could only be improved with a funding stream from paid parking. They created a “business unit” for beach parking for annual budget scrutiny. This was much fairer to municipal ratepayers and allowed for significant improvements to be made.
The beach area at Erie Rest has been a travesty in terms of parking availability and traffic issues. Note the plethora of ‘no parking’ signs and barriers, private and public in the area. At peak times in the summer police have had to be called and serious safety concerns arose. This has also created friction among property owners and visitors. It became a big summer parking ticket revenue generator for the municipality. Unfortunately, this type of revenue generates more bad feelings than income.
Council examined the issue and approved the construction of a new parking lot as part of the 2018 Capital Budget. For many, Erie Rest Beach was a ‘free’ alternative to Main Beach. Nevertheless, it is also busy throughout the year as a popular place to go for a walk. Staff studied the situation and recommended a 100-space parking lot as a reasonable size to solve the problems. It was also decided that because of construction and maintenance costs it would be subject to the same fees, in the summer, as Main Beach.
Once engineering plans were produced, they were reviewed with the Kettle Creek Conservation Authority. Most of 2019 was spent consulting a ‘shoreline engineer’ with the aim of preserving the integrity of the ‘dynamic beach zone.’ This reduced the parking lot size to only 56 spaces. On the plus side, the engineers verified the beach is ‘accreting’ and could be expanded, as necessary, in the future. Last November a nearby cottage owner addressed Council to convince them to further reduce the size of the lot. Other interventions have been attempted to change this decision.
As of early February, the process to tender the parking lot has not yet been finalized. Given the general issues of parking and traffic we should all examine closely any justification the current Council would use to make the parking lot any smaller than is necessary. The public interest is at stake as well as the integrity of Council.