MINTO – Town council has agreed to reconsider the planned sale of Beehive Park.
The fate of the park, the historic site of Beehive SS #1 Minto, will now be decided in September, provided council is able to resume in-person meetings at that point.
Council declared the 0.4-acre park land surplus on Dec. 3, 2019 and directed staff to provide public notices of the proposed sale.
A staff report at the time cited maintenance costs and vandalism concerns as reasons for disposing of the property.
Located on Wellington Road 109 between Harriston and Teviotdale, the park was the site of a one-room schoolhouse until the mid-1960s and was operated as a roadside rest stop by the provincial Ministry of Transportation after the school closed.
In 2000, after the local portion of Highway 9 was downloaded from the province to the county, the newly-amalgamated Town of Minto purchased the property for $1 and continued to operate it as a roadside rest stop and picnic area.
At the Jan. 21, 2020 meeting, about 18 members of a delegation and community supporters were in the gallery and numerous letters from local residents opposing the sale were included in the agenda package. At that meeting, council referred the issue back to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee (PRAC), which had originally recommended council explore options, including a sale, for the park.
Minutes of the March 4, 2020 Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee (PRAC) meeting indicate that prior to a presentation by a delegation of park supporters, councillor Ron Elliott, who chairs the committee, advised the group their presentation was for information purposes only and that PRAC was not in a position to make any decisions.
The matter was set to be dealt with further by council when the COVID-19 pandemic struck and council meetings were initially halted, then transformed into online affairs.
At the Minto meeting last week, councillor Mark MacKenzie presented a motion to reconsider the decision to sell the park.
“The reason I brought this forward again is I was approached from some individuals from the Beehive delegation and they asked if we’d reconsider keeping that park open as a roadside park … And we’ll see how the vote goes,” MacKenzie said at the April 20 meeting.
Councillor Judy Dirksen said, “I think this is important to reconsider … there were a lot of balls dropped by us as a council, some miscommunications, some misunderstanding, so I would just like to see this go through to allow a little bit clearer communication to the people that are interested in keeping it and make sure were doing the right thing because I feel like we kind of went a little bit fast.”
Prior to a recorded vote on the motion to reconsider, clerk Annilene McRobb explained a motion to reconsider a decision of council requires a two-thirds majority, or five votes on a seven-member council like Minto’s. McRobb also noted that a decision can only be reconsidered once.
“So this is your one time on it,” she stated.
The motion was approved in a recorded vote, with MacKenzie, Dirksen, deputy mayor Dave Turton and councillors Jean Anderson and Geoff Gunson in favour and Elliott and Mayor George Bridge opposed.
McRobb explained the affirmative votes allow council to reconsider its earlier decision and when the matter is eventually reconsidered, a simple majority of councillors will be enough to approve a decision either way.
CAO Derrick Thomson urged council not to proceed with a second vote on selling the property that evening.
“Given the inordinate amount of interest in this particular topic I would not recommend that you deal with it tonight,” said Thomson.
He explained council had two options after the initial vote.
“You now have to either reconsider the sale and refer it back to staff or reaffirm your original decision, which was to sell,” he said.
“What you voted on tonight was to talk about it again.”
Elliott asked if there was any direction currently in place for staff to cut grass, or install a portable toilet at the park … “or is everything going to be at a standstill.”
“Given that sale resolution … You removed certain assets from that particular park and staff further didn’t continue any operating activity on that park,” said Thomson.
“It would maybe make sense if you determined that you would like to do something different on the operations and programming of that park, it would come after you’ve made the decision on whether you’re going to still sell it or not.
“Right now, to be honest with you, with COVID being what it is, I would not put back a portable toilet,” said Bridge, noting the gates are currently closed at a Ministry of Transportation rest stop on Highway 23 in Minto.
Councillor Judy Dirksen noted the grass was cut last year under an arrangement with a contractor. She noted the cost was only around $500 or $600 for the season.
“We are obligated that any assets that we currently own … are maintained,” Thomson pointed out.
Elliott said, “It costs absolutely nothing to operate that, I agree 100 per cent.”
He suggested the main issue is “the loss of probably $150,000 (in potential sale proceeds) we probably could have put into other recreations programs in our community and probably for more people than are going to be going into that facility.”
A second motion to reconsider the sale of beehive park and direct staff to come back with an operating plan passed in a recorded vote with the same results as the earlier vote.
Council then turned its attention to a time frame for bringing the matter back before council.
“I think the beehive delegation is expecting to bring something back,” said Gunson.
Thomson agreed, noting, “I would assume that if we have this item on the agenda that those folks would delegate to it.”
Bridge said, “I’m sure they’ll delegate, but hopefully they’ll have a better plan than they had last time because they didn’t have a plan last time.”
Gunson said, “I was part of PRAC when the first delegation came and I don’t think they were quite prepared for what we were looking for.
“With lockdown should we be putting this off a little further to give them time to put something together?” He suggested council schedule the matter for late summer.
Thompson pointed out that “council hasn’t directed [the Beehive group] to give you anything. You’ve directed us to bring you back an operating plan and budget but you haven’t directed the Beehive group to bring back anything as yet.”
Elliott said “At PRAC there was no really plan put together, they talked about heritage and such-like, but there was nothing other than they were going to put a sign on the property to show what was happening in the Town of Minto.”
He added, “I don’t remember them suggesting they’d raise funds to put a porta-potty in there, or they’d have volunteers maybe to get some garbage, but there was no true committee put together there like the Drew committee, nothing like the Lions Club, like the Clifford (Recreation Association), the Harriston Kinsmen all have positions with the town and agreed to do certain things. All we got was talk, so there was nothing brought forward that we gave a report to.”
Gunson replied, “I still think that they were under the impression that they were coming back to council with a delegation, with a business plan.”
“I think we need to relate to these folks that they have an opportunity here. They’ve spoken out, they’re interested in supporting us on this park – and it’s their turn,” said Turton.
Councillor Judy Dirksen disputed suggestions the Beehive group did not offer a plan.
“My recollection of the PRAC meeting was that they had a document and I’m pretty sure that we can find that and share that back with our staff and there was a heap of ideas in that document,” said Dirksen.
“They may not have put together the business plan, but if you remember the meeting in January … it was decided it that it would go to the PRAC committee and the PRAC committee would come up with a recommendation for council.
“And then somehow between the time of that meeting, and the PRAC meeting, that had changed and the PRAC committee was not going to be bringing a recommendation to council. So this is one of those miscommunication things.”
Dirksen continued, “The term ‘business plan’ I don’t think that ever showed up until that PRAC committee meeting.
“I think that really what they’d like to see is have the park operate as a park and have the grass cut, they would pick up some garbage, someone else would look after the flower bed that’s there.”
Dirksen also said the group would like to see a stone commemorating the site of the former schoolhouse, which was removed by the town following approval of the original motion, returned to the park. The stone was purchased and placed on the lot by members of the since-disbanded Beehive Women’s Institute.
“They definitely want their rock back because that was hard work by a volunteer committee that was kind of snuffed out on them,” said Dirksen.
Bridge agreed the discussion should be postponed to give the group time to prepare.
“Maybe we are rushing it. … It’s a busy time and a lot of people from that group are rural people, so it’s not a good time for them,” the mayor stated.
Thomson suggested putting off revisiting the issue until council is meeting in person again.
“Given the demographic of that group, I certainly would want them to have a fair shake at communicating their wants and needs and I don’t know if that’s good over Zoom,” said Thompson.
“I certainly would want to do that when we can get back to sort of a live meeting … even if it’s social distanced.”
The CAO continued, “Of course, we’ll maintain the park and we’ll put the rock back.
“We took the rock out to protect it, not to sneak it away from them, that’s my understanding, so we’ll put that rock back and we’ll continue to cut the grass until such time we can have a fulsome discussion with this group to come to a final conclusion on what council’s wish is with this park.”
Elliott recalled a similar situation had occurred with the former ball diamond at Greenbush, which the town had wanted to declare surplus a number of years ago.
“We had a delegation, absolutely the same as Beehive, but we felt ‘boy, they’re pretty excited’, they offered to cut the grass and redo the ball diamond,” Elliott explained.
“Well a year after it was done, everything grew back in and no one is available to take care of it and do anything.”
Elliott continued, “These people can talk the talk, but they’ve got to be able to back it up. When they move on and decide that ‘I can’t go and get the garbage anymore, or I’m not going to do this’ they have to have someone come back in and start fulfilling these duties … or let’s instruct the town to take care of it all by ourselves and don’t worry about volunteers. But that’s what happened in Greenbush and I can see it happening again.”
Turton said, “Our whole system is all about volunteers and, I mean if we’ve got a group that is stepping up … and saying that they want to be a part of it, then we need to listen to them.”
Anderson replied, “I don’t know that we need a group of volunteers to keep the park going. Clearly, I didn’t know the significance of this piece of property to members of the community. I didn’t grow up here, my kids didn’t go to school there and I didn’t have that connection, I didn’t have that knowledge.”
Anderson continued, “But I think we need to look at it as a separate issue … do we keep the park as a piece of property because its so important to so many people?
“I don’t think it should be contingent, and we can have the discussion later, whether there are volunteers or not.”
Council agreed to defer further consideration until September, dependant on whether in-person meetings are possible by that point.