Beachway residents get creative; city hall forgets what satire is – wasn’t Jonathan Swift required reading in high school?

November 26, 2013

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  There are times when you are the butt of the joke and the best thing you can do is go along with the laugh at your expense.  It’s part of our political culture and the truly good politicians learn to laugh at themselves.

The people in the Beachway have an issue with their Ward Councillor and the way he voted so enthusiastically against what they felt was their interests.  It was Councillor Craven’s enthusiasm for getting rid of all the homes that make up the Beachway community and the glee and smugness he displayed that just rubbed the people in the community the wrong way.

As a Standing Committee chair, Ward 1 Councillor Rick Craven is as good as it gets. Handling delegations and accepting the ideas of other people – not as good. But he wins elections.

Councillor Craven is the best Standing Committee chair the city has.  He is a rabid advocate for Aldershot.  Touch that community and you have Rick Craven to deal with.  At a recent Standing Committee he used the phrase “how dare you” when some Members of Council disagreed with the amount of money he wanted to see spent on completing the Plains Road Village Vision.

And, Craven deserves credit for the way he has managed to upgrade Plains Road from what was once a highway that had all the speeding traffic that is part of a throughput road.  Plains Road today is one of the most attractive roads in the city.  The planters and other amenities make it a nice road to drive along and when it is completed and Craven has the bicycle lanes he wants, it will be a pleasant road to bike along to get to the Royal Botanical Gardens.

The Beachway residents had hoped their Council member might be as kind to them and their plight as he has been towards the Plains Road Village Vision but Craven has never liked the Beachway community – sees them as people who threaten the world as he sees it.

The Beachway, which draws more people than Aldershot will ever see, hasn’t had as much as a dime spent on plantings, park benches or a decent upgrade to the old rail bed that is now a walking path.  Not much in the way of signage on the western end of the Beachway either

Trim well maintained homes – do we bulldoze buildings like this for park space?

Katherine Henshell, a lawyer who maintained her office in the Beachway community for a time and explained to a Council Standing Committee that the “willing buyer/willing seller” phrase that was being tossed around was close to a joke.  Council heard one of the most common sense explanations about how the Beachway community was being robbed of a fair value for their properties should they decide to sell.

This is the location of the 30 homes the Regional government would like to at some point buy and demolish and turn into a park. They have a fight on their hands even though the Region won the first round.

The community put up a good fight – the city, after a lot of debate, came out with a luke warm decision that sort of said there could be a community down on the waterfront but it didn’t have all that much punch to the motion that went to the Regional Council – which is where the decision on the Beachway was eventually going to be made.

When the issue went to the Conservation Authority the Beachway residents got a bit of a break.  On a tie vote the Authority said they were not prepared to move forward without a budget in place to buy the homes that would have to go if there was ever going to be a park in the Beachway.  The price to buy out the 30 home owners was at the $10 million point.

The debate then moved to the Regional Committee level where after hours of argument the Committee found that they could not come up with a recommendation everyone on the committee could agree on so it went to Regional Council without a recommendation – something quite unusual at the Regional level.

But when it was debated at the Region – it didn’t matter what argument was put forward – this item was going to be approved with the real push coming from an Oakville council member who put a motion on the floor.

The significant seven had varying ideas with what should happen to the Beachway Park. some saw it as a place that needed to be made nothing but park while others thought it should continue as a small but tightly knit community. Dennison thought some of the properties could be redeveloped and new housing put in place. what was evident was the paucity of their creative thinking.

There were all kinds of amendments and amendments to amendments but the drift was clear – this was going to pass.  The Burlington crew did their best, however Burlington’s city council wasn’t really of one voice – and it showed.

Part of the motion that was passed has the Region developing a draft plan for the park and a process that would come up with a plan to purchase the homes from the current owners on a willing seller/willing buyer basis.  Expropriation was off the table.

An attractive.ell maintained home in the Beachway – the owner struggles to ensure that it will be xxx

The Beachway residents were crushed – but these are a resilient bunch of people who have that streak in them that the residents of the Toronto Islands have.  That community was under threat for yours and a lot of the houses on those islands were bulldozed – but today there is a vibrant community on those islands that makes the space safe for the public and a delight to visit.  For those who live on the Toronto Islands – the place is a paradise to live on.

Henshell, who lives a couple of houses over from where the ward 1 councillor lives (that must get awkward) needed to let Craven know that the Beachway community was not going to go quietly into the night.  Depend on the small Beachway community to become a burr under the saddle that Craven rides into the election in October of next year.

There is already one candidate ready to file papers in January to run against Craven who may well choose to take a run at the Burlington seat when the province  goes to the poll, as expected, in the Spring.  Craven trounced Jane McKenna when she took a flyer and ran against him.  With the right team, and Craven does have a team, he could beat McKenna.

Craven has also mouthed words about possibly taking a run at the office of Mayor; probably not a good career move.

Henshell’s proposal was more tongue in cheek than real.  What was surprising was how some people spent real-time on thinking about how to deal with.  To suggest that the ward Councillors property be turned into a park made a lot of sense to Henshell who argues that  if her house could be turned into a park then there was no reason not to consider turning the ward Councillors home into a park if an argument could be put forward that had some merit.  Henshell argues that her proposal has as much merit as the plan to turn 30 homes in the Beachway into a park.

Henshell explains that Bird Watching is the fastest growing recreational activity in the world. More people consider themselves birdwatchers than hunters, hikers or even skiers.  A designated park for the purposes of Bird Watching would be a unique feature to Burlington which would grow tourism, create jobs and strengthen the economy. It creates an opportunity for Burlington  to become a world renowned city recognized for the preservation, protection and study of birds and wildlife.  Henshell neglected to mention that such a park would add to the city’s luster as the safest medium-sized city in Canada

She provided data that claims: some 46 million Americans are birders, their average age is 49 and they have better than average education and income levels.  Just the kind of people Burlington wants to attract.  54% of birders are female and 46% are male. 72% of birders are married.

This lot once had a house on it. Its future might be to become part of a parking lot – none knows at this point what kind of a park would be created if all the houses were bought and torn down.

This is a great demographic which Henshell is suggesting the city might want to reach out to with a place where people can spend time watching and identifying different bird species.  It could become Point Pelee north if we do it right.

“Birders contribute $32 billion dollars in retail sales annually in the United States which generated $85 billion in economic benefits and created 863,406 jobs.”  Burlington would surely want a piece of that pie.

“Bird watching is a therapeutic tool that provides social, emotional and physical benefits.  Promoting this recreational activity within a senior citizen community can keep senior citizens engaged and active and has similar positive results as pet therapy.”

Henshell failed to propose that a branch of the Seniors’ Centre be included in the Bird Sanctuary.  “Socialization and sharing observations and memories promote community and brings people together and reduces isolation.  Studies continue to prove the enormous stress-reducing capabilities of animals. A simple connection to nature can provide an emotional benefit to reduce feelings of anxiety and loneliness.”  The prime location for the Bird Watching Park would be adjacent to the Bird Sanctuary, as designated by Conservation Halton.

“There exists no public access to this Bird Sanctuary as it is bordered by private residences. A public portal to this Bird Sanctuary would allow Burlington residents to access the benefits of viewing birds in their nests during seasons of migration. As birds have migratory habits, location is key to allow for optimal viewing of rare birds”, explained Henshell.

“The existing Bird Sanctuary is located near the Royal Botanical Gardens and the Burlington landmark of Easterbrook. Tourism would thrive in this area as bird watching, flower viewing and nature viewing are complimentary pursuits.

“Moreover, there are a number of senior citizens homes in the area, some of which already provide transportation services to The Royal Botanical Gardens and which could expand this service to the proposed bird watching park.

Those three indents in the curb were the driveways to houses that used to line Lakeshore Road. They were part of an active, vibrant community that has 30 homes left – which the Region would like to buy out over time and tear everything down and make it a massive park that will get used heavily for the summer months and become a no mans land in the winter. And we all know what happens in space that is not occupied or patrolled.

“Of the private residents located adjacent to the Bird Sanctuary, one property is particularly isolated from the others and is large enough to support a public park for the purposes of bird watching. It is recommended that 614 Bayshore Boulevard, Burlington, Ontario be acquired to allow for park land. This property provides adequate space, viewing capabilities and a quiet tranquility which is necessary for birders to pursue this recreational activity.”

“Other adjacent properties either do not provide adequate land, do not have desirable viewing capabilities, have limited access or do not have self-containment capabilities and therefore cannot be considered.

City hall records indicate that 614 Bayshore Boulevard, Burlington, Ontario is the home of Ward 1 Councilor Rick Craven and his family.

“Economic growth through tourism maintains the current principles for the vision for the future of Burlington.  The City of Burlington needs to take advantage of opportunities that meet city objectives while considering the needs and health benefits of the residents, adds Henshell in her proposal.

Burlington has always been fortunate in having citizens who see the potential for new ideas and aren’t in the least bit shy about putting those ideas into the public realm.

A typical Beachway cottage – one of many that lined LAkeshore road. There was nothing upscale about the structures but they were home to a community hat was vital and robust – part of the DNA still seen in the community. Neither the planners or the politicians fully understand the community. There was a time when Jack Dennison represented that part of the city.

Henshell wants the city to hold a public meeting a) to discuss the need for a designated park for bird watchers; b) to support the acquisition of 614 Bayshore Boulevard,  and, c) to allow for comments from the public to show their support of this initiative. She copied every member of Council as well as the top levels of the city hall staff and included Wild Birds Unlimited, the Toronto Ornithological Club, the Hamilton Parrot Club and the media.

The last of the cottages that were on leased land to be demolished meeting its end with the back hoe. The Beachway Park residents will fight for the next few years to ensure that not one more house in the park get torn down.

The Post took up the story and gave it significant coverage reporting that Henshell said she had no problem with “changing the Craven property into a park – he had no problem changing my property into a park”.  Craven is reported to have said he has no intentions to sell and was reluctant to comment further but did say that: “We understand and know exactly what’s really happening here.”

The Mayor is reported to have said the “proposal” caught him off guard

Somewhere along the way people at city hall, who we assume are all high school graduates, forgot the work of Johnathon Swift and what satire is.

The Beachway community is showing a some spunk. The proposal was a satire with a touch of sarcasm that drew comments showing that some people at city hall don’t have a sense of humour.  Not so funny is that there are people at the General Manager and Director level who are taking this seriously and have spent time wondering how to respond.

The Beachway community is showing a level of spunk that Councillor Craven specifically never did understand and Council as a whole was just not in touch with.  The Beachway, for the majority of this Council,  is not a real place, not something they can see as a place that could become a unique part of the city with a charm and mystery all its own.  Burlington is still clinging to the ticky tacky bungalows and the monster homes plus all the every so correct communities we have now. 

Councillor Lancaster, who as a young girl was not allowed to spend any of her time in the Beachway – it was not the kind of place a proper young woman spent time in – did however have it right when she said all the residents have to do is just not sell their homes and if they have to sell find a buyer who wants to live in a community like the Beachway. 

This is one of those receive and file, send an acknowledging letter and perhaps pass it along to Councillor Craven for comment.

Additional articles on the Beachway and its council member:

Election material available.


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4 comments to Beachway residents get creative; city hall forgets what satire is – wasn’t Jonathan Swift required reading in high school?

  • Fishin' Civil

    One of the arguments that Henshell did not include, I think she should and this may have been due to timing is regarding the City of Burlington’s new Cultural Action Plan recently voted. A birding park on Councillor Cravens property could be the first initiative taken by the Parks and Recreation Department in 2014 as a Park dedicated to Arts and Culture for birdwatchers, photographers, plein air artists, yoga, tai-chi, etc…. a quiet park with public access dedicated to therapeutic birding activities and bird studies.

  • Roger Goldstein

    The beachway properties have been stigmatized, are arguably illiquid, and as a result have suffered from a permanent diminution in value.

    These affected property owners can be entitled to compensation any time they wish to pursue a claim. They just need to find out how to do this.

    The Regional and City property acquisition policies do not trump provincial legislation governing property rights and rights to just compensation resulting from adverse government impositions. The story being told is incomplete.

    As for the bird file, it just exposes the mayor and council as being kind of dumb, and also just how unaware they are of how government acquisition projects are administered.

  • parrking

    I think that Katharine Henshell’s proposal to convert her identified portion of Ward 1 into a bird-watching park is a delightful idea.

    So as to expedite the planning process of converting the sensitive ecological area of Henshell’s concern into a bird-watching park, I will liaison with Conservation Halton about the watershed status of the identified portion of Ward 1; specifically, that of the West Aldershot Watershed as identified in the North Shore Watershed Study.

    According to my assessment, there is sound rationale that the degree of encroachment by the respective residents in the area of bird-watching concern poses a threat to one of the most ecologically diverse regions of Southern Ontario: the Carolinian Forest Zone.

    There are numerous strategic reasons for the acquisition of the West end of Ward 1 beyond the benefits of the local bird population and enjoyment by local residents. Note that the identified area of Ward 1 that is prime bird-watching territory is also dominated by cemetery lands.

    The needs of the dead, the needs of the birds, and the needs of the living are all part of the mosaic of interests within the watershed.
    Given Burlington’s aging population, we must consider the needs of the
    city: we will need more graveyards. It is beyond doubt that the city will need more space to put our dead. By converting the entire area of West Aldershot into a cemetery and bird-watching area, we will be serving the greatest number of stakeholders.

    For the record, nobody is calling for expropriation. I propose that people who wish to keep their home can do so, without question.
    Residents can keep their property and the city can compensate for the devalued property by offering a free grave to residents who decide to stay in their homes. What could be more sanctified than recycling one’s home into a grave and offering one’s corpse to the migratory birds and other fauna of the Northern-most region of the Carolinian Forest?

  • Concerned about Burlington

    One day Craven might understand why people are so angry – in the meantime – can’t wait to see who will run against him. We need a change in that seat. Someone with a personality – PLEASE!!! Being the best Standing Committee Chair is not a pre-requisite to run for Ward 1. If your style is preaching or a wanna be lawyer – we don’t need you but if you listen and are for the people not your own legacy – submit your name in January.