Planned debate over Haist Street property pushed back again
BY JOHN CHICK
Special to the VOICE
An in camera agenda item at Pelham Town Council never saw the (closed) light of day at the May 6 Committee of the Whole meeting, after members voted to push it back to a special closed meeting to have occurred this past Monday, May 13, as the Voice went to press.
The issue centred around the future of the old arena property on Haist Street. That was clear based on the resolution’s description, which cited, in part, “proposed or pending acquisition or disposition of land by the municipality.”
Councilor John Wink excused himself from the vote on the motion to postpone. Wink has asserted that he has a conflict of interest on the matter, given that he owns property near the 1120 Haist location. With Wink out of the room, council voted to postpone.
It’s been almost two months since council surprisingly voted not to sell the old arena, going against the overwhelming results of both municipal and Voice of Pelham opinion polls. The Town has since commissioned a report on the future of the property.
Prior to the Committee of the Whole, council met in regular session. That meeting was highlighted by two issues that have become contentious: Gypsy moth spraying, and the debate about whether to rebuild the arches over Pelham Town Square.
Mayor Marvin Junkin fired back at the narrative that the Town has been historically negligent in spraying for gypsy moths, which, over time, can effectively kill trees.
“You do not spray every year for this, because the [Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources] would not allow you to spray unless the infestation has reached a certain level,” Junkin said. “We would never have got the approval from the MNR to go out and spray if the infestation level was not high enough. To say that we should be [budgeting] $100,000 a year, and spray for the next 10 years, that is totally false. There are a lot of misconceptions floating around.”
The words were clearly targeted at landowners Frank Feeley and Graham Ashdown, whose properties back onto frequently infested Hillcrest Park in Fonthill. The pair have been vocal in their criticism of the Town’s perceived inaction over the years. Hillcrest Park has been sprayed just twice since 2009.
As a result, Ward 2 Councilor Ron Kore wants to make amends with property owners like Feeley and Ashdown by covering their costs for this spring’s planned aerial spray. He pushed back on Junkin’s assertion.
“The infestation [on properties near Hillcrest Park] is just unbelievable,” Kore said. “I would say we’re responsible for that, because we did not do our jobs.”
Junkin interjected: “I’m just saying telling you what the expert said.”
Kore retorted, “Tell the expert to come to come to Fonthill and see the residents. Last year we spent $7,000 on spraying, and I don’t think that was good enough.”
With that, council voted on a bylaw to “respect the gypsy moth,” but the matter wasn’t done there. In committee, cost recovery options of the spray program—currently scheduled for later this month and early June—were discussed.
Councilor Mike Ciolfi took issue with the higher cost that rural property owners will assume as compared to those in the “urban” zone inside Fonthill.
However, Public Works director Jason Marr said the Town has no involvement in the spraying of rural properties, and that this aspect is being fully coordinated by contractors Trees Unlimited and Zimmer Air. He added that the average price per acre is actually lower in the rural zone, given the larger size of many of the properties, and the fact that unlike over Fonthill, where helicopters are necessary, a fixed-wing aircraft can be used to spray. According to Town statistics, the average lot in the urban zone is less than 0.3 acres.
Ciolfi shot back, asking if Trees Unlimited and Zimmer Air’s contract was acquired via protocol-based RFP.
When told no, Ciofi scoffed, “Good business to be in.”
The urban spray is budgeted at $63,000. The average price per property owner is anticipated to be between $225 and $275.
Kore again made the case for the Town to pick up some of the tab, specifically with landowners like Feeley and Ashdown—whose properties back onto a publicly owned trouble spot.
“What I’m asking is we pick up the bill for those who back onto our parks,” he said. “I personally think we own it. I was shocked to see the infestation on these trees. We need to find money. We can budget so we don’t have this dissent.”
Council ordered staff to report back on alternative financing options to cover the costs of spraying all Pelham locations.
“We’re spraying,” interim CAO Teresa Quinlin said, to eliminate any doubt the program was going forward. “And we’ll sort the numbers out afterward.”
Meanwhile, a split among some on council was evident regarding the potential return of the arches above Pelham Town Square.
Councilor and Summerfest chair John Wink endorsed the Rotary Club’s plan to rebuild the arches with private donations, along with creating a reserve fund of at least $2,000 a year for future maintenance. While Wink, Ciolfi and Kore appear to support the return of the polarizing structure, there was pushback from councilors Lisa Haun and Marianne Stewart.
Haun asked why there was a rush to endorse the project, when the Town also wanted to solicit other ideas from the general public.
“I think it’s wonderful they want to build something in our town, cost-free to taxpayers, but we want to make sure everybody has that opportunity,” Haun said.
“Fundraising doesn’t happen overnight,” Wink replied, noting the Rotary Club is planning an arches gala for September.
Either way, new arches would not be in place for this year’s Summerfest. With that in mind, Stewart echoed Haun’s thoughts. “I don’t understand why there has to be a rush to do it,” Stewart said.
After haggling over a deadline for public submissions for other privately funded decorative ideas, council agreed to move up the deadline to June 3.
Kore doubted anybody would come forward with a better idea than the arches.
“People would’ve come forward by now. I believe we are here to make decisions,” Kore said. “We have to make a decision to help this organization fundraise.”
Odds and ends
Councillor Bob Hildebrandt tabled a motion to move council meeting start times up to 5:30 PM.
“Starting earlier, the fresher we will be,” he said.
Town clerk Nancy Bozzato said procedural bylaw requires 10 days public notice for such changes, and council agreed to move forward on it. Moving start times up would also change the existing “curfew” time from 10 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Prior to the meeting last Monday, council paid respect to the late Gerry Berkhout, who passed away on New Year’s Day. Berkhout was a longtime Pelham businessman and community leader, serving on council from 1998-2003.
Former Mayor David Augustyn—Berkhout’s son-in-law— made an appearance in chambers with his family, accepting the tribute.
“Gerry would be very thrilled that the council of his beloved town honoured him tonight,” Berkhout’s widow, Gwenn, said.
“I want to thank you for sharing him with the community,” Mayor Junkin responded.
Council also honoured the Pelham Panthers Midget AE team, which won the OMHA Midget AE-35 championship. The Town also proclaimed May 14 National Denim Day in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness.
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