Waterfront plan accepted with consultation amendment

by Cecilia Nasmith

Cobourg council has accepted the Waterfront User Needs Assessment and Detailed Design Plan with an amendment from Mayor Gil Brocanier that its major projects will not be implemented without public consultation.

The amendment came after lengthy debate and four citizen presentations at Monday's meeting, most of which centred around the controversial step of installing marina slips west of the centre pier.

Councillor Suzanne Seguin – the only councillor voting against the motion - introduced an amendment to take the question of these slips completely off the table. Seguin withdrew the amendment when it became clear that it would not pass, as her council colleagues felt Brocanier's consultation amendment covered matters.

Management consultant Colin Bromley led off the delegations, insisting that the plan was flawed since it doesn't take into account the rising water levels of Lake Ontario.

Cobourg Dragon Boat and Canoe Club head coach Jeremy Fowlie made a return appearance to float the idea of adding marina slips – but on the east side of centre pier south of those currently there.

“It's clear the vast majority of Cobourg taxpayers are opposed to many of the elements of this consultant's report,” Harold Wontorra argued in disputing the consultant's revenue figures.

Lisa Rundle represented Preserve Our Heritage Harbour in delivering a report called Saving The Best For The Future. Their focus, Rundle said, “is to see the west harbour remain a tranquil, beautiful spot for all to enjoy.”

Rundle said the proposals in the plan amount to “a fundamental transformation of this community.”

Among her other objections, she was most keen on preventing two of the proposals – expansion of marina slips into the west harbour and the purchase of a travel lift to lift boats into and out of the harbour.

Rundle dismissed arguments that a more vibrant boating community is necessary to ensure the waterfront remains self-sustaining.

“I believe the correct solution is to do a financial audit of the marina and find material ways to reduce expenses and increase revenues,” she suggested.

Councillor Debra McCarthy repeated that the acceptance of the plan commits the town to none of its specific projects. Given that assurance and another assurance that the public will be consulted, McCarthy asked Rundle, would that reassure her group?

Yes, Rundle said, if the marina expansion and travel lift were taken out of the equation altogether.

Director of recreation and culture Dean Hustwick had submitted a 19-page memo to councillors, and he took some time to highlight a few points.

Don't downplay the objective of revenue generation, Hustwick urged, because the aging infratstructure of the waterfront is only one of the expenses the town will face (another example is the implementation of proactive asset-management practices, he noted). When the bills must be paid, he warned, the money might come from waterfront revenues – or, if not, from taxpayers.

“This should be a celebration for this commuity,” Hustwick insisted.

“We are part of a new, exciting vision for the waterfront. It's a framework for future planning and budgeting purposes, and it delivers on council's strategic plans and objectives to establish this community as a progressive, vibrant lakeside community and a destination of choice.

“The intention was never to debate each and every recommendation in the report.”

When the time comes to implement any of the recommendations, Hustwick pointed out, a certain number of years will have passed and any number of new situations could have arisen to affect matters.

Hustwick said he has heard before that his division and the consultants are dismissive of the majority opinion in the community.

“In response to that, I would say we spent a year and a half engaging the pubic in every opportunity we could think of. It has been the most extensive public-engagement process this community has ever undertaken.”

Hustwick listed eight open houses, 30 different meetings with stake holders, and three surveys with more than 2,000 responses. Of that 2,000, he noted, 1,177 said tourism is important to the community. As well, 1,207 said an active harbour is important to the successful development of the waterfront.

“The consultants believe this is a strong reflection of the majority of the people in this community,” Hustwick said.

“These people took a lot of time to complete the survey in a very significant engagement process, and the consultants said they had never seen such a level of engagement in all their experience.

“Unfortunately, some individuals don't agree with all the recommendations and findings of the report, and suggest their opinions should trump the rest of the consultation process,” Hustwick said.

The primary purpose of the harbour is a safe refuge for boats of all kinds, he said, from yachts to kayaks.

“The town's position is, we support all boaters. We support all types of boats. We support all users of the harbour.

“Our position is that all boaters are important, and we will work with all of them to enhance their access.”

At present, Hustwick said, 76% of the harbour is available for communal use.

As for the belief some have that taxpayers subsidize the marina, he added, ”we paid the consultant to produce a detailed business case that looks at those issues. They say the marina has not only produced profits, but is fully capable of continuing to pay for its costs.

“We asked them to identify extra revenue-generating opportunities because there will be adidtional expenses as we develop asset management. There could be $4-million in future expenses just in the central pier even before we do an underwater analysis.”

Councillor Brian Darling gave an example of unexpected expenses with the problem experienced over Canada Day weekend at the trailer park. The electrical system malfunctioned, and it became evident that an upgrade to 600-amp service will be required.

The consultant also offered a final rebuttal, with Mike Tucker of Thinc Design acting as spokesperson. Tucker said they had heard most of these arguments and spoken with many of these same people before, but hadn't really heard anything new. He wondered if some user groups are resisting co-operating with the town because they worry where that might eventually lead.

Tucker presented figures that show the travel lift will pay for itself in 10 to 15 years. Now that the Cobourg Yacht Club has announced it will no longer offer this service (largely due to safety and liability concerns), this is an option that requires no road closures, offers more safety, is easier to use, stores away when not in use and can be used for other purposes mid-season such as emergency repair and hull washing.

“My only agenda is to make sure Cobourg gets the best plan they can. I would be very sad to see the marina doesn't prosper and doesn't do well, and Cobourg suffers because of it,” Tucker stated.

Brocanier said that in so many big issues that come before council, there's a logical side and there's an emotional side. Logical arguments don't seem to sway people with an emotional attachment to an issue.

Most of the opposition concerns slips in the west harbour, the mayor said, and that specific question won't come up this term of council – and probably not during the next term. The decision is probably a good six years away, he estimated.

This gives the next term of council the opportunity to put the question of whether there should be west-harbour slips on the ballot in the 2022 election as a plebiscite.

“The true test is to take it to a general election and a vote by the public,” Brocanier stated.

Councillor Forrest Rowden said it is a beautiful harbour and he would be happy to see it stay as it is today. But the plan is a document for the future, and council must look ahead.

Brocanier, who had been on council when the harbour had been coal piles and McAsphalt tanks, echoed the importance of a vision. A quarter-century after council decided to do something about the harbour, he said, it is the envy of many mayors.

The document is a framework for the future, he said – subject to change depending on funding and unexpected needs.

“Priorities change, but at least you have a long-term vision and you know where you are going,” he said,

It was at that point that Brocanier made the amendment to the recommendation to accept the plan, which said major recommended projects coming forward must go to municipal council and public consultation for final determination prior to implementation.