A second public visioning session for Innisfil Beach Park was held Tuesday night at the Lakeshore Library, just down the road from the iconic waterfront park on Lake Simcoe.
The visioning process began with a staff-generated proposal of the park of the future – a plan that included economic development, massive floating docks to transform Alcona into the Port of Innisfil, and amenities that ranged from restaurants to community gardens, a huge amphitheatre on the waterfront, fitness trail and vendor kiosks.
Before the second session took place on Tuesday, more than 140 people had commented on the proposal and nearly 500 surveys outlining resident use of the park and preferences for redevelopment had been returned.
Residents were assured, “The feedback you provide will influence the changes that could be made to the park” – but the message boards still looked like promotional material, describing the transformation of an “underutilized beach by creating a cluster of retail kiosks, a restaurant and attractive public spaces,” to not only serve neighbourhood residents, but attract “lake travellers.”
The information, backed by comments taken from residents’ surveys and letters, identified a demand for “more food options, arts programming and festivals, rentals to make using the water more enjoyable” as well as retail options, and transportation allowing more to access and explore the park.
But responses from those attending the second session were mixed.
Marvin Geist, vice president of the Lake Simcoe Conservation Foundation, expressed support for the concept of a boaters’ destination at Innisfil Beach Park, but also concerns.
“I use my boat, I go to Orillia and park my boat ... it would be terrific (to have Innisfil Beach Park) as a destination” with cafes and small restaurants close to docking facilities.
At the same time, Geist noted, “My concern is the lake. This is right abutting Lake Simcoe. What do we do with stormwater runoff? Old Alcona has no stormwater management. This area has no LIDs (Low Impact Development).”
Innisfil resident Angela Michieli suggested the proposal was in conflict with the town’s own goals, by proposing floating docks in front of swimming areas and a canal specifically for boaters that would cut through a portion of the park.
“The idea has been to get as many people coming to the beach as possible,” yet the design is “removing access to the water,” Michieli said.
She objected to replacing “natural heritage land” with commercial development both at the waterfront and along Innisfil Beach Road.
Deb McGrath, former Lady of the Lake and Chair of the Celebrate Lake Simcoe Festival, also warned of a potential threat to the health of Lake Simcoe.
“This is the fight of its life,” McGrath. “This is what Annabel (Slaight, co-founder of The Ladies of the Lake) has always said.”
Before expanding boating and docking opportunities on the lake, she called for the completion of studies that would measure the potential impact.
“We don’t even have evidence of the impact of Friday Harbour on Lake Simcoe,” she said.
The presentation at the library not only included some of the more controversial uses, such as the docks, but also expanded the list of proposed uses for consideration.
Suggestions included completing the multi-use trail loop and widening it for winter cross-country skiing, constructing heated washrooms and a four-season restaurant to promote winter use of the park, building an area for BMX bikes and setting aside space for an off-leash dog park.
And although there was talk of the high cost of maintaining the park’s 47 acres of turf – the remainder of the 68 acres is forest, wetland, parking lots and beachfront – there was no mention of the cost of installing and maintaining the new infrastructure and landscaping in the proposal.
“We’ll put a price on every project,” promised Gaelen Pierce, Planner and 'Placemaker' with the Town of Innisfil. “These are ideas. What will actually be built? Maybe a tenth… Here’s, like, a draft vision.”
Pierce said he had hoped to have a final draft of the proposal by the end of September, “and from there, it’s cost-finalizing.”
“We were kind of hoping to be further along,” said Paul Pentikainen, Senior Policy Planner with the Town, noting the process has been delayed to allow continued engagement with residents, and more input from Innisfil's population of over 36,000 people.
He suggested the final recommendations would be coming forward in September, when the public will have additional opportunities to comment.
Ward Councillor Donna Orsatti expressed some reservations.
“The problem is trying to be everything, instead of narrowing down,” Orsatti said.
Staff, she said, have been looking at ways to bring the boaters from Friday Harbour Resort into Alcona, to enjoy Innisfil Beach Park and downtown Alcona.
“For me, it’s residents first,” said Orsatti.
“As far as I’m concerned, this is a pipe dream,” said Deputy Mayor Dan Davidson, long-time environmental activist. “I want a passive park.”
Part of the controversy surrounding the proposals stems from the quiet redesignation, as part of the Town’s new Official Plan, of residential homes along the south side of Innisfil Beach Road, from 25 Sideroad to the lake, and five waterfront homes on Lakelands Avenue.
The properties have been redesignated from single-family residential to mixed use, permitting commercial development.
Sally Stanleigh, owner of one of the five homes on Lakelands, said that she only learned that her property had been redesignated when Town Council passed an Interim Control by-law earlier this year to prevent developers from scooping up the impacted properties at bargain prices.
“They haven’t considered people living in the area,” said Stanleigh, who built the home six years ago. She noted that the City of Barrie has kept its waterfront publicly-owned, and “kept commercial off the water.”
Stanleigh said she wasn’t opposed to all of the ideas presented for redevelopment of the park, but questioned how they improved what is already an over-crowded situation that discourages local residents from using the facility – especially on weekends.
The proposals presented recognize that attempts to deal with traffic congestion and overuse may not have been effective – especially the construction of 600 new parking spaces in large lots that ate up greenspace.
Gaelen Pierce suggested that any new plan adopted would include “chipping away” at the expanse of asphalt, possibly pursuing off-site parking options, with transit to and from the park.
Staff identified noise issues, swimmer safety, boat safety, barbecue hazards, enforcement, accessibility, tent use, and alcohol in the park as problems facing Innisfil Beach Park, but the proposals presented contained few solutions other than a suggestion that technology could be used, such as “beach webcams” and noise level detection and feedback devices in the public washrooms to alert staff to “emergencies.”
Innisfil Mayor Lynn Dollin was among the council members present at the session.
“People have been saying that they’re glad we listened to what they said,” said Dollin. “I think council’s here to listen. You’ve got a majority of council here – and we’re here to listen to everybody’s ideas.”
She promised continued public consultation.
“There will be more opportunities. This is a long process, and a process for the future,” she said.