Over the past week I have fielded some questions from readers about council's recent approval to purchase the former Smith's Tire property on Nelson Street at a cost of $350,000. After explaining that it was simply council and municipal staff planning ahead and anticipating future downtown parking needs, and taking an opportunity in the rare instance that a downtown property suitable for parking is put on the market, the general reaction was a shrugging of the shoulders accompanied by a comment like “Well that makes sense”.
While most who I have talked to accepted and understood the rationale behind the municipality purchasing the property, some have been less than pleased, and I was told that a number of people on social media were crying foul. Some suggested that council was wasting money while roads were crumbling, while others wondered why issues like this aren't brought to the public for a vote – some even suggested that all major decisions of council should be voted upon by the public.
Before I delve into the property issue, I want to briefly touch on the notion that the public should be voting on all major issues that come before council. Sorry, but that is why we hold elections every four years. When we elect our councillors, we are enlisting them to be our votes at council; we charge them with the responsibility of representing our best interests, and making these important decisions – that is the whole point of our municipal electoral process. If people think that local governments are slow-moving now, can you imagine if each major issue had to be trotted out to the public for evaluation followed by scheduling a date for a vote? Again, that is why we elect our members of council.
As for the ruffled feathers regarding the purchase of this property, well, forward planning can be painful, but it has to be done.
The reality is that currently a significant number of parking spots in the downtown core are located on the former Canadian Tire property. That property is privately owned, and it's only thanks to an agreement with the municipality that we can park on that property. But if the owner of the property decided it was time to move forward with development and the bulldozers show up, all of those parking spots are lost.
A forward-thinking staff and council would plan ahead for such an eventuality, and they would be watching for the rare instance that a suitable downtown property would be put on the market for sale that would replace the parking spots that will eventually be lost.
A council and staff that weren't doing their jobs well would cover their eyes, sit on their hands, and do nothing until suddenly access to the former Canadian Tire property was lost and residents and downtown business owners were crying foul.
The current parking situation aside, there is also a significant amount of development that appears to be coming our way in the near future, which will also put pressure on the existing downtown parking spots.
Personally, I'd prefer a council and staff that looks toward the future, and plans appropriately.
As I was scrolling through dozens of angry comments on social media this week, I envisioned our council doing nothing with the knowledge that in one way or another Meaford is destined for a downtown parking shortage. I imagined that five years from now the former Canadian Tire property might be about to be developed, putting pressure on parking in a community that is starting to also grow in population. With parking suddenly an issue, council and staff look about for a property to buy, and with property values having continued to rise over the five years as they typically do, and with downtown properties being scarce to begin with, the only property that could be found was $700,000, and it was hundreds of metres away from a desirable spot for people to park in order to visit downtown businesses, or to take in a show at Meaford Hall.
In such a scenario, I suspect people would be screaming at council for not having been proactive in order to ensure adequate parking spaces are available, and would be available if a private property that was being used was suddenly no longer available.
I think this is yet another case of a local council being damned if they do, and damned if they don't. But I'm glad they did, and one day you will likely be glad they did too.