by Cecilia Naismith
SRO crowd hears request denied
The standing-room-only crowd at Cobourg council April 23, according to New Amherst resident Dennis Nabieszko, consisted of residents of that community opposed to the new Catholic francophone elementary school the Mon Avenir Consel Scolaire Catholique wants to build at the corner of New Amherst Boulevard and Fred Adams Street,
Nevertheless, council voted five-to-two to approve the requisite rezoning of the 4.6-acre parcel for the 28,260-sq.-ft. school.
Proponents addressing the committee-of-the-whole meeting included GSP Group Inc. planning consultant Glenn Scheels, Salvini Consulting traffic specialist Julia Salvini and Mon Avenir director of education Andre Balais.
Balais explained that Mon Avenir is a publicly funded French Catholic school board created in 1998 (prior to that, he said, they were just the French-language sector of the separate school board).
Scheels and Salvini explained the work they had done in preparation for the school, including Salvini's traffic assessment, They expect the school in its initial operations to fall somewhat below its 250-pupil capacity and, in the interim, Northumberland County has plans to upgrade the juncture of New Amherst Boulevard and County Road 2. Even without the improvements, she said, the local roads can accommodate the traffic the school will create.
Part of this traffic will be accounted for by neighbourhood residents making use of the outdoor playground and playing fields, and those from nearby communities taking advantage of the daycare spaces that are planned for – 15 toddler spaces and 24 preschool ones, Balais said.
As to how many local students will use the school, Balais debated population figures with Councillor Suzanne Seguin. Councillor Debra McCarthy said she had heard that perhaps 90% of its students will come from beyond the community..
“We accept that all our schools are regional,” Balais allowed.
“They are for those families committed to having their children go to school for a francophone Catholic education.”
Nabieszko said that the proponents finally held a community meeting earlier this month to address New Amherst residents directly and answer their questions. He estimated attendance at 150.
“Almost all who were in favour were executives and managers of New Amherset, suppliers, contractors and the school board,” he said.
“The vast majority of the residents oppose the school,”
Nabieszko said he had proof New Amherst had marketed its homes as an adult lifestyle community – so much so, he said, that there is a lack of playgrounds. A school goes entirely against the idea of walkable communities
“Many residents have bought what is likely their final home, based on what they have been told will be built around them. When a zoning change this significant is brought forward, they have a right to be openly told,” he said.
“It's clear that this school does not belong in this neighbourhood, and we respectfuly urge council to vote no.”
Mayor Gil Brocanier pointed out that a similar situation already exists, with students bused in from around the county to take advantage of International Baccalaureate programs available in Cobourg.
Director of planning Glenn McGlashon noted that the school will benefit contractors and construction professionals and, later, provide employment opportunities. He also defended procedures the town had used in making the prospective development public. For one thing, they had issued notifications to an area three times the prescribed 120 metres adjacent to the property in question. And while council has been criticized for voting on the matter on day 119 of the 120-day period set out, McGlashon pointed out that this is not a final deadline. He also added that the period has been increased to 150 days.
Brocanier reminded the residents that notice of this project was first made public Nov. 30, but he recalls receiving only six responses – one was a personal visit to view the plans, two asked for more information and the remainder stated opposition.
“It is my opinion the proposed rezoning is appropriate within the range of uses on creating a complete, more diverse community and will fulfill the original vision of the New Amherst community,” McGlashon stated.
As for the alternative, taking a matter to the planning body that has replaced the Ontario Municipal Board is a time-consuming, expensive, adversarial exercise, McGlashon warned.
While affirming the necessity of community engagement, Councillor Debra McCarthy lamented that this leads to a perception that citizens may have more of a voice in the process than they actually do. When they reject a project on any grounds other than those set out in the Official Plan, the Planning Act, or other official documents, McCarthy said, the official documents must carry the day.
“It sends a message, 'You can tell us you don't want this,' when in fact we have to follow the legislation.”
Councillor Forrest Rowden expressed sympathy for anyone who ties up hundreds of thousands of dollars in a home and then gets such an unpleasant surprise.
Rowden also warned about the terrible traffic issues experienced by families whose children attend the new C.R. Gummow Public School in close proximity to Cobourg Collegiate Institute. He warned council that they don't want a similar issue arising on the town's west end.
McGlashon responded that these two schools account for 2,000 students, which is 10 times the number anticipated in New Amherst.
So many of the objections he is getting are ephemeral, Brocanier said. The dust and dirt of construction will end. Demographics change, so that an old community evolves into a young community.
At any rate, he said, council's decision must be based on planning principles.
“I feel it is my job to protect the citizens of Cobourg against litigation we cannot possibly win,” he said.
Deputy Mayor John Henderson pointed to the exhaustive and detailed work McGlashon had done. To turn down his recommendations and then try to defend that action in a tribunal setting would put the town in a position of arguing against its own exceptional planner.
“(The case) would be lost at great cost to the Town of Cobourg, because we would have to hire a third party at a substantial number of taxpayer dollars to argue against not only the proponent but our own planning department. That doesn't work well at the OMB.”
Councillor Aaron Burchat said he had attended the New Amherst meeting and encountered a fair number of residents who do support the proposal. And many are looking forward to having New Amherst Boulevard completed, which will be part of the work.
Burchat's motion for authorizing a bylaw to effect the rezoning also provided that the Holding symbol remain on the project until all relevant development matters are addressed.
Cobourg is one of Ontario's 20 Bicycle Friendly Communities
Cobourg Councillor Forrest Rowden recently came home from Toronto with a gift for the town – a bronze-level Bicycle Friendly Community Award from the Share The Road Cycling Coalition.
“To come from the Feel Good Town to get labelled an award winner,” Rowden said at the April 23 committee-of-the-whole meeting.
“It's something we have worked hard for for the last eight years.”
Rowden said Cycle Transitions and the Bicycle Action Committee deserve a lot of credit for the award, which he understands went to only 20 Ontario communities. Sixteen of them were bronze level, he said, with two silver and two gold awarded.
“We have something to work for,” he said.
Part of the designation was receiving four Bicycle Friendly Community signs which will be posted at the town's four entrances, Rowden addded, which should increase bicycle tourism.
Bruce Bellaire said the town had inspired compliments on two fronts at the awards ceremony.
One was spending extra money on the widening of Division Street so that more space could be allowed for bicycles.
The other was Cycle Transitions, the do-it-yourself bicycle shop that is also the umbrella organization for the effort. The shop was applauded for its bicycle education and safety training program that it takes to the schools.
Fire department gives quarterly report
Cobourg Fire Chief Mike Vilneff gave the first of a new series of quarterly reports at council's April 23 committee-of-the-whole meeting, for the period of time following up on the heels of the busiest year to date for the department.
“We had 1,395 responses, and that's a huge increase in 20 years since I first came to town,” Vilneff said.
“We were sitting at about 600 calls a year, so we have more than doubled.”
In a way, it's a result of the town's success, he figured – it has grown enormously, but that means more seniors, more cars on the road, more pedestrians getting hit.
Even in the first three months of 2018, he said, statistics are 10% higher than this time last year, with 381 incidents (accidental alarms, carbon monoxide incidents, cooking mishaps, burning complaints, medical assistance, vehicular incidents and similar calls).
The department is proactively preparing for new provincial standards that are expected to come into effect – they ensure new hires either have the requisite certification or obtain it as soon as possible.
Fire prevention is also a key focus. The priority is always emergency response but, for those working the day shift, prevention is a secondary priority – smoke-alarm blitzes, public education, speaking engagementes, every category of inspection.
Challenges ahead include three retirements scheduled in the next 14 months.
One addition is the new emergency planner Shannon Murphy, hired Feb. 7.
Vilneff told councillors that Cobourg is somewhat unusual in that it has a good and productive relationship with the county's emergency medical response service workers, which is not always the case with municipalities. The EMR people have let the fire department know that it helps them when the fire department responds to certain emergencies and, since fire fighters are on duty around the clock, it's very little extra cost for the town.
Councillors warned about using corporate resources
The latest amended Municipal Elections Act turns some attention on the use of corporate resource by incumbents.
A report on this topic by municipal clerk Brent Larmer came before council at its April 23 committee-of-the-whole meeting, offering some areas in which such cautions might apply – the use of the town's phones, printing, computers, web sites, web-site links, social media, facilities such as meeting rooms, and access to information and staff.
The cautions also apply to town staff, who cannot engage in political activity during working hours and, at other times, may not identify themselves as town employees when engaged in such activity.
The election is this fall, Mayor Gil Brocanier said, passing along his own warnings about dealing with constituents during the campaign period.
It is legitimate to help citizens in one's role as councillor, he said. But once a councillor has registered to run for re-election, Brocanier advised councillors to refer any contacts not related to council business to their own personal e-mail addresses and telephone numbers.