By Dan McNeil
(Jan-Feb 2020) – The Steering Committee has finished steering – let’s hope the ship is on course to bring it into a safe and financially secure harbour.
The Central Elgin (CE) Council meeting of November 21, 2019 endorsed the final version of the Port Stanley Harbour Secondary Plan. After two years of controversy we finally have a plan supported by all of Council. The next step is, surprise, further ‘public engagement.’ Under the goal of “A Thriving Economy and a Sustainable Community,” CE’s objective is to “ … complete the planning for the future development of the harbour area” by 2020-21.
The “plan” is on the CE website in Report CEP.72.19 (21 Nov). Dillon Consulting provided a presentation to the Steering Committee on November 14, 2019. Go to www.centralelgin.org , click on “Business and Development,” then click on “Port Stanley Harbour,” and click again on “Planning and Development.” Finally, you will see a box, “Previous Meetings/Concepts.” After selecting this you will be given options to view presentations in April, July and November.
The July presentation was a forum held at Port Stanley Arena and Community Centre to test the public reaction to a rather ambitious plan that included ‘highrises’ and some intense, mixed-use development. It includes a synopsis of public input on height proposals, transportation and parking. There are strong differences of opinion in the village and throughout the municipality.
At one end of the spectrum are locals who think visitors should be forced to park outside the village and be shuttled in; only residents should get permits to drive and park in town. There should be limits on development to avoid traffic and parking problems. The people at the other end of the spectrum think taking over the harbour was a risky proposition. There is a level of appropriate development that must take place to mitigate the financial risks. They would support higher intensity of development if it moved towards reducing the high level of residential taxes in CE.
The Harbour Plan is a high-level policy document that maps out potential land uses. Eventually it will guide development only when other circumstances dictate that the development should take place, including public support for individual projects. Thus, although many vocal Port Stanley residents are against development over four stories, the current plan will allow six stories in special circumstances.
Specifically, Port Stanley would be improved if it became more of a four-season destination with a hotel-conference centre that came with some architectural excitement.
The Harbour Plan has ‘modest ambitions.’ It will not please people who don’t want change. It will not please people who want to see Port Stanley’s harbour become the best it can be.
Fortunately, Council is rightly concerned about the financial future. Their new harbour vision statement contains the bottom line: “The development of the Harbour lands will be planned with a range of uses to be financially self-sustaining with revenue generation as a focus for the long term.” Concerns have been expressed about money being available for dredging and for contingencies like the current flood risk on Lake Erie.
Some people prefer to minimize this concern as in the Port Stanley Village Association report on the evening of November 14, 2019. When asked if future dredging may have to be paid from the CE tax base, the reply was: “If taxpayers were required to pay for dredging, the cost would be approximately $12.50 per taxpayer per year.” We should all take great exception to this attitude – no analysis, terrible mathematics, and a ‘it will be ok, someone else will look after it.’ Unlike fair taxes that depend upon income and an ability to pay, residential taxes only apply to property owners, who may not even live in the area.
Furthermore, the new plan continues to speak to amenities like new marinas in the municipal harbour. This will never happen without a new $3 million breakwater at the harbour entrance. As reported in the September issue, Council approved $500,000 to urgently install a ‘mini-breakwater’ that likely would never get regulatory approvals this year (or next?). Where is the plan and the money for this essential infrastructure? We are all anticipating our safe, financially secure, harbour.