Huge turnout for waterfront public meeting

 

“This should be a people place,” said Montreal-based landscape architect Wendy Graham, “a place for people to gather and get information.” 

The Morrisburg Waterfront Committee hosted a public information session on June 19th at the Morrisburg Legion.

South Dundas residents interested in hearing and discussing the proposed plans for the Morrisburg Waterfront came out in force with more than 120 people in attendance, including several members of the South Dundas council and the South Dundas Township staff.

The meeting got underway at 8 p.m. with a PowerPoint presentation by Wendy Graham, complete with handouts of colour blueprints showing the suggested changes to the Morrisburg Waterfront.

Graham, whose parents live on Lakeshore Drive, has been an active volunteer in several waterfront projects in recent years including the South Dundas Dog Park and the South Dundas Community Playground, both located in Earl Baker Park.

Graham explained that the Morrisburg Waterfront Committee began planning with some key questions in mind: “What are the values and what are the important things – objectives, goals – we want to achieve in the waterfront?”

They answered their own question with the following points:

• Accessible to everyone; 

• Connected – so that all the different attractions flow together;

•Beautiful, clean, natural and green; 

• Reminiscent of the area history; 

• Lively and loved – well-used by community and community groups year round; and,

• Sustainable

“South Dundas has a very long and interesting waterfront,” continued Graham. 

“I’m hoping there will be people from Iroquois here,” she said, explaining that the ideal is for the waterfront areas in Morrisburg and Iroquois to complement one another rather than compete with one another. “We need to bring out the strengths and differences on both sides.”

In developing plans for Morrisburg’s waterfront, the committee went back through the town’s history prior to the building of the Seaway. According to Graham, Morrisburg “had a ferry boat. It was a town that was quite oriented to the water. The town grew around the waterfront.”

She lamented that “for 50 years, from the time of the Seaway up until now, there hasn’t been development.”

In addition to the obvious lack of development along the waterfront, Graham pointed out some of the issues the committee found when they first began planning.

She pointed out that for people driving through Morrisburg along County Road 2 “it’s not evident that there’s a waterfront.”

She noted the traffic safety and congestion issues where Ottawa Street meets Lakeshore Drive. 

Another concern was the current location of the ball diamonds, which are “often in conflict with some of the major events taking place in the park.”

Also, there are problems with storm sewers and drainage, which in turn cause water quality issues at the beach, she said.

It was also mentioned that the golf course, admittedly a great attraction to the area, blocks access to that section of the waterfront for those who don’t play golf.

As for sidewalks, Graham expressed concern that they aren’t “walkable” due to size and, in some cases, their state of disrepair. The sidewalks are not accessible for the average walker, cyclist or person in a wheelchair. 

In addition, the sidewalks don’t bring people to the waterfront. She pointed out that there is no indication for those visiting the Morrisburg Plaza that there is a waterfront area.

Along those same lines, the current promenade running from the dock to the beach doesn’t “offer a lot of opportunity to sit and enjoy the river.”

Keeping the listed issues in mind, the Morrisburg Waterfront Committee drew up a plan with three phases, explained Graham.

The first phase of the plan covers the area around the Morrisburg Dock. The second phase focuses on the central park area, including Earl Baker Park and the Morrisburg Beach. The third phase involves part of the Morrisburg Golf Course and land bordering the St. Lawrence River and Hosaic Creek.

It was suggested that building a breakwater would be beneficial for all phases of the plan.

It was pointed out that these ideas are just that “ideas of what it could become.” Nothing is being set in stone and as committee member Doug Grenkie pointed out, this plan is meant to be fluid and open to changes.

Phase One

In addition to improving the current parking area in front of the Legion to increase the available parking spots, it was also suggested that the baseball diamonds might be relocated to make room for the many events that take place along the waterfront.

It was proposed that a tourist facility be erected complete with stores, restaurants, washrooms, showers, information, and more.

Another suggestion involved improving the boat launch as well as adding a series of smaller docks farther down, perhaps in front of the pavilion.

The walking path, said Graham, could be re-oriented to better utilize the space and to allow more access to the water for those who’d like to walk along or sit down by the river.

Phase Two

The plan indicated that the open space in Earl Baker Park between the children’s playground and the dog park could be better utilized with the addition of paths, trees and benches. This would allow the space to remain open, but would also create a usable space that is both beautiful and practical.

Graham pointed out that these paths might also be used in winter for skating.

The children’s play area could be enhanced, it was said, with the addition of a splash pad. On the end closer to the dog park, the idea arose for a soccer field with a backstop for those area children who want to play impromptu games of baseball and such. 

Moving to the other side of the road, plans for the amphitheatre include modifications that would improve seating comfort and access. Graham also pointed out that the amphitheatre might be a great spot for sledding in winter.

Plans for the beach include finding ways to improve the water quality and creating facilities for beach-goers including washrooms and rental options for things like paddle-boats and kayaks.

Graham suggested relocating the beach parking lot “to be less intrusive” and suggested erecting some volleyball courts as well as other beach-type activities instead.

Phase Three

The area affected by phase three plans include the southern part of the Morrisburg Golf Course running east along the river and up along Hosaic Creek.

It was suggested that part of the golf course might be repositioned to provide room for a road and/or pathway along the riverfront, allowing access to that portion of the river for everyone.

Another proposal included a housing development to be erected along Hosaic Creek, leaving a portion for the road and path open along the waterfront.

The housing development would have a view of the waterfront and a view of the golf course without inhibiting the enjoyment of the waterfront for the masses.

Feedback from the Public

The Morrisburg Waterfront Committee acknowledged the need for a multidisciplinary study for a lot of the suggested projects. For instance, a breakwater cannot be built without Ministry of Environment approval.

They also acknowledged the need for money to make the projects happen and for partnerships to allow for some of the ideas to be possible. A breakwater, for instance, would cost millions.

The first most obvious question asked was “who is going to pay for this?”

In response, Grenkie said, “this is only going to happen when there is money to do it.” He explained that the money would most likely come from federal or provincial grants or developer investments. 

Fellow committee member Phillip Blancher explained that oftentimes governments will find themselves with money for this or that and in order for municipalities to be eligible for the money, they need a plan. 

The township’s with the plan in place, said Blancher, are more likely to be given the grant money. 

Another question from the crowd: “Why move the ball diamonds? You’re moving things just to move things.”

“We’ve got to be ready for these things  when they come,” said Grenkie. 

“The statistics show that the ball diamonds aren’t really used that much,” he continued “it’s much better for our festive parties.”

“There are lots of things you can do in a park,” he continued, suggesting the possibility of a farmers’ market.

He also pointed out that there is a proposed backstop in the Earl Baker Park that would meet the current requirements of the baseball diamonds.

He did remind the crowd that “it’s a concept. Nobody’s saying it’s going to happen right away.”

Several questions arose in relation to the plan involving the golf course.

Grenkie suggested the golf club could “get a golf course expert to come in to see if they can put a plan in.” 

Graham suggested that with some creative thinking, it might be possible to reposition the golf course. 

As for why the committee chose to put that option in the plan, Grenkie said, then “everybody can use it.” 

He made it clear that “this can only be done if the golf course people agree to it.”

In addition to concerns about the baseball diamonds and the golf course, several people expressed concern over the present state of the Morrisburg Dock.

Grenkie pointed out that the reason for the meeting was not to discuss the current dock situation, but to focus on a plan for the future. 

He also made it clear that members of council present for the meeting were not there in an official capacity and would not be answering questions pertaining to the dock’s current state of disrepair.

With those points made, however, Grenkie also said, “I’d like to see this done quickly.”

“I’d rather have something than just the way it is.”

An additional concern was raised in connection with the current state of the beach and the fact that it isn’t addressed until phase two of the plan.

Grenkie agreed, “the pollution of the beach has to be dealt with.”

Additional concerns raised by the public included the need for wider paths for wheelchair access, the need for more winter activities, and the need for less vehicular traffic in key waterfront areas.

In addition to the issues that were raised, several members of the public had ideas to add to the plan.

Someone thought a skateboard park would be a good addition, suggesting that “we get kids to come up with the money to build the skateboard park. Young people are the future of this town.”

Another idea included the addition of a boardwalk stretching from the dock to the beach.

It was suggested that the boat launch be moved to an area separate from the actual docks, in an attempt to relieve traffic congestion and increase safety.

Someone else, applauding the committee’s plan, reminded everyone that they should “think of it as an investment.” She pointed to the possibility of increased tourism and money-making events that will bring people into the area.

Someone else expressed relief that there wasn’t going to be any residential issues in terms of possible housing developments. The plan, as it exists, targets the land next to Hosaic Creek rather than Earl Baker Park for residential development.

Overall, there seemed to be a lot of support for the committee’s plan with several comments like the following: “I like where you’re going with this.” 

There seemed to be universal agreement that the waterfront parks are an untapped resource that have been under-utilized since the building of the Seaway.

The final question of the night revolved around “when and if” these plans might be acted upon. 

One member of the crowd was concerned that politics might get in the way and block the progress.

To that, Grenkie said, “it’s up to the members of this community to remind whoever’s elected.”

“Most of us would like to see something happening or we wouldn’t be here,” said another voice in the crowd.

“We are only an advisory committee,” reminded Grenkie. 

He explained that the committee is having the public meeting for public input and then the group will take their plan to council where council will make the final decisions.

‘This is a very caring community,” said one audience member. “When push comes to shove, they always seem to blend together, come together and get things done one little piece at a time.”

The Morrisburg Waterfront Committee emphasized that if and when changes happen, there will be a need for continued stewardship of the waterfront. 

There will need to be advocates and champions on hand to protect and enhance the area and its facilities, said Grenkie.

He also reiterated that the committee’s plan is an overall plan, “it’s not a concrete plan. It can be changed and modified at any time.”

For those interested in seeing the plan first hand, the committee has set up a dedicated website (www.windowontheriver.com) where people can also leave comments and suggestions.

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