Burlington community gets its chance to offer their design for the Beachway; more than 70 citizens participate.


By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  June 29, 2012  It was pretty close to the  best community engagement meeting this city has seen since hundreds of us gathered at the Mainway Arena December 2010 to let the province know we didn’t like what they had in the way of plans for the Escarpment.

The meeting at the Arts Centre last night was a little more limited in its scope but no less important for the near term and long term growth of the city.

The meeting had 70 people in the room, working over ten foot long sheets of paper with a detailed picture of the waterfront from the western edge of Spencer Smith Park to the canal that defines our border with Hamilton.

The waterfront on the Hamilton side of the canal is robust, busy; used by people and a fun place to be.  The Burlington side of the Beachway is a little on the desolate side with very little activity.

The young people get out there at night and howl with too much alcohol in their systems as they roam on the sands along the beach.  It is far from a safe place late at night many evenings.

Waterfront Advisory Committee chair Nick Leblovic debates with others during the Beachway Design Workshop. The Waterfront Committee is expected to put forward some views in the fall.

While the property belongs to the Conservation Authority, except for the close to 30 homes dotted through the stretch of land, it is managed as a park by the city.  It isn’t a park with anything in the way of program.  There is a concession stand that is open in the summer; there are washrooms the Regional Health department might want to have a look at some day.

The Pump House is there waiting for a new life and the Water Sewage Treatment plant on the north side of Lakeshore Road – undergoes a significant upgrade and some expansion.  The plans the Region has to shield the sewage treatment plant behind rows of trees when the construction work is done will improve the streetscape considerably.

But what is going to be in a part of the city that is now a kind of nature preserve, home to what the Region has referred to as a “dynamic beach” by which they mean sands that are constantly shifting and the base for some very significant flora.

It is not a people place right now.  It has a rag tag bit of a community made up of people who see the location as their home with a couple of speculators amongst them expecting to make a killing once development is allowed.

And that of course is the 800 pound gorilla of a word that sits there waiting for everyone to decide what to do with it.

Don’t expect to ever see anything that even hints of the word “new structure” south of the old railway embankment.  That is just not going to happen.  This isn’t Florida.  There is a small park, the Pump House will at some point get put to good public use, the Concession stand will be brought into the 21st century.

But there is more than that happening along the Beachway.  The Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital is re-orienting their site and will look out over the lake in a way they haven’t in the past.  A clutch of buildings that size will have a significant impact on the Beachway.  We don’t know yet what that impact is going to be – but there will be an impact.

Six to eight people gathered around each table and marked up maps and exchanged ideas with others. All the ideas and the data will get pulled into a report that will eventually get to city council and the Regional government.

Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Mead Ward wants to see “eyes on the street” which we take to mean she would like to see it as a place where people live and perhaps even work.

Ward 1 Councillor Rick Craven hasn’t revealed a position yet.  He did say, in a jocular tone, that he thought the Pump House would make an excellent official residence for the Ward Councillor.  The city needs quite a bit more in terms of leadership from the Councillor on this one.

Meed Ward takes the view that as a city Councillor she represents the direct interests of her constituents but sees herself as perfectly free to talk about ideas for any part of the city.  That approach doesn’t sit well with Craven – but as this council now knows – there is no stopping Meed Ward.  This is a bigger picture politician.

The Waterfront Advisory committee has decided it will lead from behind and is waiting to see what the report from last night’s meeting has to say.  They expect to have something to say in the fall.

The Manager of Council Committees services, Grant Bivol, has completed the first draft of his report on the effectiveness of the Waterfront committee.  The report has come back to Bivol for some revision and will get sent to council committee soon.  Waterfront Advisory may not be around to offer any advice come the fall.  And that would be regrettable.  The city needs a citizens committee to offer advice; the one in place now will probably not exist at the end of the year.

These homes between the Lakeshore Road and the QEW are privately owned.  Is there a future for this very small enclave.  Some home owners have invested significantly to improve their property.  Other buildings are left to languish. The community needs some leadership, if not from the Ward Councillor then from city council.

There is room for some development in the Omaha and Willow Streets part of the Beachway.  This would be a great part of the city for an arts community; a quiet enclave where artisans could do their work.  Small consulting firms would fit into this kind of environment as well.

Many of these homes back onto the old railway embankment – now known as the Waterfront Trail. Is there a future for these homes? Has either the city, the Region or the Conservation Authority made a point of listening to the view of these property owners? Have the property owners managed to make their case and delegate to the levels of government that determine what their property future might look like?

And what can be done with the houses that are on the south side of Lakeshore that back into the railway embankment?

The walking path has become the back yard for some of the houses along there; they are basically encroaching on public property.

The Thursday evening meeting was the third in a series that started with an event at the Waterfront Hotel where the home owners were out in force telling their story and getting very emotional in the process.  The second took place in Milton where maybe two people from the Milton community showed up.

Each of the ten tables set up on Thursday, had all the tools you needed to mark up the maps, write in comments, draw lines and argue a point of view.  There was a facilitator at each table taking notes that will get pulled together into a document the region will then use to prepare a draft recommendation that will go to the Regional Standing Committee that handles parks related matters and to all the municipalities.

The Conservation Authority will get involved – they do own the land that is not in private hands.

Senior Regional Planner Stirling Todd talks with Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward – each has their own agenda when it comes to the Master Plan for the Beachway.

During the past year and a half, the Region  has had their Senior Planner, Stirling Todd,  attending Burlington’s Waterfront Advisory and Access Committee.  On numerous occasions Todd has spoken of the dynamic beach and the threats it faces with the moving of sand.  This, along with flooding potential, was mentioned almost every time Todd spoke.  The Waterfront people and the Conservation Authority as well as the community in the Beachway,  wanted to know if the dynamic beach had in fact shifted – and it had, further out and not further in as Todd has consistently claimed.

Serious flooding during a 1970 storm got upgraded to a threat that made the whole area very unsafe were water to come roaring in over the railway embankment.   The community was told that the water would pool on the north side of the embankment and be a serious public hazard.

The Water Treatment plant lies in this same area but there is never any mention of the flooding impacting on that plant.  Imagine the mess if the sewage treatment plant was taken out of commission because of a flood?   Flooding is never mentioned when people talk of the Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital which is in that part of the Beachway.  The hospital is reported to be in the lowest part of the flood plain  but that hasn’t stopped them from rushing forward with plans to have shovels in the ground by the end of the year putting up a significant addition to the hospital.

People gathered at the more than 12 tables at the Arts Centre and worked through what they would like to see done in terms of a design for the Beachway Park. The facilitator never used the word community to describe the area that holds 30 homes. City General Manager Community Services Scott Stewart looked in on the conversations.

One gets the impression that the Region’s Senior Planner was being somewhat disingenuous with the people in the area that own property and using the dynamic beach and the flooding possibilities to scare the local residents who just want their community to remain.

The Region and the Conservation Authority do have an agenda; they just haven’t shown their hand yet.

The Workshop was led by a very able facilitator who used different language Thursday evening as he described the location.  Last night he consistently referred to the place as a “park”.  That was not a word he used as often during the first two public meetings he facilitated.

While the location is indeed a park, it is also a community and a part of the city that houses the sewage treatment plant and a large marshalling yard for Ministry of Transportation vehicles.  Using the word “park” all the time kind of precludes any other possibilities.  The Beachway has a rich history as a community; and it is a community today.

Laura and Glen Gillespie, two Beachway residents who are proud home owners were very vocal at the first community meeting.  Laura, a bright vivacious woman tends to get emotional when she talks about her home.  Both she and her husband can be disruptive and they are very direct.  This is where they live and they have the sense that they play no part in what is going to happen to them.  Many others in the community feel the same way – but they don’t state their concerns as directly as the Gillespie’s.

Glen and Laura Gillespie were greeted by the event facilitator when they arrived to register.

When they entered the meeting room last night the facilitator was right there beside them, almost like a police officer keeping an eye on a truant – he didn’t want the trouble makers getting out of hand and ruining his meeting.

Laura Gillespie points to a part of the Beachway that is important to her and her husband – it’s where her home is located. The Gillespie’s have been very vocal with their views and they speak for much of the Beachway community.

The Gillespie’s aren’t trouble makers – they are property owners who want informed answers to their questions.  They had hoped to be able to talk with their council member – he chose not to engage them and suggested they make an appointment to meet with him.

The Region has a policy of buying up every piece of property that came on the market but the formula they use for determining the price the Region/Conservation Authority will offer results in private interests buying up the properties.  Is there any land assembly taking place – hard to tell but most people don’t think so.

Parking seemed to be the biggest concern.  There is bus service into the area.

No one spoke all that passionately about putting the Freeman Station somewhere along the Beachway Park.

Councillor Jack Dennison and downtown resident and Waterfront Advisory Committee member Bob Wingfield talk through a viewpoint on the Beachway. Bob’s wife looks on.

Mark Gordon, a downtown core resident  reflected on the meetings that brought Spencer Smith Park into being and said the meeting that focused on the Beachway last night was not much different.  Gordon added that it took a long, long time for the citizen involvement to have any impact.  Spencer’s at the Waterfront restaurant was supposed to be a “family” restaurant – and it certainly isn’t that today.  Families get shuffled off into the lower level where they can buy candy from vending machines or hot dogs and hamburgers from a counter.  They are decent hamburgers however and the place is clean.

The Beachway – that magnificent stretch of sand that was once bordered on the north by a CN rail line and was once the location for very close to 300 homes that began as summer cottages and over time got upgraded to year round homes.

Most were on leases from CN Rail.  When the Conservation Authority took possession of the rail line and the land, the leases came with the land.  When the leases expired they weren’t renewed and one by one the houses were torn down.

Three of the six Burlington council members were in attendance; Meed Ward, Craven and Dennison, those with a significant interest in how that part of the city develops.  Mayor Goldring did not attend.

The city has yet to put forward an opinion and the Beachway isn’t a large part of the Official Plan Review.  It’s almost as if the Beachway isn’t something the city can do anything about or isn’t ready to come forward with an opinion and offer a sound sense of direction to the Region.

Every member of council will refer to that part of the city as the jewel in the city’s crown – but no one seems to want to polish the jewel and make it something worth showing off and making use of.

There have been plans for the Beachway  part of the city right back to the days when the former Mayor of Toronto David Crombie created the Waterfront Trail.  There was once going to be A Discovery Centre close to the canal but that went to Hamilton where it failed.

Former Toronto Mayor David  Crombie told the Waterfront Advisory Committee when he spoke to them that there was a time when Burlington was a leader in waterfront advocacy but that that was some time ago and is no longer the case today.

One of the Molinaro boys quietly listening to the conversation on how best to use the Beachway.

So – what does Burlington want to do with the Beachway?  Spencer Smith Park is well developed, heavily used and a splendid place to spend time – any time of the year.

There is a future for the Beachway as well  – but if the citizens have ideas, hopes or aspirations for that part of the city – they need to make their voices heard now, or the Conservation Authority and the Region’s Senior Planner will impose what they think we should have.

Along with the 70 people on the room toiling over maps and fervently discussing their ideas, there was at least one city developer quietly listening.





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2 comments to Burlington community gets its chance to offer their design for the Beachway; more than 70 citizens participate.

  • glenn gillespie

    good afternoon

    my name is glenn i am the guy they call at city hall the talkative agreessive one . in realty i am very quite and almost always happy . the issue with are houses i think is a complicated one , that is even more complicated by the misinformation about who owns what . all the houses down on lakeshore are owned there are no more leased homes . the home owners down here are professionals some are teachers some are business owners some are retired city workers , some are hospital care givers some are even firefighters. the common theme is that every person contributes something . i would like to take a moment and clear up somethings that are not true .

    1. none of us are on the dynamic beach if you look at the most recent maps provided by the very people trying to get rid of us
    2. we could all live somewhere else but we have found are little piece of paradise and are not here so we can rake in large amounts of money by selling are home . this whole issue has devalued and scared many people away from even considering living here . like i tell everyone we didn’t buy this house to sell it . if the city offered us a million dollars i would not sell . there is no amount of money that could change are minds . we could live anywhere we choose here

    3. that are homes are run down . please come and see for yourself my door is always open i live at 978 lakeshore rd .are house is brand new . as are some of the others

    4, as john stated the city has always had a chance to buy the houses and never did meanwhile keeping the threat of getting rid of the houses over are heads . which to me is a form of harrassment and discriminatory and bullying not to meantion cruel

    5. are houses are always being reasssed and are taxes keep going up even though we are made to endure substandard services such as road work not to meantion that we live a hundred meters from the sewage treatment plant and are required to be on septic . last time i looked burlington was a modern city .

    6. the people at city hall have coined some frases to discribe the beach residence which are to name a few we have been call degenerates and the area referred to as the wild west . if you where to come down to are house on a fri or sat night you certainly wouldn’t see load partys very weekend .

    7 we the residence provide safe haven for those who need it . i remember walking with my wife laura down the path like we do every night and all of a sudden my wife takes off and is calling out stop that. when i finally caught up with her and realized what was happening i saw 5 people kicking and punching a young man who was on the ground . i went in to the fight and stopped them from doing it they all ran away . the boy had a broken jaw busted nose and could of been killed . imagine for a moment my wife all 110 pounds trying to stop something like that and she did not even know the boy but she still risked her safety for a stranger because this is where we live and who we are .the police came in force after she called them and they arrested a few of the people who had beaten the boy . if not for my wife doing something they may of killed this kid or hurt him even more then he was . we have stepped in many times like this . we have stopped fights , gien safe haven for people that have been scared or hurt , helped people having heart attacks and strokes .lost animals or just a freindly warm hello so they know someone cares

    this community is like any other we take pride in are homes we care about the people who share are community and we are good decent people who deserve to be treated better then we have been . this community has been here for well over 100 years and when others talk about burlington they always refer to the beach or brant inn or the cruis ships that used to come or the amusement park that was here . that is where we live . now we have people from everywhere coming down and have discovered the magical place called burlington beach . i say hello to very single person that passes are house if i am out there beacuse we are the gate way to burlington and i want people to know this is a great place with great people . my wife laughes because she is so shy and just wants to play in her garden and people are always stopping and talking with her it has drawn her out of her shell . the common statement is this . wow your home is beautiful your garden is amazing ,i wish i lived here . wow people wish they lived here . maybe with this statement you can see why we care so deeply for this place and why it is a emotional thing

    so when your walking down the path and you see are houses imagine what it would look like if it was a parking lot instead and if you need assistance please ask or knock on are door we are always willing to help,i wish people would tell there councillors and are mayor how they feel . if it was your community i would certainly stand up and speak for you and tell them No this is wrong this is not what i elected you for . we live in a world where no one speaks up and makes it right well this is one time we should all rise up with one voice and say NO this is wrong

    take care glenn

  • John Lawson

    Enjoyed your informitive comments. Yes there are some that will get a little emotional when they see their homes arbitrarily get taken off a map.But many like myself are professionals and independent business people. We take the emotion out and look at the facts. I own two properties on the beach side of Lakeshore crt. One personally the other through a holding company. I have owned these properties for eight years and picked them up for a price of $370000. Imagine 2 properties with direct access to one of the best beaches in Southern Ontario plus a beautiful view of the Great Lake Ontario for the combined price of $370k.The region had every opportunity to buy these properties. Within this period I have seen 5 properties purchased at exceptionally low prices.The region failed to buy these as well. Basically the region says they are interested in this area but they are not prepared to pay anything close to market values. These properties have had substantial upgrades and now have market value that has doubled. We are not waiting for some big bucks from land developers. We are just like anyone else that own real estate in Burlington. We want to beautify our properties and enjoy them. And when we sell we want fair market value. In the meantime we are organizing and preparing to have meaninful discussion with various stakeholders. We realize that this is a long term process After all it has taken 5 yrs and we haven’t finished the pier. -It could take 30 to 50 yrs before the beach gets any substantial development.