Although local residents have succeeded in stopping the sale of the ‘400’, they may have incidentally created barriers to its future usage.
On April 18th, South Dundas clerk Brenda Brunt sent out the following statement to the papers: “Council passed a resolution last night to decline the offers on the 397 acre parcel of land. They have asked for a report from staff with other options for the land.”
This statement followed the April 17th South Dundas council meeting where council chambers overflowed with concerned residents opposed to the sale of the land on County Road 8, opposite the Williamsburg Landfill site.
South Dundas resident Sara Dillabough presented council with a petition last Tuesday night in an effort to save the land from being sold. “I live on Weegar Road,” said Dillabough, “and I’m here on behalf of the people of South Dundas.”
She told council she had a petition with 606 signatures “asking you, council, to reconsider the sale of the ‘400’.”
“We are disturbed that council has plans to change this. We want to make council aware of how valuable the land is,” she said.
“Many here tonight have taken full advantage of what this land has to offer. We pride ourselves on being a vibrant rural community.”
She finished with a plea for council to “take into consideration the feelings of constituents.”
Following Dillabough’s address to council, mayor Steven Byvelds revealed “why council looked at selling this property.”
“Some time ago,” he said, “council instructed staff to look at all surplus land. We felt that it was an opportunity to put these properties back into the hands of the public.”
“Council was already aware that people were interested in buying that property for hunting. We took that opportunity to put it on the market.”
He assured the assembled residents that there was “no intention of any councillor to have that property used for farming.”
He then commented on the fact that both he and Brunt had recently been “bombarded with emails and phone calls.”
“We will,” he stated, “take this under advisement. Council is now aware of what you, the public, desire for that land.”
With that said, Byvelds addressed the many activities the land has been used for past and present, referring to many as “liabilities. “We will have to look into all of the challenges that property represents.”
Councillor Jim Graham told the audience that “I’ve never heard of this property as a recreational site. We are now aware of what it’s being used for… the liabilities.”
“We have to take responsibility for what’s taking place on that property now that we do know,” said Councillor Evonne Delegarde, referring to a concern about the hunting, in particular.
“Liability is going to be the issue,” agreed Councillor Archie Mellan.
Byvelds indicated to the residents in attendance that “there are some options available.”
He assured them that “there was no intent to do any malicious damage in this.”
At this point in the meeting, Byvelds allowed a few comments and questions from members of the audience, one of whom made the following plea, “don’t give away what we’ve got in this township.”
Another, addressing Delegarde’s concern over the hunting issue, said that many or most of those who use the property belong to the Ontario Hunter and Anglers Association. “They’re covered up to $5 million,” he said. “You can avoid the liability. There’s always a way around it.”
“It’s always about the money,” said one woman. “My family has used the ‘400’ more than any other service you offer.”
Another man told council that he had “actually walked the ‘400’ tonight. I’m a forester. Most of it is forested… some trees are over 100 years old… in the middle is the Huckleberry marsh, loaded with water, moose and deer.” He finished his short speech offering council a guided tour of the land, if they wished.
Byvelds ended the topic saying “council will take all of this into consideration… we get an issue that people take to heart… you show pride in your municipality. Once in a while we hit something we’re not ready for.”
“It’s a democracy in the end,” he reminded residents, “we will make the decision that’s best for the township… for everyone.”
The motion to receive the petition was passed. Council discussed the issue in closed session later in the evening.