Town seeks legal opinion before moving on acquisition of trail lands

Minto council will seek a legal opinion before making a commitment to permanently maintain the White’s Junction Trail and proceeding with an agreement to take over the property.

At the May 6, 2015 council meeting, Palmerston Trail Association president David Burns proposed the town take over ownership and responsibility to maintain about eight kilometres of former railway right of way developed by the organization.

Council was receptive to the idea and prepared a draft agreement.

However, on Jan. 8 the trail association asked the town in a letter to confirm several conditions would be met, including that the property remain a walking and biking trail, that no motorized vehicles be allowed and any successor group to the association retain the right to post railway-related historical material and plant memorial trees.  

“I think they’ve been struggling with actually signing off on the lands,” commented CAO Bill White at the Jan. 19 Minto council meeting.

However, he noted he was not in a position to guarantee the group’s requested conditions would be met.

“One thing that might help the group is that we put on the deed that it always be used for a trail and that way we bind the future council that this remain a public trail,” White suggested.

Councillor Mary Lou Colwell expressed concern about making financial commitments that could last well beyond the terms of existing councillors.

“I just feel we can’t legally bind ourselves,” she said.

Deputy mayor Ron Faulkner agreed, adding, “We’re accepting liability and giving away the decision-making ability.”

Right of first refusal

Mayor George Bridge suggested the town offer the trail group right of first refusal on the property, should a future council decide it did not want to maintain the trail.

“I think right of first refusal almost gives them the protection they want,” the mayor stated.

“As long as we’re not giving them a covenant,” said Faulkner.

White suggested the town have the proposed “covenant” reviewed by a lawyer “just to address council’s concern that they could extricate themselves from that part of the agreement in the event that they didn’t want it to be a trail anymore.”

Council approved a resolution to accept the report and directed White to obtain legal advice.

Mill Street Park acquisition

Municipal acquisition of a small piece of parkland in Harriston proved less complicated at the Jan. 19 meeting.

Council passed a bylaw at the meeting to authorize the signing of documents to complete the purchase of the Mill Street Park from the estate of George Walkey.

CAO Bill White explained in a report the Harriston Horticultural Society has a 99-year lease for the park. The lease was signed in 1958 and runs to April 21, 2057. The property is about a half-acre in size and land ownership had rested with Walkey’s estate. The town has negotiated purchase for a nominal amount.

The horticultural society pays the $80 per year in annual taxes, and is prepared to continue to use the lands for its own purposes.

The report states the town already assists with maintenance and “should own the land given it is fully within the flood plain.”

The purchase price is $1 and each party is to cover its own legal fees, expected to be less than $1,000.