Orchard residents don’t like way city staff are interpreting Strategic Plan. Council will find a way to resolve the problem.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  December 16, 2011  –  Your City Council got its Strategic Plan fed back to them on a plate by a delegation of Orchard Park residents who described the document as a paper tiger.

More than 80 residents filled the public gallery and applauded loudly, much to the consternation of committee chair Blair Lancaster, who explained on several occasions that applause was not permitted nor were the decorative signs that got raised in the air by several of the residents.  It was one of the largest delegations this city council has seen since they took office a year ago.

During the event nine delegations were heard, led by Amy Collard who spoke as a private citizen.  She is the Board of Education Trustee for the Orchard Park community.

The complaint was that there was not nearly enough playground/park space in the community and that the city should purchase the excess land around the newly opened John William Boich elementary school that currently has just over 700 students enrolled and expects that to rise to 800 in the near future.

John William Boich elementary school while under construction, was named after one of the co-chairs of the Shape Burlington committee that produced a report that has driven much of the municipal thinking in the city, including the need for a meaningful Strategic Plan the community now wants the city to live up to the contents of the plan.

The community felt the city had let them down because they  believed the land around the edge of the school was always going to be, at least in their minds, parkland/playground space.

The land just east of the Appleby Line/Dundas Road intersection was to originally house a high school which would have had a football field and other physical amenities the community thought they would be able to use.  When an elementary school was developed on the site – things changed and so did the mood of the community.

John William Boich elementary school has 23 K-3 classes and had to hold three  Christmas pageants because their auditorium couldn’t hold everyone if there was a single event.  The closest park for parents to use is almost a kilometre away from the back door of the school – which for the Mother of four plus a dog was, as she put it, more than she could handle with one of the four at the “potty training” stage.

What was evident during the staff presentation was a significant divide in thinking.  Staff had recommended that the city not buy the property available for a playground/park.  When the school board decided to build an elementary school instead of a high school, there was land they didn’t need.  It had to be sold and the rules of the game are that the School Board has to get the best possible price for the land and at the same time has to first make it available to other school boards and the city.

Tough to rationalize that one, when it is clear the city has no extra money and the school board is required to get all they can and when there are developers, who see significant potential for the properties.

Orchard Park residents pack the public gallery at city hall where nine delegations spoke AGAINST a city staff recommendation for parkland in their community.

The community – located in the north east part of the city, has been undergoing rapid growth and is the location for a six lane road that saw a pedestrian killed in a traffic accident recently.   The location is hemmed in by a railway line, Appleby Line and Dundas – and there isn’t a parent in their right mind that is going to attempt to cross either of those roads with a couple of kids in tow.

Council member Rick Craven was having small conniptions, as he listened to the ongoing debate.  From his point of view, he could see the General Brock debate about to take place again.  That situation has property attached to a school that was to be sold and the community did not want to see it used for development.   A deal that works for everyone at that location has yet to be finalized.  Both school boards plus the city came together to make that deal work but the Catholic Board had to pull out – the cost was just too rich for them.

Councillor Craven, who didn’t vote for the solution the council committee came up with for the Orchard Park community, said after the meeting that council members had to learn to say no at some point.  This city council will not be saying no to this committee.

Throughout the ongoing debate and the question and answer that followed each delegation was the question: Is there a compromise here.  Councillor Meed Ward put that question to every delegation and it was clear the community just wanted park/playground space.  At one point there were almost negotiations (If we give you this and let that go for development – will that work?) going on between a delegation and the council members as to what could be hived off for development and what the community needed.

Some of the residents had clearly done better work at setting out the needs of the community.  Staff involved in this one didn’t come off looking all that good.  Hobson Drive resident Allison Scott brought forward some drawings that appeared to be better than anything staff had produced – at least most members of council seemed to think so, when they said they would be looking at the drawings very carefully.  Even Councillor Dennison saw merit in what the resident was proposing – and when it comes to going over ideas Dennison is about as picky as you can get.

City Council has handed off another tough one to General Manager Community Services Scott Stewart.

General Manager Community Services Scott Stewart could see a tough one coming his way.  He was eventually asked to have his staff make some phone calls to the Board of Education to talk about maybe entering into negotiations to acquire the property without knowing if he had any money to spend.

The issue before the Board seemed to be a perceived need to make a decision before the end of the year about the property – but then someone realized all the letter from the Board required was an interest in acquiring the property.  With that realization close to the end of the meeting, everyone breathed a bit of a sigh of relief, as they agreed to get the letter off to the Board and come back in the New Year and figure out how to give the community, what they felt they were entitled to and very much needed.

The city needs to get into the water with this community and listen to their needs and work something out with them.  What was impressive was how much really good homework had been done by the residents and how prepared city council was to find a solution for them.

Councillor Paul Sharman made sure his constituents got to be heard as they delegated city council to ensure they would have the park space they needed and felt they deserved.

Orchard Park is Councillor Paul Sharman’s territory and he did his best to shepherd his constituents through the meeting and ensure they had every opportunity to make their point.  The delegations included two young girls, who wrote a poem and two mothers who could not hold back the tears.  Sharman has had to deal with a number of problems in this community – the most recent of which was the tearing out of what was believed to be one of the last orchard trees.  Developer Jeff Paiken had bulldozers uproot trees that residents thought were going to remain..  That matter had Sharman calling a special closed door community meeting on a Saturday.  The community is clearly well organized and boisterous to boot.

It looked as if once again Scott Stewart’s trusted side-kick, Parks and Recreation Director Chris Glenn was going to be brought to a negotiation table to do what he appears to do very well.  Glenn handled much of the problem solving with the development of the Alton community, where they are going to have a superb recreation centre, school and library rolled into one very large complex as well as a number of sports fields across the road.

The Orchard Park community wonders, why they aren’t getting similar treatment.  Part of the reason is that Orchard Park was started more than ten years ago and there was never as broad a plan for that community as there is in place for the Alton community.

The planning done around Orchard Park was far from stellar and the community is now paying the price for lots that aren’t large enough and streets that are a little on the narrow side.  There is an opportunity for the city to make amends.

We will return to this issue and follow it closely as we watch how the city puts it brand new Strategic Plan into practice.  The Orchard Park community made it very clear they had read the document carefully, liked what they read and now expect the city to live up to its contents.

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