Residents passionate against re-zoning

Duane Hicks

After hearing opinions from the public about the proposed re-zoning of the “Nelson Street Park” on Monday evening, council will vote next Monday (Dec. 19) whether to re-zone the property and divide it into five lots for residential development.
Mayor and council received no shortage of input for their consideration after several people spoke against the proposed re-zoning while one resident spoke in favour of it.
Eric Rude, who lives on Church Street near the park, presented council with a petition signed by those against the re-zoning of “Nelson Street Park.” The petition included 807 signatures, about 550 of which were by Fort Frances residents.
Not only would he like to see the property remain “open space,” but Rude said he’s looking for long-term solutions as to what can be done with it.
For example, council could invite a community group or service club to consider adding facilities to it, as deemed desirable, to enhance the use of the park for the entire community.
Kalan Kielczewski, who also lives in the neighbourhood and has been spearheading the campaign to save the park, said the top priority on everyone’s minds should be the children.
Council also is looking at re-zoning the property on the corner of Minnie Avenue and Front Street from tourist commercial (C4) to “open space” to offset the eliminated open space that would result from the conversion of the “Nelson Street Park.”
But Kielczewski said having such a space next to the wood yard does not sit well with her as a parent, for obvious safety reasons.
“If the area is not desirable enough to build houses there, why would it be desirable enough to send the children there to play?” she asked.
“Where the green space is located now is a much safer and healthier place for the children to play.
“Why has our park been targeted four times over the past 20 years?” added Kielczewski. “This cannot be the only solution to the town’s problem.
“To me, it should not be all about location, location, location but children, children, children,” she stressed, noting she feels council is not considering their wants and needs—and yet these children will grow up some day and perhaps be sitting in seats as councillors themselves.
“I think you should ask yourselves what sort of message you are sending the community and the future members of town council, as well,” Kielczewski said. “Not everything in life should have a price tag thrown on it.
“What about the Hallett and the tower—if they do not get enough use, is a price tag going to be thrown on them and sold to the first person to come up with the money?” she wondered.
Kielczewski acknowledged it’s true the property does not get used 24/7, but then asked what park is?
While some outsiders have said the lot appears to be rarely used, those who live in the neighbourhood know it is used in summer and winter, and are aware that children won’t be seen there all the time as they have to attend school and, during summer, may spend their days in child care while their parents work.
Kielczewski said hundreds of people signed the petition to save the park and “if it’s a case of the wants and needs of the many outweighing the wants and needs of the few, I know that we have proven here tonight that we, the people who want to save Nelson Park, are the many and the people who seek to destroy it are the few.”
Kielczewski also presented a letter from local MP John Rafferty and local MPP Sarah Campbell.
“I am pleased to provide my unequivocal support to the ‘Nelson Street Park’ group of concerned citizens and their effort to stop the re-zoning of ‘Nelson Street Park’ into residential development property,” read the letter.
“It is my belief that the park provides valuable playground space, where numerous families can take their very young children for nearby wholesome outdoor recreation activities, and thus it should remain designated as ‘open space.’
“The fact that similar efforts in the past have been vigorously opposed by the public is a strong indication of how important the park is to local residents,” the letter concluded.
Area resident Jack Steinke said he has concerns as to whether new residential development will affect property values, and wondered if the sewer and water infrastructure in that part of town can accommodate the extra homes.
He added he’s lived in the neighbourhood for 15 years and there’s been plenty of repairs to the waterline, and it seems the sewer line has to be cleaned once a year.
Steinke also noted he sees little sense in re-zoning the property in preparation for population growth as he feels the future of the mill here is uncertain.
He fears Resolute Forest Products eventually could shift kraft mill orders from here over to Quebec, adding pretty soon the town might be able to have the wood yard to sell off for residential development.
“Just take a look around town, at the people that they’ve laid off,” Steinke remarked. “[Those people] are either going to be moving or selling.
“Hopefully, the mining company will take up the slack and buy some of these houses.”
Michelle George, who was among those who opposed proposed re-zoning amendments in past years, affirmed the property does see use, and that the residents have not lied to council now or in the past.
She added she understands the need for the town to bolster its tax base, but “Nelson Street Park” is not a property that should be developed.
George, who is moving away from Fort Frances in the near future, said the town’s focus should be less on taking things away from residents, like green space, and more on ways to keep people here.
“That piece of property is valuable to the people in that neighbourhood; we’ve made that statement in the 10 years that I’ve lived there and a number of years before that,” she noted.
“How many petitions need to go around before we finally can just put this to rest,” asked resident Melissa Wilson.
“I’ve signed petitions in my time; I don’t have to go through it four, five, and six times,” she stressed.
Bonnie Kielczewski, meanwhile, questioned who is going to buy these lots council wants to sell for development, noting she doesn’t see many new people moving to Fort Frances anytime soon.
“If they’re people coming from out of town, are there jobs in Fort Frances that are going to keep them here?” she asked. “If they’re desirable lots, as everyone keeps calling them, what would be the price tag on those lots and who could afford to buy them?
“Is it people from out of town? People that are already living in town who decide they would like to move to another area of Fort Frances?”
Kielczewski said she doesn’t understand how getting rid of green space to satisfy four or five people is considered the fair way to do things, adding there are other properties for sale in town and that council should listen to residents who live near “Nelson Street Park” and not re-zone.
Joanne Bliss said 20 percent of Fort Frances residents are age 65 or older, and there are plenty of seniors who want to sell their homes and move into condominiums.
Young families, who can’t afford to build new homes, can buy the retirees’ homes and the seniors can move.
“Why are we fighting about four lots?” wondered Bliss. “We’re an aging population. We need assisted living in this town.
“Let’s take Huffman School—let’s make that into assisted living units,” she added.
“My father-in-law went to Rainycrest. He didn’t have to go to Rainycrest if there was assisted living in Fort Frances.
“Let’s stop this. Four times is enough,” Bliss stressed. “We have other issues the Town of Fort Frances can deal with.”
In favour
One local resident, Jason Kabel, spoke in favour of the re-zoning.
While Kabel does not live in the “Nelson Street Park” neighbourhood, he said he is a taxpayer—one among many who need to recognize where the town sits as a community.
“We have to admit and recognize that we do have a dwindling tax base,” he remarked. “The town doesn’t have coffers that it perhaps once had, and that does need to be addressed.”
Contrary to what some other speakers felt, Kabel said new housing will not adversely affect property values in that neighbourhood.
He also said that concerns about increased users of the sewer and water infrastructure are unfounded as at this stage, surely any possible problems already have been addressed by the town’s Operations and Facilities division (this point later was confirmed by CAO Mark McCaig).
While it is respectable to want space for children to play, Kabel, a parent himself, said that at the end of the day, the right thing for council to do “is to do what’s best for the majority of the citizens of this town” and re-zoning this property is right.
“It is right to try to expand our town, have development, so that we can see people move to our town and not see people moving away to buy property elsewhere,” he concluded.
Planning process
As part of its most recent strategic plan, council directed that town staff investigate which town-owned properties would be most suitable for residential development.
Foremost among these was the “Nelson Street Park” property.
Council first directed the property be re-zoned at its Nov. 14 meeting.
The committee of adjustment then considered the “Nelson Street Park” re-zoning at its Nov. 21, unanimously supported it, and passed a resolution stating that there is sufficient green space in the area, the lots would be readily available without extensions to roadways or services, there are few to no lots in town for development in desirable areas, and this area is desirable for new residential dwellings.
The committee of adjustment also considered the property at Minnie Avenue and Williams Avenue at its Nov. 21 meeting, unanimously supported the re-zoning, and passed a resolution indicating so.
In her report to council, municipal planner Faye Flatt noted that there were no concerns identified by town divisions regarding the proposed re-zonings.
She mentioned the re-zoning process of the “Nelson Street Park” in 2008 was aborted in the final stages based on opposition from residents claiming to use the property on a regular basis.
Since then, members of council and town staff, as well as other interested parties, unofficially have monitored the property, and all indications show “it is used as infrequently now as it was then.”
Flatt added that the re-zoning falls in line with the town’s official plan, provincial policy statements, and the recommendations of the Committee of Adjustment and staff.
And notwithstanding any information to the contrary that may have resulted from the public meeting, she said the re-zoning should proceed as initiated by council.