Proposed sale of Beehive Park referred back to committee

MINTO – Town council has referred the proposed sale of Beehive Park back to the municipality’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee (PRAC) after hearing a Jan. 21 presentation from citizens opposing the sale.

Council declared the land surplus on Dec. 3 and directed staff to provide public notices of the proposed sale.

Located on Wellington Road 109 between Harriston and Teviotdale, the park was the site of a one-room schoolhouse until the mid-1960s.

It was operated as a roadside rest stop by the provincial Ministry of Transportation (MTO) for many years 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.

A Dec. 3 staff report estimated it costs the town about $2,500 annually to maintain the park, including expenses such as grass cutting, a portable washroom, staff time and supplies. In addition, staff cited incidents of vandalism and garbage dumping as concerns.

On Jan. 7 council received a letter from Minto resident Dorelene Anderson opposing the sale and councillor Mark McKenzie requested the matter be put on the agenda for the Jan. 21 meeting.

Prior to the public portion of the Jan. 21 meeting, council discussed in closed session a report that included an appraisal of the property.

At the Jan. 21 meeting, about 18 members of the delegation and community supporters were in the gallery and eight letters from local residents opposing the sale were included in the agenda package.

Acting clerk Annilene McRobb confirmed two additional letters had been received after the deadline for inclusion and would be part of the package for the next meeting.

On behalf the delegation, Minto resident Meg Young asked council to “reconsider your decision to declare this property surplus and prevent the sale.”

“This lot was the home of the first one-room school house in Minto Township, known as SS #1 Beehive. Its history dates back to the 1800s,” said Young.

She noted the delegation recognizes there have been problems with garbage and dumping on the lot in recent years.

“This was very unfortunate for sure, but keep in mind this could happen anywhere within the town of Minto,” Young said.

“The history of S.S.#1 Beehive school is important because it connects us to specific times, places and events that were significant milestones,” continued Young, who said she attended the one-room school until she reached Grade 4.

“The Beehive Women’s Institute took steps to acknowledge this piece of history by placing a commemorative stone on the property … We were very surprised to find out second hand that the stone had been removed and wondered why it was moved and when that happened?”

Young said the rest area is “a wonderful green space with mature trees used by many travellers.” Noting the lot size is approximately a half-acre, or 150 by 150 feet, she said, “If sold we question what a potential buyer could even use it for?”

Young said the group disagree with the idea selling the property  would save maintenance costs and encourage the travelling public to stop downtown to support local businesses.

“It is our opinion that travellers may actually plan their route to the beaches of Lake Huron because they know there is a place to stop, rest, use the washroom, which is approximately half way.,” she said.

“Also, with McPhail’s RV business just down the road, they can also stop and pick up anything they may need. Who is to say that those same travellers do not then make a stop in Harriston to pick up any last minute groceries? To think that people pulling trailers or driving RVs would stop in Harriston if that rest area was closed, seems far-fetched at best. There simply is not enough parking and there are no public washrooms.

“They may in fact, chose a different route if the rest area was closed.”

Young pointed out the park could actually be used to promote Minto businesses and activities.

Noting the space is currently used by the town for a mobile sign promoting local events, Young suggested the town install a permanent sign welcoming travelers.

“This sign could display such things as; information about the three urban communities, a website address to check for upcoming events in the community, information on sewage disposal, note overnight camping available, theatre schedules, the list goes on. The idea being use what we already have,” she stated. “Beehive rest area has great visibility for advertising.”

Young suggested council members might not have been aware of the history of the property when they voted to dispose of it.

“We have to wonder if each member of council were aware of the history of this site and the importance of it to the community, prior to casting their vote to declare it surplus. Did you all make an informed vote?”

After asking council to reconsider, Young presented several questions on behalf of the delegation:

– has there been an appraisal on the property and if so what is the estimated value?;

– does the town have a potential buyer?;

– is the lot big enough to allow a building?;

– has thought been given to the historical significance of this property?;

– why and when was the marker stone moved?

McRobb advised the delegation the stone was moved earlier this month and Mayor George Bridge addressed the question of why it was moved.

“If we had a buyer … right away … there was some concern they might not be able to get the stone out because of frost or whatever. So [staff] took it for safety and they’ve got it at the shop, so it’s not as if it’s never going back if the situation changes.”

Young asked council who actually owns the stone.

“I guess if it’s sitting on town property it would be town property at that point in time. I know it was donated by the women’s institute way back in 2003,” said Bridge.

“The rock does not belong to the Town of Minto,” Dorelene Anderson, a member of the delegation, told council later in the meeting.

“It belongs to the Beehive Institute, which I am a representative of. I’m angry that it was taken out.”

Bridge said he sees no reason the rock could not be put back at the site.

“I can tell you right now if somebody in this room wants to take it back and look after it, I’m sure the boys would let you do that,” the mayor stated.

Bridge said the town’s chief building official has indicated the park is considered “a qualified building lot.” He said the town does not have a buyer lined and he declined to reveal the appraised value “because we don’t do that.”

Bridge added, “it’s fairly expensive to buy a lot … especially in the country because they’re not making any more. You can’t get that type of lot to build on.”

Minto resident Marte Pronk, who was in the gallery, asked council for more time to propose solutions.

“I’m asking for you to give us a couple of months to put a plan together see what we can do,” said Pronk.

“If it’s about the cost of maintaining, cutting grass emptying the sewage out of the Johnny-on-the-spot…. let’s gets some meetings together … I want to see this thing stay public. I want it as a rest area and I want it part of Minto township.

Later, during the new business portion of the meeting, MacKenzie raised the possibility of revisiting the resolution authorizing the sale of the property.

“Through respect for public opinion, is there any interest in this council in revisiting the Beehive matter through a motion?” he asked.

“There probably would be a point of order in that,” said councillor Ron Elliott, pointing out it would require the support of two-thirds of the council (five of the seven members)  to overturn a resolution.

“My recommendation would be to send it back to PRAC for their reconsideration and, in turn, bring it back to council for their consideration. And in that time we get a chance to revisit everything that was said and everything that was brought forward,” said Elliot, who cautioned there could be only one chance to revisit a motion.

“I’m afraid that if you made that motion and you lost, or as a council we didn’t revisit, then as a council we never revisit it again,” stated Elliott.

“We would get a chance to do it again through the sale of the property,” MacKenzie replied.

“No, the motion read that it was also a sale of the property. It was the surplus and the sale of the property,” Elliott insisted. “If you revisit it and we vote and you don’t get five votes, then it would never be revisited again, you can’t.”

“I think Ron’s right. If you bring it up right now I don’t think you’re going to get your two-thirds,” said Bridge. “I would say give the staff at least a month to get all the information that’s been presented.”

Bridge stressed he believes town staff, in recommending the sale of the park, was simply following a mandate from council.

“In fairness to the staff, we tell them all the time ‘Look for savings. Look for opportunities.’ And that’s what they were doing,” Bridge stated.

“PRAC had already had a look at this,” said MacKenzie.  “I’d rather deal with it tonight … if it goes back to PRAC we’re going to have to go through this again.”

“You’re asking us to change our overall vote … that’s different than having PRAC come back with a recommendation again,” said Bridge.

Elliott added, “all this information wasn’t brought to PRAC at the time. All we had was one-sided information.”

“But if we make a motion to overturn it tonight, we’re showing our support for these people and I will fess up I didn’t grow up here – I had no idea. I didn’t know about the school,” said councillor Jean Anderson.

“Ron is right. I would guess that you would lose that motion,” Bridge stated. “This is an opportunity to get all the facts on the table so we can have a proper discussion again and we’ll still have to have that two thirds vote no matter what.”

“And I would agree that having that two thirds vote, with the added information from PRAC … that may make a difference. I’m not overly confident in having that vote to rescind tonight,” said councillor Judy Dirksen.

A motion to ask PRAC to revisit the matter was approved unopposed.

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