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Port Stanley News RSS Feed  Letters Port Stanley Harbour Meeting of Jan 15, 2020 Feedback

January 17, 2020

January 16, 2020

The Mayor and Municipal Council Members
Corporation of the Municipality of Central Elgin
450 Sunset Drive,
St. Thomas, Ontario N5R 5V1

Port Stanley Harbour Meeting of Jan 15, 2020 Feedback

My past career included directing corporations, saving underperforming businesses, and adding profitable products to target markets. Some steps in the methodology for success are noted in this very abridged example of the CE Port Stanley Harbour Business Case that follows:

Evaluation of the Past: This section is a refresher, and may also be information for new residents, municipal staff and councilors.

We have resided in Port Stanley for 25 years, and built our home overlooking Lake Erie at a time when regulations were more restrictive.

Height was to be no higher than 2 storeys, and that included a requirement referencing total maximum height in feet. It has always been unclear whether this height restriction was inclusive or additional for houses on floodplain and requiring concrete pilings to raise the foundations. Lot coverage at that time was also more restrictive; e.g. house side set-backs were a minimum of 6 and 10ft. each. I believe that minimum setbacks are now only 1 meter (3.3 ft.) on both sides of a new home.

Skyline creep over the years:

The Domus condos on Edith Cavell Blvd. were tastefully designed and followed the building height requirements.

The first Prespa development on Edith Cavell Blvd. created a hue and cry about many characteristics including height. Instead of 2 storeys, they were designed at 3 storeys. Since the top floor was half the square area of each of the first two floors, they were approved with the message that they’re 2 ½ storeys.

The Dolphin House was torn down and rebuilt about 4 years ago, a new full 3 storey home.

A member of Council advised that the builder pulled a quick one, adding very high ceilings on each storey of the building, resulting in the new home at 366 Edith Cavell Blvd exceeding the past height standard established along the waterfront.

It’s contradictory that this newer home pictured in recent Dillon presentations is an example for Buildings to Respect History and Character of Development in Port Stanley.

And the new yellow waterfront condo building in the harbour was not to be higher than The Wharf building next door. But, it is.

Building variances have become the norm in the Village.

The debatable reason is that firm standards and expectations safeguarding community character were never written into old CE Municipal Official Plans which have now been overtaken by the Ontario Provincial Policy Statement.

Major faux-pas of the past:

  • 1) 1998: The Village of Port Stanley, fearful of forced amalgamation, jumped into a new Municipality that was and still is way too big in area for the population.
  • 2) Port Stanley Harbour Feasibility Study and Business Plan (2009) “concluded that a mixed use port with a waterfront park and berthage for commercial fishing and recreational marinas could be self-sustaining for 30+ years, but additional economic development is required longer term.” In September 2010, CE acquired ownership of the Harbour and a lowball payout of $13.6 Million from the Federal government...... $12 Million less than pre-analyses suggested.
  • 3) Most recently CE dropped the procedural ball contesting the 5 storey Prespa project which was wholeheartedly panned in the community. The LPAT/OMB decision is surprisingly long overdue. And recently the Provincial government, ignoring past abuses over-lorded on resistant communities by avaricious developers in Ontario, has reverted to the old OMB format!

That’s all water under the bridge now, and ....the lengthy bridge repairs by the County will be the community grumble in 2020.

The Present ....evaluating the Harbour:

Learning from the past, should always be a foundation for future decisions, in this case to achieve the best overall harbour decision.

As an analogy, it’s like the Global Environmental crisis; if we don’t resolve it now future generations will pay the price.

The Municipality should not burden the future with more failed promises, congestion, loss of our quality of life and higher tax rates.

Responsibility rests with all the duly elected members of Council. A difficult task that is made even more daunting carrying heavy baggage from the past.

Citizens can only elect, suggest, cajole, and grumble when unhappy.

A recent Re-hash:

The Port Stanley Harbour Economic Development Plan (2013), recommended residential as primary land use for the harbour.

In 2017, the Community Improvement Plan evolved into the Secondary Plan phase with a focus on the Harbour, a requirement of the Official Plan; a long term plan for the repurposing of Port Stanley Harbour lands, including adjacent waterfront areas in Port Stanley. This also included evaluating residential and other uses for the harbour lands, many of which are contaminated.

Ideas floated were tourism oriented items such as hotels, inns, places of entertainment, retail and commercial uses, restaurants, and recreation areas. Residential ideas included water play areas, amphitheatre, access to the waterfront, community facilities and open Greenspace.

July 2017 Meeting: One question queried what the height of buildings would be in the new Harbour areas (there was great concern that they’d exceed 3 storeys). The response was that “We” owned the Harbour land and “We” could decide that later. “Cart before the horse” planning.

Afterwards, “We certainly did hear the fact that people have concerns about the heights, and so when we’re looking at this we’re going to take that into consideration.” ~ St. Thomas Times-Journal.

April 2019: “The development of the Harbour lands will be planned with a range of uses to be financially self-sustaining with revenue generation as a focus for the long term.”

In the initial study documents that started this Harbour evaluation, there is no evidence that Council sought revenue opportunities additional to the real estate taxes that all new buildings provide.

A break-even seemed acceptable !

There was an early suggestion for a Casino. Dillon dismissed the idea with little reasoning.

A vision is always vague and filled with feel-good motherhood statements. Critical objectives must be well defined in the planning and strategic process: revenue objectives and the particular aspects of it, followed by the final product (what the Harbour will be) to meet the objectives.

The present evaluation process is reversed, it’s a popular wish list followed by the evaluation of the net revenue !

Whatever is done should be primarily for CE residents and taxpayers. It’s great to attract tourists that patronize our businesses, restaurants, theatre etc... ; however, directly and indirectly tourism generates much less tax revenue than residents and ratepayers. The multiplier effect used to trumpet the benefits of tourism everywhere is increasingly subject to question.

Where should the Municipality focus?

Improve the quality of life in our community, make the Harbour development self-sustaining, and generate added revenue to support the future unfunded liability for harbour upkeep, dredging and storm surges.

Good discussions on the preferred size of green spaces on the Berm and Harbour versus building coverage have driven all these meetings. Financial effects are looked at only after these intangibles are massaged.

So far, all the study alternatives have resulted in near breakeven bottom lines with many risk factors.

We may end up with a very congested, formerly quaint beachfront/fishing village that will increase tax rates even higher.

Looking ahead, .....

Critical factors are the on-going costs for harbour dredging and the effects of expected worsening storm surges into the Creek; and the ongoing renewal of harbour structures (seawalls, jetties, breakwaters etc.) that may be new to CE, but the Harbour is a very old facility. Has the Municipality given up and reneged on the promise that the harbour would be self-funding choosing instead to add to the tax rate in the future?

Some Suggestions following the well-formatted Jan. 15th Meeting:

All studies so far have exhibited close to breakeven analyses, and with risk. One option in all major strategic studies is, “Do Nothing!” It’ll still be breakeven revenue! With all the development happening that will double the population of Port, what’s the rush? Why not slow down, until there is more in-depth analyses?

The latest scenario of 70% Greenspace will not be affordable considering ongoing upkeep of the harbour, future dredging and storm surge costs. The displayed “wall” of higher buildings and the future scarcity of parking spaces for tourists and residents is not something to resolve “later”. This is not a chess match, it should be a firm future plan. Looks like the seesaw of Greenspace to Revenue generation has Council in a quagmire.

Maybe, lower buildings, save one high rise and added development space resulting in only 50% Greenspace is the answer? Do the math on more alternatives.

Less can be more! Why not drop all buildings, except one, to three storeys in height, take away a bit more greenspace and add that Casino! Municipalities can gain good revenue from Casinos if they own or lease the land.

The Casino market in Ontario is ever growing, e.g. Gateway Casinos and Entertainment, which operates the slot machines at the Western Fair District, just broke ground to re-locate its new complex along Wonderland Road, north of Wharncliffe Road, at a property owned by concrete company N-J Spivak.

Gateway also paid $174 million to take over three casinos and six slots operations in Northern and Southwestern Ontario. A new Gateway Casino is now planned for Wasaga Beach! A Casino option is worth thorough investigation, e.g. at the suggested hotel in the harbour mix. “The Stork” Casino, Entertainment & Convention Centre ?

Another opportunity to investigate is a “Lease to Buy” option for properties on harbour lands by developers or commercial businesses; but the Municipality must control building features. This would permit early development of the Harbour lands.

A person with a severe illness and without a firm answer to the cure always gets a second medical opinion.

A second consulting firm with enhanced direction from Council and with a set of fresh eyes and alternative experiences should be considered. Why not dig further? Be very specific in direction for the critical needs: Revenue Generation and Harbour Community/Greenspace features.

Establish a permanent “Future Committee” representing all communities in the Municipality; with members from Council, staff, business, agriculture, conservation and environment; and home owners. It can meet a few times a year or more when necessary; it’ll be a synergistic overlay focused only on future ideas in planning and growth opportunities for all of Central Elgin. The required Annual Budget and legislated Official Plan timetables would continue as in the past, but so much more could be added to the equation when the clocks start ticking.

Don’t we all think that whatever governments do, they should be efficient, effective, caring and deliver on their missions in the least costly way possible?

Terry E. Campbell
584 George St.,
Port Stanley, ON
N5L 1H4

Copy: Mr. Don Leitch and Ms. Dianne Wilson, Municipality of Central Elgin.
Mr. Jeff Yurek, MPP
Ms. Karen Vecchio, MP

Last Updated: Friday, 17 January 2020 10:17:52 AM EST

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