Organizer hopes to find lasting solution for public waterfront 'gem'
Now that all eyes are on a small waterfront property in Midland due to a swell of community support in protecting the ‘hidden gem’, the main voice initiating the conversation took time to share a few words.
MidlandToday reached out to Germain Proulx, the organizer of an online petition titled 'save 349 Lakewood Drive for public Georgian Bay water access'.
"Lakewood residents are pleased with the meaningful support and cooperation shown by this council," wrote Proulx via email.
When asked if the outcome of the property designation as surplus land being defeated was expected by the community and petitioners, he responded that residents would continue to work with the town for "a fair and equitable permanent solution" in protecting the land and water access.
The access at 349 Lakewood Dr. is located on a road which begins with a "no exit" sign, and which does not have a property marker identifying it from the street. However, a string of footprints from both human and animal mark a well-worn path from the road down to the water. A log placed along one side midway down is a visible caution to a steep drop where water runoff flows into the bay. At the water's edge, two plastic lawnchairs have been placed as waypoints for public usage.
One point Proulx countered within the article was in regards to raising awareness to its existence for those in the community and visiting from elsewhere.
"We appreciate the fact that this lot is mostly a hidden gem, as was stated by a number of councillors at (the recent) council meeting, but our community of residents has always been welcoming and never intended to purposely make the small natural trail to the bay located at 349 Lakewood Drive hidden," said Proulx. "This is why we initially asked for a park designation in order to create more certainty in the long term, while keeping it publicly accessible."
Town officials confirmed to MidlandToday that anyone can use the public water access since it's not for the exclusive use of residents living in the immediate area.
Many townsfolk attended the recent committee of the whole meeting, armed with a 400-person petition and the passion to keep 349 Lakewood Dr. out of the hands of developers.
One of the signatories was former Coun. Cody Oschefski, who campaigned for deputy mayor last fall in favour of lowering municipal taxes and moving ahead with the Midland Bay Landing development project.
In his hope council "would protect the Lakewood Dr. site and not allow development, Oschefski lobbied current councillors and asked others on his Facebook page to sign the petition to "help us protect our environment and give the message to council that we can't lose any more public access to Georgian Bay.
"This site has been deemed a Natural Heritage site and has also been identified as a highly vulnerable aquifer," Oschefski wrote, adding this is a place his family enjoys visiting since they live nearby.
"This has been used and maintained by the area residents for decades," he wrote. "Access to outdoor playspace is critical to a child's development and a human's mental health in general. We are asking that this be deemed a park for public use and not sold for short term gain."
Once the committee of the whole had raised the topic of the open space being used by residents, discussion revolved around issues of: liability for injury or drowning; increased traffic on the road; litter; and other legal matters of cost associated with the 'hidden gem'.
Proulx was asked if the cost and liability for a redesignation of the open space zoning into a parkland or natural heritage designation was discussed within the community of the online petition, but a direct response wasn't given.
"We initially asked for a park designation in order to create more certainty in the long term, while keeping it publicly accessible. In order to preserve the natural setting of the site, common sense suggests that traffic should remain minimal. The lack of a sign indicating that use is at one's own risk was probably an oversight and would be a responsible thing to put in place," added Proulx.
Four municipal properties were suggested by staff to be placed on the annual surplus list for the town to gain revenue if sold; the committee of the whole voted to approve three of those as surplus while 349 Lakewood Drive alone was defeated.
As pointed out in the discussion, the vote to defeat putting the property on the surplus list didn't change anything regarding its zoning as open space in the municipality; without some measure of action, it would likely continue to reappear annually on the surplus list as a potential source of revenue.
Suggested during the meeting by Coun. Bill Meridis was a mass buy-in for concerned residents to band together and put in a bid in hopes that 349 Lakewood Drive could be theirs – once it comes back onto the surplus list again.
The consideration was quickly dismissed by Proulx: "Forcing residents that have assumed this feature of our neighborhood to be permanent to suddenly pay large sums of money with a gun to our head in order to prevent the lot from being sold for development would be akin to highway robbery."
Proulx also wanted to address the “one-year reprieve” noted in the MidlandToday article.
"Although (Coun.) Meridis suggested in his comments during debate that (349 Lakewood Drive returning to the surplus list next year) could be the case, (Mayor Bill) Gordon clearly committed that this issue would not be revisited for the full four-year term of this council," stated Proulx.
However, until such a motion is brought forward to the town addressing 349 Lakewood Drive, no municipal action has been taken as of yet by council or staff regarding the property past its removal from the surplus list.
"We plan on working with the town to find a more permanent solution as was proposed by the mayor and some councillors during debate," added Proulx. "The residents are working constructively with the town to find a permanent solution that will protect the natural environment and public access to Georgian Bay. Not a single bad thing here."
Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca