Survey is live for woodyard development ideas

Ken Kellar

If you have an idea for what to do with the Shevlin woodyard, now is the time to have your voice heard.
From now until Wednesday, March 18, members of the public can take the online survey from the Town of Fort Frances and consultants HTFC Planning & Design in order to share their thoughts and opinions on the direction the town should take when developing both the woodyard and the proposed “Gateway to the Rainy Lake Square” project, which will incorporate the property that currently houses the old nursing station on Mowat Ave.
The survey can be accessed from the Town of Fort Frances website at www.fortfrances.ca, or its Facebook page, and takes up to 10 minutes to complete.
Cody Vangel, the town’s Chief Building Officer, said the survey is a crucial next step in the development process, following the public visioning session that was held last month.
“The survey really summarizes lots of the key points that were brought up in the first public visioning session,” Vangel said.
“It’s reiterating that, along with asking the public to produce and share their ideas with the consultants so they can take that all into consideration. They want to have everybody come forward with their ideas as, with such a big project or such a big piece of land right on the waterfront there, they’re really looking to get ideas from anybody and everybody.”
The survey asks what the participant thinks is needed in Fort Frances, what ideas they have for both the Shevlin woodyard and Gateway to the Rainy Lake Square, and what kind of development they would most like to see implemented in both areas of the town. Vangel noted that even as it follows the public visioning session, the whole project is still wide open in terms of potential.
“I wouldn’t say that after the meeting, the consultant knew exactly which direction they’re going,” he said.
“In that process and even throughout this survey, they’re looking to gather as much information as they can collectively, to start working towards a path. As for that visioning session, that didn’t set them in a general direction, it gave them more of a general idea as to some of the concerns that the stakeholders and citizens had, and some of their excitement as well as to what they envision in those properties.”
When it comes to developing the woodyard, Vangel notes that the historic lack of development makes it an excellent location to put nearly anything, within reason.
“As it sits right now it’s, I would say it’s extremely versatile,” Vangel said of the woodyard.
“It’s a blank slate, really. The idea is that the consultant is going to pick a mix of land use, give us some conceptual ideas to determine what’s going to be the most feasible for the town on the economic development side, tourist side and also for the citizens of the town as well. I think given that there’s no development on it right now, it almost makes it easier to come up with a plan because you don’t have to start dealing with retrofits.”
However, the area surrounding the Gateway to the Rainy Lake Square project presents a bit more difficulty to work with as it’s surrounded by private property and well-established businesses.
“That’s why we hire the consultants, because they’re visionaries with years and years of expertise,” Vangel explained.
“I think really the goal of that area is to really welcome tourists and people coming across the border and say, ‘Hey, welcome to Fort Frances, this is what we have to offer,’ but as mentioned, with a number of pieces of private property, I think it makes it a little more difficult than the wood yard to work with.”
And while both spaces are being developed at about the same time, Vangel said it’s not a guarantee that the spots will work in conjunction with each other.
“That’s kind of a discussion that’s still ongoing as to whether ‘are these going to be tied together directly or are they going to be looked at as two separate entities for this project?'” he said.
“We’re still so fresh to this process that we don’t know which direction they’re going to try to take that yet.”
Once the survey closes next week, Vangel said the committee will meet with the consultants in order to take all of the information they’ve received from the public in order to determine how to move forward with developing the spaces.
“Right now they’re still exploring ideas, trying to find out what everybody’s looking for exactly, from the survey, from the public visioning session,” he explained.
“The third part of their plan is going to be starting to develop a preferred plan, a business case, and then the fourth stage of their project will be to build and support the preferred plan, basically honing in on one and develop a report for the land use and economic development side of it.”
Because the public visioning session filled up to capacity, leaving no room for everyone who might have wanted to express their opinion on the future use of the properties, having the survey accessible is important not only for those who missed out, but for those who couldn’t have their voices heard for other reasons.
“I think a good part about having a survey like this is that some people may be shy and not as willing to express in a group setting,” Vangel noted.
“This allows them to express their ideas in a more private manner when they may not be willing to in more of a public setting… Additionally, we do have seniors who go south for the winter, and having this sort of online aspect of the project can hopefully allow them to reach out and provide their ideas as they may not be available to attend an in-person session.”