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Midland council hopefuls show clear divide over MBL's future

Councillor candidates also address tourism, parking, OPP, Guesthouse Shelter during Southern Georgian Bay Chamber of Commerce all-candidates meeting
2020-07-29 ap
Midland Bay Landing figured prominently in the chamber's all-candidates meeting. Andrew Philips/MidlandToday

One topic came back time and again during an all-candidates meeting for those vying to form the next Midland council.

The future of Midland Bay Landing (MBL) served as a central theme during the Southern Georgian Bay Chamber of Commerce meeting designed to help residents determine their ballot choices for the October 24 election.

From the outset, councillor hopefuls were given a chance to present a brief introduction before getting down to the nitty gritty of answering five questions that will undoubtedly help determine whether they’ve won the heart of the electorate.

While some read many of their answers directly from their computer screens, others like Jamie-Lee Ball, Tom Gardzinski, Bob Jeffery, Bill Meridis, Beth Prost and Frank Vatalaro didn’t seem to need the prompting to best tell residents what they would bring to the position and how they envisioned the town’s future.

And now, without further ado, let’s move on to the strong set of questions read by moderator Peter Kostiw and some of the answers they elicited.

1. In the past decade Midland has lost many hectares of urban woodlands to developers and many more are planned to be paved over. We now see the waterfront going down the same path.

Do you believe that residents need more access to urban woodlands and the water, with better availability of public beaches and accessible waterfront?

Jamie-Lee Ball kicked things off by saying residents need more access to waterfront, pointing out that Midland is not properly “showcasing” its waterfront compared to municipalities, including neighbouring Penetanguishene that has an extensive public waterfront.

Glen Canning, meanwhile, started out by saying he found the question preamble biased before noting that one of the reasons he’s running for council is because he supports the current MBL development plan and wants to see it move forward.

Sheldon East, meanwhile, said something needs to be done to combat the “hostile environment” created by the many homeless people and drug addicts now calling the waterfront home. It “has become a safety issue.”

Tom Gardzinski said it would be beneficial for the town to create an inventory of how many hectares of tree canopy have been lost to development and how many have been gained in recent years.

Bill Meridis said the town needs more and better public beaches, noting that as someone born and raised in Midland, he fondly recalls heading to one of Tiny’s beaches to cool off, an option that’s not readily available nowadays.

Beth Prost said the town needs to move on from the current Midland Bay Landing development plan to create an exceptional public waterfront with bountiful trees because “once there’s housing there, it’s gone.”

2. From a tourism perspective, marketing and promotion of Midland is non-existent.  Is there any plan to drive tourism and improve our visibility?

As a small business owner, Canning said the town needs more festivals and events to drive tourism and, in turn, business to the downtown core and help businesses effectively recover from King Street reconstruction and the pandemic.

Tom Gardzinski said he didn’t fully agree with the need for more, but added better marketing would definitely help, including little things like creating and selling more ‘I Love Midland’ t-shirts during events such as the town's much ballyhooed Butter Tart Festival.

“I believe we’re doing a good job to attract tourism, but we can always improve," he said.

Catherine MacDonald suggested the town better partner with its neighbours to work with and “promote each other.”

Eric Major, meanwhile, noted that during major sporting events at the North Simcoe Sports and Recreation Centre, Midland does a poor job at promoting its downtown and attractions to the huge influx of out-of-town visitors.

Meridis said the town needs to create more transient docking slips to encourage more boaters to stay overnight at the harbour and visit downtown shops and restaurants.

Prost again evoked the potential tourism opportunities that will be missed should the town continue down the current MBL path.

“Midland Bay Landing could be an incredible attraction with a water-park, ski trails and a skate trail," she said.

Frank Vatalaro added: “We need to better promote what Midland has to offer. We need more festivals that bring people into Midland, but don’t cost Midland (ratepayers) money.”

3. What is your view on the Midland Bay Landing project?  Are the people of Midland being properly represented by the Board? And is 25% public land to 75% private a fair deal as outlined on the town website?

Roberta Bald said the town would be wise to pause the development for now.

“The plan that we have is flawed and I don’t think it’s a fair deal,” she said. “The new council should really look at what’s going on. We have to do it right.”

Former council members Jim Downer and Glenn Canning both agreed that the board is doing a good job of creating a plan that properly represents the town, adding that the consultation process held a number of years ago had a good turnout and was fair and transparent.

Ben Gorski called it a “fair deal to the community,” adding that the current plan calls for 10 acres of public space, which he noted is "enough." He also pointed out the town has about four times more park space than many other similar-sized municipalities.

Matthew Vaters also likes the current plan, noting it will generate tax relief.

East, meanwhile, said that having stores at the site would be fabulous and give visitors an opportunity to get camping supplies, tattoos and haircuts all in one place.

But on the flip-side, there were others like Bald who favoured the idea of reflecting on the plan before shovels hit the ground and there’s no turning back.

Meridis and Prost had the strongest words against the current plan and the Midland Bay Landing Development Corporation board.

“We haven’t been represented at all by the board. We’ve been kept in the dark,” said Meridis, who noted conceptual drawings show that some of the parkland isn’t even located near the waterfront, but behind buildings.

Added Prost: “I’ve never been in favour of housing and stores at Midland Bay Landing and it will hurt businesses in our beautiful downtown. No one’s being heard and 25% (public space) is like a slap in the face to residents.”

Major said the land should feature a 60% parkland/40% development mix while Jeffery added: “I’m not sure people are being properly represented as was originally envisioned.”

Carole McGinn said she’s heard from constituents who believe the current plan needs to be “tweaked” and that she favours “contemplative development.”

Vatalaro said creating stores on the site will only hurt already struggling downtown businesses.

“I think a pause and rethink is the most important thing," he said. "The public consultation conducted a decade ago is no longer relevant.”

4. What council decisions in the past would you like to change?

While many candidates voiced the recent parking meter boondoggle as council’s biggest faux pas and something should have been done earlier to alleviate concerns, Bald and Downer said they wished council hadn’t decided to disband the Midland Police Service and move forward with the OPP.

“The main thing with the OPP is traffic enforcement,” Bald said. “They’re not very good in small towns like this.”

Although he didn’t offer specifics on what decision he’d like to change, Jeffery noted that “there were some things that were done by bullies and those things have to be looked at.”

Prost cited moving forward with the MBL plan by signing on with a developer as a major council mistake along with its handling of former town employees of Bill Gordon and police chief Mike Osborne where it favoured litigation over mediation.

“They need to better spend taxpayer money. They needed to talk more and treat people better,” she added.

McGinn said council was wrong to move away from in-person voting in favour of telephone and internet voting for the upcoming election while MacDonald noted that it would have been nice for the town to also offer paper ballots.

Meridis said council’s fumbling of how deputations were handled from those wishing to speak at council created “deputation suppression,” which didn’t allow residents to have their voices properly heard.

5. What is your stance on the Guesthouse Shelter being situated behind the library and essentially in downtown Midland?

While not a municipal agency, many councillors conceded the shelter is likely there to stay and encouraged those running it to better ensure programming is in place to help its clients.

“I would support more resources for street outreach and affordable housing,” McGinn said “We need to realize these are people and we have to meet them where they are.”

Meridis said it shouldn’t be located in the downtown core and as a member of the BIA, pointed out business are voicing concerns over increases in shoplifting at their stores.

“If the library pays $75,000 a year for security, it doesn’t make sense for the town not to provide security to the downtown core,” he said, noting having a methadone clinic downtown also doesn’t help. “Someone is going to get seriously hurt downtown.”

Ball and Bald said more programming is needed with Bald wondering why it’s not open 24 hours a day to prevent people from just “hanging out.”

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The chamber has two other meetings on tap.

Next Monday, residents will hear from the candidates running for Penetanguishene council from 7 to 9 p.m.

The next night from 7 to 9 p.m.,, the candidates running for deputy mayor and mayor of Midland will outline their positions for viewers.

Anyone interested in joining the chamber’s meetings, can click here.

This link will register people for all four meetings.  They can then choose which meeting(s) they would like to attend.

Residents are also being asked to submit any questions in advance for the candidates. Questions can be emailed to info@sgbchamber.ca.


Andrew Philips

About the Author: Andrew Philips

Editor Andrew Philips is a multiple award-winning journalist whose writing has appeared in some of the country’s most respected news outlets. Originally from Midland, Philips returned to the area from Québec City a decade ago.
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