Friday, May 14, 2021

For a Municipal Council, It’s Tough to Please Everyone

The current controversy over leash-free beach access at Memorial Park for dogs and their owners is a prime example of just how difficult it can be for a municipal council to please everyone.

It is no secret that in recent years high water levels on Georgian Bay have wreaked havoc on our shoreline causing damage and erosion, and creating headaches for the municipality and shoreline property owners alike.

One of the unfortunate results has been the loss of a significant amount of beach area at Memorial Park. Where there was once 468 metres of beach area at Memorial Park, today there is just 190 metres, a loss of some 60 percent. Of the 190 metres of beach area that remain, 60 metres is designated as an off-leash beach for dogs and their owners. When the full 468 metres of beach was available, the off-leash area of the beach accounted for just under 13 percent of the total available area, but with the reduced beach area, the off-leash beach now accounts for more than 30 percent of the available beach space.

Recognizing the challenge for the coming season, municipal staff opted to implement a temporary measure that would not allow off-leash access in 2020 in order to provide as much beach space as possible for the coming season. That decision did not sit well with local dog owners, and they have been lobbying members of Council over the past couple of weeks to preserve the off-leash area at the park.

These are the sorts of issues that often put a municipal council between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

The decision to temporarily eliminate the off-leash beach area given the 60 percent loss in available beach space was a rational decision. Dog owners might not like it, they might not agree, but given the circumstances, it was a decision that could be easily defended.

On the other hand, dog owners are not wrong to want to preserve a privilege they have had for a number of years. Dog owners are not wrong that their four-legged friends should have access to the water. But, extenuating circumstances often require compromise if not disappointment.

Is it fair that dog owners be denied off-leash access to the beach at Memorial Park? No, obviously that wouldn’t be considered fair. But then, is it fair to tell those who don’t own dogs that they must use a beach that is 60 percent smaller, while dog owners maintain their full 60 metres of beach space? Not really.

I have seen many alternate locations proposed for a dedicated dog beach, but with each suggestion I hear the dog-owning community balk, and it seems that it has to be Memorial Park or nothing. Is that realistic given the reality of the day?

It is at times like this that I don’t envy those who serve on municipal councils. How can Council possibly please everyone with an issue such as this?

The hard reality is that 60 percent of the beach area at Memorial Park has been lost due to erosion caused by high water levels. Memorial Park is a summer tourist destination that sees far more human visitors than canine, yet the beach access for dogs is highly valued by those who use the beach for some water fun with their four-legged friends.

As was pointed out by Mayor Clumpus during Monday’s council meeting is that, lost in the conversation, is the fact that not everyone wants to share a beach with dogs; some are fearful of them, others just don’t like them. So when the beach area is reduced by 60 percent, if the off-leash area is to be maintained, then dog lovers and those who definitely do not love dogs will be forced closer together, uncomfortably close some would suggest.

Council has opted to let the Parks Advisory Committee have a look at the issue and provide input prior to Council making a decision. A sound decision, though it is worth reminding all that advisory committees advise Council, they don’t set policy, and Council is not bound to take the advice provided. Having your say certainly does not, and cannot equate to having your way, but it is an important part of the process, and it will be interesting to see what the Parks Advisory Committee has to say on the issue, and what potential solutions they will put forward to Council for consideration.

One thing is certain however. No matter what Council decides there will be those that are happy and those that are not, because in situations such as this, where nobody is really wrong, it can be tough for a council to do what the majority will think is right.

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