Residents concerned report does not address community”™s small-town feel

As Centre Wellington council moves into the final stages of approving its strategic plan, questions have been raised about whether or not the plan addresses concerns of residents.

As council reviewed the matter on Sept. 21, councillor Mary Lloyd expressed appreciation to those who provided comments on the plan and noted the feedback would be considered by councillors.

In his report to council CAO Andy Goldie noted Centre Wellington has prepared a strategic plan for the past three terms of council.

“As each new term of council begins, council and staff review the key priorities and initiatives that will guide the municipalities work plan for the coming four years,” Goldie said.

In July, draft priorities and initiatives were presented to council as information. Based on final input, Goldie noted the township consultant will be preparing a final “council priorities and initiatives 2015-18” document for approval at the Sept. 28 council meeting.

A report from consultants Bill and Brynn Winegard of Winegard Consulting provided excerpts from emails on the plan, most of which spoke well of the tone and content of the draft plan.

The report noted the Nestle Waters proposal for a commercial water-taking site, which had not arisen earlier in the process, turned into a topic of discussion in the majority of comments.

“The emails convey a significant concern and an expectation that council will take a position in the matter,” states the Winegards’ report.

Other public comments make suggestions related to initiatives already contained in the draft … offering reinforcement, suggesting more specific ways to go about it, or requesting a stronger expression of commitment.

Examples include bike trails/bike safety, heritage conservation, tree management plan, incubation of agriculture related business, bus service, and growth management that respects a “small-town feel.”

Brynn Winegard thanked “those 21 citizens who took the time to provide their thoughtful feedback on the draft. Earlier in this process, we also gratefully received input from many dozen citizens and businesses through 20 meetings with individuals and community groups in Centre Wellington, as well as from the 215 respondents to the random-sample survey and the 309 who chose individually to complete the survey questionnaire.”

She said aside from newly-arisen concerns about groundwater, it appeared the first draft was not “far from the mark”.

Resident Doug Newman told council he was “speaking on behalf of friends and neighbours who are deeply concerned about the future of Centre Wellington.”

Newman commended those involved with the strategic plan process, stating he believed the draft document was heading in the right direction in general.

He said the number one priority to residents is “maintaining a small-town feel,” a term he suggested “is not defined” in the document.

“For me, context is important. If we don’t define what a small-town feel is … how do we know what we are trying to maintain? And how do we measure the success or failure?

“There are lots of pretty towns that have lost their souls and small-town feel after being ringed by subdivisions.”

Newman stated there are studies which state a person’s physical surroundings profoundly impact physical and mental health, their attitudes towards others and their happiness.

“If we take care of our town’s environment, it takes care of us,” he said.

Newman considered small-town feel a quality of life that can be measured.

“If we are serious about maintaining our small-town feel, we need to define it and not have it be some platitude.”

He wanted to see specific goals to achieve the small-town feel and the rejection of any development that does not meet that criteria.

Newman is concerned  Centre Wellington has reached its peak (size) to retain a small-town feel.

“From here on, that special magical alchemy that make Centre Wellington so unique … is going to slowly be chipped away,” he said.

Councillor Fred Morris said Newman’s points were well taken. However, Morris noted several pressures to small towns across the province, such as the Places to Grow legislation, which assigns target growth and densities.

With that in mind, Morris asked how the municipality can maintain that small-town feel while meeting those obligations.

Mayor Kelly Linton noted that while small-town feel was something cited by residents as a priority – no one defined what it meant.

“In some ways we are moving forward with that in looking at community design principles for streetscapes and parks,” said Linton.

Councillor Stephen Kitras said, “I pondered the urban design guidelines … parts of them don’t go far enough … but other aspects go way too far in terms of private property.”

He added  “small-town feel seems to be a tenuous quality …  and a personal one.”

Councillor Kirk McElwain asked about the process going forward. He noted water was not discussed previously, but it now ranks very high in importance to the community.

Goldie said all the comments made over the process are being taken into account, with the intent to circulate the comments and bring a final document to council on Sept. 28.

Linton pointed out this is now a three-year versus a four-year strategic plan, noting there has been a lot of consultation including two surveys, over 20 focus group sessions and many opportunities for comment from citizens.

“I think we are at a point where this has to be completed – prior to going into upcoming budget discussions,” said Linton, adding he believed the plan is close to being “a solid directional document” for the township.

“I’d hate to see it delayed any longer,” Linton said.

Goldie said the strategic plan document evolves as issues arise.

“The intent is that the goals and priorities be looked at from financing plans. If other issues come up with a higher priority we will go back and review those priorities.” He added staff can only handle a certain workload at a given time, and that if one priority comes onto the table, another priority may need to be removed.

Goldie said the intent is to provide an annual report of what has been accomplished in the past year, and what still needs to be addressed.

“But without setting some priorities, we have no guiding document setting council’s expectations,” he said. “No one can predict what will happen in the next three to four years.”

Councillor Don Fisher agreed, stating, “we have to have to treat this as a living document.” He added “presumably the community will be watching as there are things to which council has committed to and within a certain time frame.”

He added no document was perfect, but that this was a good start.

Councillor  Steven VanLeeuwen agreed council needs to move on with the process.

Councillor Mary Lloyd added some of the public comments should be directed to the township’s proposed urban design guidelines.

“There are important comments about heritage, the downtowns and even details regarding bicycle racks,” said Lloyd.

“Those are things which need to be move out of the strategic plan which is more of a global view.”