By Stew Slater
It was strike two for the St. Marys X-Park on Tuesday, Nov. 6, and frustration about what might happen next was clearly evident during a public meeting held by Town Council at Town Hall.
“The inaction is as damaging as if you guys were fighting, or if there were citizens fighting,” offered Jamie Forman, the father of an avid skateboard and scooter rider who has worked for well over a year to help build awareness and raise funds for the proposed facility.
After an initial approval of the concept in July, 2011, Town Councillors gave the go-ahead on Sept. 13, 2011 for a facility for skateboarding and BMX biking next to the Fire Hall on James Street South, subject to due diligence being completed.
Then, on Oct. 2 of this year, Council gave the go-ahead for staff to pursue a plan to tear down the former Friendship Centre building at Cadzow Park and replace it with a skateboard park. That happened after objections were raised to the Fire Hall site.
As the evening wore on Nov. 6, it became clear the Cadzow option, too, would be rejected. Town employee Jenna McCartney kicked off the meeting with a presentation outlining how the Fire Hall and Cadzow sites emerged out of an initial list of eight possible locations. Then, one by one, councillors were given the opportunity to list their questions, concerns and suggestions. And, one by one, they offered their preferred location — none of which included either the Fire Hall or Cadzow.
Don Van Galen began by suggesting the Pyramid Centre grounds, near the wheelchair accessible playground structure. Bill Osborne was next, expanding on what he believed to be the benefits of an X-Park near the tennis courts on Water Street South.
Citing a widely-held expectation that the administrators of the Province of Ontario-funded Trillium Foundation would not release a planned $60,000 grant for the St. Marys X-Park if it becomes apparent that the location will inspire public dissent, Osborne added, “if you go the Cadzow route, we will not get a consensus.” Later, he argued the same would be true if it went to the Pyramid Centre, due to the proximity to numerous Meadowridge subdivision backyards.
It all seemed a little too much for the mild-mannered Forman, who rose and told the gathering that he had come prepared with a reasoned explanation of why residents of the Cadzow neighbourhood should not be concerned about the prospect of skateboarders congregating for fun in the park. Instead, having conceded that the X-Park would not be built where the former Friendship Centre now stands, he urged Council to come to a decision about location as soon as possible, and get down to the construction phase.
“We’ve been dragging this out forever,” Forman said, adding he was surprised recently to see trees being cut down at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in preparation for a recently agreed-upon plan to build a new ball diamond. If a decision can be made and work can begin that quickly for a ball diamond, why, he asked, should it take so much longer to get the ball rolling for the X-Park?
“I don’t want to argue over this, and I don’t want to raise taxes. I just want to have a place for the kids.”
The Town Councillor who has been at Forman’s side — along with Forman’s son, Mackenzie (who also spoke at the Nov. 6 public meeting) — through much of the fundraising and awareness campaign, Carey Pope, echoed his disillusionment.
“Let’s get this built for the kids,” Pope said. “They’ve waited a long time since the old (Town-owned skateboarding facility) was taken down and turned into a parking lot.”
According to McCartney, the Solis Park and tennis courts sites had both been struck from the shortlist by Town staff earlier in the process.
At Solis Park, factors working against the location included the proximity to numerous residential backyards, and the absence of nearby roadways to allow for convenient monitoring by police on drive-by patrols.
At the tennis courts, meanwhile, it was obvious there was insufficient space north of the courts. So the only option is taking over at least part of or, perhaps, most of (if no green space is to be eliminated) the main Quarry/tennis courts/Lind Sportsplex parking lot. With the area already very busy with pedestrians at certain times during the summer, Town staff determined it would be unwise to add to the congestion.
Osborne, however, argued parking is still available a couple of hundred metres south along Water Street, in an area currently used by the town for snow piles. If sidewalks are installed, the councillor suggested, that area will work for overflow Quarry/Sportsplex parking during busy times.
And McCotter said, “it just seems to me that there’s a lot of square footage there (to accommodate the X-Park) . . . and it’s a place that is teeming with young people in the summer.”
A motion considered by Council at the conclusion of the Nov. 6 meeting was to construct the X-Park next to the tennis courts, subject to discussions being held with the two nearby residential landowners. But there was never a vote on that motion; instead, councillors voted 5-2 in favour of deferring that motion for two weeks, thereby allowing Town staff to consult the landowners prior to the vote.
Then, in the ensuing days, a notice appeared on the Town website, seeking “further public input” on both the tennis courts and Solis Park sites. “Council will further discuss the location of the X-Park during a Special Meeting of Council on Tuesday, Nov. 20 at 6:30 p.m. located in the Town Hall Council Chambers,” the notice reads. “If you wish to provide input please call or email your comments by 11 a.m. Friday, Nov. 16 to 519-284-2340, ext. 212 or email@example.com. on.ca.
About 30 members of the public attended the Nov. 6 meeting. That included six residents of the Cadzow neighbourhood who stood and expressed their objections to Council.