Council Preview

By John Swartz

Orillia Council’s summer schedule has the July committee and the regular council meetings both happening Monday beginning at 4 p.m. With the normal meeting pattern of one each on alternating weeks, the committee night would also have closed session items as well, and today will be no different.

There are two items in the closed session. One is to discuss exempt employee group compensation. The other item is also on the open session agenda, but is tagged as personal for qualification to be in closed session.

No Parking, Or Driving For That Matter

The Terry Fox Circle is back on council’s radar. A month ago considerable objection to staff’s recommendation for rehabilitation of that part of Couchiching Beach Park was raised, mainly because staff did not follow council direction to bring back three designs and that one of them be to keep the circle open to vehicle traffic. Councilor Tim Lauer moved to defer to this week’s meeting any decision so councillors could gather feedback from the public.

There is little in the report about public feedback, other than letters directed to council (8 against the proposal, 3 in favour) because the expectation was councillors would use the communications they personally received to inform their decisions.

The staff report takes much space recapping planning actions for improvements on the entire waterfront to date, and then states, “The Terry Fox Circle utilizes a significant percentage of public parkland for driving and parking automobiles that could otherwise be used as a combination of active and passive park space available to the increasing number of persons who visit, recreate, picnic, and swim within the boundaries of the park.” They do not state what the percentage is, and looking at a map, it may be statistically significant, but practicably the amount of space is dwarfed by green spaces.

It then goes on to say, “Dedicating a large percentage of parkland to asphalt and cars is not a sustainable approach to public land management,” without providing evidence to the assumption. Who says it’s not sustainable, and what is the measure of sustainability, what is the thing to be sustained? are relevant questions. If use of the park by all citizens is the criteria, then it can be argued the proposal fails, but that obviously does not fit with the cars/bad everything else/good philosophy.

The report states over and over professional opinion has been to remove cars from the park, and that’s fine, but how many of those professionals are in their geriatric years, or confined to wheelchairs and walkers? One can imagine the opinion might be different if young urban professionals were only a part of the professional group.

Another notable use of language in the report is the consistent referral to replacing Terry Fox Circle, of which some people might probably envision as repaving and some design work meant to clearly separate walking, biking and vehicle traffic on the portion closest to the lake – which seems to be the area of great concern; the drawing also uses the phrase returns.. to pedestrian realm, when in anyone’s lifetime it was never that. The key difference between replacement and what is presented is the complete removal of the circle – there is no design showing a walkway being substituted for the entirety of the circle. The latter point is not highlighted in the report in words, though the drawing clearly shows there will not be any kind of circle left.

The tone of the report subtly favours staff’s recommendation with the use of negative descriptors for virtually every aspect conflicting with removing Terry Fox Circle, and praise for the preferred option.

This paragraph is indicative of the positioning of the preferred option,
“The preferred design option provides the City with a solution that allows vehicles limited access into the park for convenient drop off and access to some of the park’s key features (beach, government pier, playgrounds, horticulture display).”

Convenient might be interpreted differently through bifocal lenses because the preferred option moves parking further away from the beach than the design concept presented to council last October. What is missing is perspective. If someone is coming to Couchiching Beach Park from say, Barrie, parking at Walmart is certainly closer than parking at Forest Home, and if passingly examined is far short of being the waterfront. That’s not anything like what people are asking for. Orillia residents are clearly saying they want to be able to get closer to the beach area and are objecting now (as Councillor Lauer pointed out) because they have actually seen what is planned rather than basing opinion on what if discussions without visual reference to what is actually being proposed at public meetings .

The recommendation is to receive the report, which presumes the previous report endorsing staff’s preferred design will be re-introduced. The report on the agenda does not address the opposition raised as valid by evidence of this paragraph justifying council receive the information: “Parking that will serve the needs of park visitors is planned to be supplemented by expanding the existing parking lot located at the western edge of the park and with new street parking opportunities provided through the reconstruction of Centennial Drive and Jarvis Street.”

What that statement shows is a discounting of any argument raised in opposition to the preferred recommendation. In fact they go one to rehash a 70% approval from public consultations done in the past when there was no example of what would come to be proposed.

Other Committee Business

One of the closed session item’s public report is about the City agreeing to install a Free Little Library in Tudhope Park. Lindsay and Cory Harrison wrote to ask permission to install one of the libraries in Orillia. The closed session involves dedicating the library in someone’s name and council’s role is to determine if it is acceptable to have that name on a plaque. As we have seen recently naming things for people has become a problem as years pass and the City has a policy to vet names before agreeing – even for donations.

A Free Little Library is a distribution box for books people can take or contribute on an exchange basis and is maintained by a steward, which in this case would be the Harrisons. The City would do the actual installation (determine location and install the post the box will be attached to) and cover the cost of a dedication plaque, the operation and upkeep falls on the Harrisons by way of a formal agreement.

Free Little Libraries is also an organization based in Wisconsin, which provides advice and access to buying books at discounts. They claim to have 100,000 libraries installed in over 100 countries. There are at least 40 in place in Toronto.

Moving on, in April Councillor Tim Lauer asked for a report about the City’s, “cost and logistics of developing a City litter clean-up crew that would include both in-house and contracted solutions.” That report is on this week’s agenda.

Staff response is to keep some winter seasonal staff on board for an extra 4 weeks and to hire some summer staff 4 weeks early to create a cleanup crew to deal with litter in problem areas. The cost of a program is not complete, but staff wants council to forward the idea to the 2022 budget committee.

And recently the Orillia Food Committee Pilot Project gave council an update on their work and asked to be made a permanent committee of council. Council asked staff to report how that would affect finances. The report on the agenda says the market manager and one other staff person should be assigned to the committee at a cost of $3,829 and that another report be made to budget committee for the long-term expense of making the committee permanent.

Regular Council

This month’s regular council meeting follows the adjournment of the committee meeting. Mayor and council will make a presentation to lifeguards regarding their efforts around the drowning death of Chris Bellchambers.

A report from the grants committee outlines grants to several groups. Recipients are: Orillia Silver Band – $1,500, St. Andrew’s/St James’ Cemetery – $500, Born to Read Committee – $750 North Simcoe Muskoka Hospice Palliative Care Network – $1,500 and the Canadian Federation of University Women Orillia $1,500.

A second report from the same committee updates council on a traditional grant recipient, the Starry Night event. The grants committee is recommending council approve a redirection of the 2021 grant of $1,500 to be used for a marketing campaign, which will achieve two things, keep the event visible in the community, and highlight Arts District galleries which are open as alternatives to attending the event this year.

Notable in the by-laws portion of the meeting is Orillia has a new Treasurer/CFO – again. John Henry is replacing Lockie Davis, who was hired last fall. Henry was most recently the director of finance/treasurer for the Town of New Tecumseth and previously commissioner of finance and city treasurer for the City of Vaughn.

There is also a by-law to execute an agreement with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 636, Clerical and Technical Employee Group, which means the City avoided a second strike by staff this year.

The regular council meeting is a video conference and the chamber is closed to the public. The public can watch it live on Rogers TV.

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


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