Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Meaford’s Unanimous Group of Seven

By Stephen Vance, Editor

What would happen if you put seven people in a room, and you asked them to agree on an order of one large pizza? Would you have a unanimous agreement on what toppings to order? Or would you have some of the seven people lobbying for mushrooms on half, while others debated which type of cheese would best suit the group? Of course there would always be the one guy insisting on ground beef when none of the others want it, and the poor vegetarian in the corner quietly opts out, and instead gnaws on the sleeve of their hemp shirt.

It isn’t easy to get seven individual minds to agree on anything, let alone something as complex as pizza topping preferences.

For Meaford’s seven council members however, deciding in unison to allow historic buildings to be torn down appears to be an easier task than if you’d asked them to agree on a pizza order.

Of course, sometimes seven members of a council can have a unanimous opinion – stop signs at intersections can typically find unanimous support of a council. A seven member council could also likely unanimously agree that shoes go on feet, and gloves go on hands.

This council however has had difficulty agreeing on $500 requests for support from the Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization, yet all seven, arm in arm are unanimous in their support for allowing a significant increase in the height of buildings in the downtown core, and they all signalled that they will also support the tearing down of historic brick buildings on the main street.

Stunning. I doubt I could round up that kind of unanimous support if I gathered six of my friends together and asked what should be done about the proposed redevelopment of a significant section of the downtown.

So how can the seven members of council, the same council that not that long ago approved the establishment of a heritage district in order to protect such buildings from being demolished, be so unified in their decision to allow taller buildings, and by extension, paving the way for four buildings to disappear from the downtown street-scape?

Whether you support the preservation in some shape or form of Meaford’s historic buildings, or you would prefer to see Meaford launch itself into the current age with new buildings replacing old, you should be concerned about a council of seven minds that can lock arms on such a contentious issue.

Even within my own brain I struggle with this particular topic. On the one hand, I love small towns that preserve their historic structures. I like to visit those kinds of towns, I like to explore their shops, and stroll their streets. On the other hand, tradition is the illusion of permanence, and we can’t always cling to the past. The buildings in question, while fairly typical of small town historic buildings (meaning with a spit and polish could look quite quaint), are deteriorating, and perhaps the time to save them would have been a decade or two ago.

Just when my mind becomes comfortable with the idea of preserving the structures, the practical side of my brain steps up and wonders who would, or perhaps more to the point, who should pay to preserve them, making it even more impressive that seven members of council were able to come to a unanimous decision.

One of the problems with unanimous decisions is that creativity can be lost.

What if a councillor were to suggest that while progress and change are inevitable, let’s have an independent expert provide an estimate for what it would cost to preserve the street-facing facades, while allowing new structures to be built behind the facades? Then we would at least have a number to work with. Then we would know whether the request to preserve the facades is truly an unfair ask of the developer, or whether the Heritage Meaford folks could commit to a fundraising campaign that would raise the money to preserve the facades.

Ultimately it all comes down to whose pocket the money should come out of if the historic facades are to be saved, and as with anything, those most concerned should be willing to jump in, and find a source of funding.

Finding compromise can be hard work, it can be frustrating work, but it sure beats watching seven adults lock arms and bend to the will of a developer who wants to build a mega-structure on a street that already has significant vacancies in its old but affordable storefronts.

I’m all for progress, and if the developer wants to build a grand structure, that is his business. If it sits empty, then that’s his gamble, and if the space is filled, and Meaford’s downtown starts to thrive, then his gamble will pay off. Unfortunately, if his gamble doesn’t pay off, the developer isn’t the only one that loses.

All council has approved thus far is the increased height for the buildings, though each and every one of them sent a strong message that demolition is coming, and they have all resigned themselves to that fact.

Let’s hope that before they have to actually vote on approval of demolition of the buildings, our councillors find their spines – not to say no, but to insist on a compromise that could preserve more than 16 percent of the street-facing facades, and perhaps place some of the burden of funding facade preservation on the members of the community most concerned about the loss of these buildings. Let’s see everyone put their money where their mouths are on this issue, and we might just find a solution.

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