Opinion: Park It

By John Swartz

Monday council debated a new master plan for waterfront parks prepared by Studio TLA consultants. Councillor Tim Lauer as usual waited until everyone else made their points before introducing a different line of thought.

He wanted to know how many people responded to public consultations, to which the consultant, Eliza Oprescu, said about 250 in person and online – with more people at public meetings voicing opinions, but not in writing. She also said it was more people than she’s used to having opinions from.

Lauer then wanted to know how much opinion shaped recommendations, specifically about the boat launch and Terry Fox Circle recommendations, to which Oprescu stated nothing strongly opposed was conversely recommended. With that, Lauer continued by saying the data, which is published in the report, did not line up with his experience.

“It’s at odds with the information I’ve received. Certainly the Terry Fox Circle, whenever that’s been discussed there’s a fairly significant group that is opposed to that (closing).”

“The boat launch, certainly that also has garnered quite a bit of negative, and the skate park, they hope there is something bigger and better coming,” Lauer said.

While he recognized what council was doing with the disposition of the report, he was concerned the public will see it things differently.

“If I’m a citizen, if this thing is approves tonight, then the Terry Fox Circle is gone, the boat launch is there forever and ever, and other components are etched in stone basically,” he said.

Despite all the consultation and focus group input already, Lauer wanted to know if there could be one more opportunity for people to give feedback because despite the high degree of participation already, it’s when council makes a decision people really start hearing opinions – which may be a lot different than opinion heard during the process.

“Generally people do not respond unit you tell them what’s going to happen,” Lauer said. “The minute you say the Terry Fox Circle is gone, then you get a different response.”

“I can guarantee you this will hit the press as, “this is what’s going to happen, these are how these plans are interpreted,”” said Lauer.

On one hand, Lauer was speaking about how people will get the news and make up their minds, but the following comments from some councilors was more about how media may present the story as fait accompli.

That may be what happen elsewhere, but not here at SUNonline/Orillia.  Master plans have come, and master plans have gone. In more than 25 years we have yet to see one play out exactly as first presented, and many never left the shelf they are stored on.

Take the Orillia Rec Centre. What was built differed from the design in the report (after report, after report) of what it will look like and how the land will be used. Things cost very differently on paper than they do in a tender document. Time is a factor as well. New technology, better ideas and changed needs all play a factor in the final outcome.

Take the Tudhope Park master plan, which is very much being used. It is playing out quite a bit differently than the vision in the plan. The difference is the Mariposa Folk Festival came in with a plan after the fact to do some things which will improve the festival and the park at the same time. Some of the things Mariposa proposed were never in the master plan. Some of the things are like the master plan, or work with the master plan, but they were not considered at the time the master plan was adopted.

Just wait for the proposal and the execution of the plan when it’s developed to redo Mississaga Street. I guarantee the two will have points of departure.

First changes will be overdesign. When the junior designers get their mitts on designing the parking lots, we’re going to find there will be fewer spaces than the proposal shows. Why? Because all those concrete islands, spots to grow things that won’t grow well in parking lots, and attempts to direct traffic people just don’t follow take up room – but they look good on paper. Designers also have this crazy idea grass we enjoy walking on needs to be replaced with paving stones so we know where to walk. Cutting down some trees instead of re-thinking building footprint is always quick and easy. Blank pieces of paper are invitations to forget about working with what is already there. The list of things to watch goes on.

Most councillors had three basic objections; parking for sure, and proposals for a skate trail and what to do with the skateboard facility.

Terry Fox Circle

In the case of Councillor Lauer’s disagreement, he believes parking on the Terry Fox Circle should go away, quietly or otherwise. Despite this, he thinks the homework used in the report to justifying removing the parking and vehicle traffic falls short and there is significant opposition to banning cars in that part of the park. It is gone in the proposal, but replaced with more parking spots nearby in the opposite direction of the beach and the Aqua Theatre. He was not alone on this count.

“I have a feeling if we tried to close off the Terry Fox Circle, we’d get a lot of feedback from people that really want to be able to drive through their park,” said Council Pat Hehn.

Councillor Emond noted the amount and quality of the feedback on the Terry Fox Circle.

“As we think about these elements we are prone to bring our personal views to the fore,” Emond said. “If one looks at the actual research that was done and the question of pedestrianization of Terry Fox Circle, 70% of respondents were in favour of the pedestrianization. Certainly when I attended they represented the demographic we speak of as being the most vocal on these issues. (meaning older people),” Emond said.

I’m ambivalent about it. On one hand I park there sometimes, but not as often as I use other lots in the park system. It’s not going to matter to me at the moment whether I walk another 100 feet or 100 yards at this stage of my life.

However, I have observed older people who can’t walk far like to park there. I have observed moms with their kids, and their friends, unloading the whole crew and all the beach toys, blankets, umbrellas, and coolers using those spaces, and I can imagine it would be a lot more difficult having to do so from the lot between Canice and Jarvis Streets.

The road surface needs to be redone anyway. Expanding the width a couple feet on either side so it is roomier is an option, but cutting some of the parking furthest away from the beach is probably a good idea. It is a great spot to cruise through and most don’t race through (what’s the point if you can’t enjoy the scenery). It is possible to have cops stationed nearby at likely times idiots are present (usually later at night), do that for a few weeks and your problem is solved.

Boat Launch

The boat launch parking lot also drew comment, though most of it was astonishment public opinion and the consultant’s recommendation was to keep it. Councillor Hehn picked up on the use of the parking lot by seniors, as SUNonline/Orillia line has also observed many times over the years. The recommendation is to greatly reduce the number of spaces in order to give over some of it to boat trailers.

I have already made an observation here, on the design offered. It seems the consultant tried to make the yes and no crowds happy at the same time, and in the process created something which I believe will prove to be not enough of anything to make it functional or anyone happy.

Here’s the thing council needs to keep in mind on parking. It is a very small percentage of the population of Orillia who live within walking distance of the park. Everyone else will drive to the waterfront, and I’m going to guess a significant number who live close by do too, especially if they have kids. There is a large enough group of people who have mobility issues who will drive to the park. Those people don’t all go to the same part of the park. Thinking, well, we put more than 200 spots way over there should be fine for everybody – when in fact a destination might be the port area, the beach, the boat launch, each a long hike from the extremities of a banished to the fringes parking lot – is not very good.

Various previous versions of waterfront parks plans have reduced parking significantly, one left the same amount. This plan which greatly increases parking availability, distributed throughout the system without messing up the feel of what we all love is a winner.

Skate Trail

Only Councillor Ted Emond was totally in favour of the skate trail proposal. Councillor Mason Ainsworth summed up the opposition ahead of others joining in.

“I’m not supportive of spending $3 million on a skate trail and having a $150,000 operating cost each year,” Ainsworth said, adding it’s already been turned down twice.

However, Emond’s position is worth considering.

“We are currently spending 15 – 20 millions of dollars in infrastructure in our waterfront area in order to bring our park system closer to our city, integrate into our downtown, and yet doing that without doing something to activate our parks, we have a huge stranded asset that sits there 4 to 5 months of the year and we are not getting a return on that asset,” Emond said. If not a skate trail, it needs something he added.

“It is interesting that every single consultant who has advised on the waterfront over the last ten years has recommend a skate trial in this area. That’s an absolutely consistent message we have been getting,” Emond said.

In a prime example of an idea coming in late, councillor Jay Fallis asked if creating a pond using storm water in the area allocated for a trail and letting it be used for skating, working with nature to freeze it, rather than refrigeration pipes, was investigated.

Oprescu said she’d never encountered such a proposal, hadn’t thought of it, but it might be worth looking into. From a personal perspective, I learned to skate on just such a pond where I grew up. Kitchener has such a thing in one of their parks. Maybe the idea is worth pursuing. If so, there’s an adjustment to the master plan that isn’t a major change to what people want.


Much talk was made of skateboarder’s wish to have a bigger, better skateboard park somewhere else. That was in the absence of any notion anyone was going to say expand the skateboard park that exists in Veteran’s Park. I think the skateboard people might be willing to take a second look at what can be done on the waterfront now that there is public support as expressed in the consultation.

Councillor Hehn asked if anyone had thought to put it at the new rec center. People have. However, there is a master plan which does not include a skateboard park there, but does include an arena. At one point the balance of the land also included some baseball diamonds. Have a plan and stick with it. Modification is a given, but major change will dictate finding somewhere else to eventually build the other facilities already earmarked for the Orillia Rec Centre.

Councillor Emond supported a skateboard park, but he doesn’t believe the kind of skateboard facility some users want, suitable for Olympic training, can go on the waterfront.

Not everyone who skateboards wants to be an Olympian. For many it’s recreation, and for many pre-teens, teens and those who haven’t realized they aren’t teens anymore, this is their form of recreation and they should be included as a group of park users. An Olympic training facility is a very different thing from a recreational use, and who knows, maybe one can fit at Veterans Park, but a study has not been done to that end so far.

Bottom line, the motion which did pass (and will come back this coming Monday to regular council for ratification) was to receive in principle, for staff to start to parcel the improvements into a ten year capital plan and to bring the highest priority components to the 2021 budget.

This is the best of many plans councils have seen. It is only a plan, a guide to shape direction, to say some day, for example, ‘there will be a place for people in wheel chairs to get to in order to watch a concert at the Aqua Theatre and its likely going to be in this area.‘ The master plan will change in detail, but in general at least staff and future councils will have an idea of what they are trying to strive toward. Pass it as it is.

The complete study can be found here, start on page 61.

(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia, Images Supplied)

CORRECTION: The bracketed line – (several storm water mains already run through that part of the park) is removed from the body of the story. Storm water retention ponds aren’t usually fed from underground storm water mains and the reference was made to inform there already exists storm water mains under the park. Putting the reference in unintentionally created a correlation that does not necessarily exist.


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