Township tells staff to investigate fees for property access

Centre Well­ing­ton Township owns a great deal of attractive recreational prop­erty, and now council has given staff the right to determine if commercial groups should pay to use it.
Recreation Director Andy Goldie said he is specifically tar­geting commercial user groups, and not individual citi­zens or local service clubs and organizations.
Goldie wrote in his report, “Over the years, the Grand River and Irvine River have been used by individuals and groups for various recreational activities including site seeing, walking, hiking, rafting, canoe­ing, etc. More recently Victoria Park (Elora) and other town­ship lands adjacent to the two rivers have seen an increased amount of use by commercial recreational operators, which offer activities like rock climb­ing, canoeing, rafting, kayak­ing, zipline, rappelling, ice climbing, and hot air ballooning.
(Ziplining is a team build­ing exercise by which people use a line to go from one side of the gorge to another. The re­sultant shrieks have disturbed the peace of nearby neigh­bours.)
Goldie noted in his report, “All of these commercial op­era­tors charge a fee for these services, and many of these operators are located outside of the Township of Centre Well­ington. The township also re­ceives numerous requests for access to the rivers, Victoria Park (Elora), and other town­ship properties for film and television. As well the town­ship has requests for access to our properties for training operations by organizations like the Centre Wellington Fire Department, Waterloo Region­al Police, and others.
“All of the activities noted previously occur directly on town­ship property or the town­ship property is used as a stag­ing area or for access to their activities. With these activities come some increased risk and liability for the township.”
Goldie said the biggest con­cerns are noise and parking problems. He told council that some of the commercial ven­tures consist of large groups, and they often park in parts of a park where there is little desig­nated parking, and their num­bers can give the impression that other users should stay away. Some actually cordon off parts of public property, often in the name of safety.
He said, “Many of these busi­nesses are not even local and also are not supporting the local economy. Do we want an access agreement with them?”
He said staff has discussed the issue several times, most re­cently in December. He added that the biggest difficulty with setting fees for commercial use is enforcement, particularly since many of the activities take place at night, after regular business hours, and weekends.
Goldie said the first step staff is taking is asking council for permission to develop a user agreement with commer­cial groups. He said municipal groups such as fire and police, who often train in the Elora Gorge, would be exempted from the fees, as would local service clubs and organiza­tions.
Among the difficulties in coming up with a policy are some questions staff will have to consider:
– does the township require proof of liability insurance and naming the township third party insured by commercial operators?
–  does the township require fees for access to township prop­erty for commercial opera­tors in order to support town­ship maintenance costs of the properties and capital costs to help address improvements to the park and properties?
–  does the township require property access agreements with all commercial operators offering recreational activities in the rivers and parkland?
– does the township require the development of formal op­erating procedures for commer­cial operators to follow which address parking, noise, staging set up, etc. in and around the township properties and two rivers?
– identification of activity areas and staging areas where­by commercial operators may host their operations, and
–  with the current staffing level how does the township enforce and patrol commercial activities on township prop­erties?
Councillor Kirk McElwain asked if there are insurance issues with private groups.
Goldie said most groups have insurance. He noted that many of the companies are offer­ing “more extreme” activi­ties.
McElwain said he is under the impression other groups are causing problems, too.
Councillor Shawn Watters said there was a major car show in Bissell Park in Elora last year, and when those vehicles left, the park was “in sad shape. I have a concern that a group like that can have quite an impact on a park.”
Goldie said he has noted that Minto recently insisted on $2-million in liability and third party insurance coverage from groups using town property. He added that other places insist on user fees to help cover costs like clean-ups.
Councillor Fred Morris point­ed out that Goldie had cit­ed big crowds and noise as reasons for complaints from neighbours.
Goldie’s report had stated, “In addition the increased traffic of individuals partaking in these commercial operations has, and continues to have, im­pacts on the adjacent residents and other park patrons through the blocking off certain areas of the park, parking, and noise, to name but a few.
“One of the most heavily used parks by the commercial operators is Victoria Park in Elora. Victoria Park does not have sufficient support ameni­ties (parking areas, trails, sign­age, etc) to meet the needs of all users during many summer weekends, thus also impacting surrounding residents and the park property.”
Morris said that individuals visiting the park can create the same noise and parking prob­lems as a large group, and won­dered how to limit the numbers of people so they do not bother the neighbours.
Morris said the gorge run­ning through the commu­nity is an asset, and, “I don’t want to create a document that keeps business from operating in our community. It’s a valuable as­set and has to be treated as such.”
Goldie agreed that staff would “look at a balance.”
Councillor Bob Foster won­dered if there is a proposed fee schedule yet.
Goldie said staff would have to work on such things.
Council then voted unani­mously to have staff start stud­ies that could lead to fees for commercial groups.