Monday, July 31, 2006

A telling conversation with the former editor of the Cobourg Daily Star

Ran into former Cobourg Daily Star editor Cam Christie on the main street this afternoon.
He continues to work as an desk editor at the National Post and his family is pretty much the same as always - good.
He said something very telling during a discussion about the upcoming municipal elections.
"Why is it all the people who shouldn't be running for council, put their names forward?" he asked.
He noted the number of retired teachers (Mayor Peter Delanty and Councillors Dean McCaughey and Lloyd Williams) and those with limited experience in business (Councillors Bill MacDonald, who is a stay-at-home dad) Councillors Pam Jackson is a semi-retired PR consultant and Gill Brocanier is a retired manager from Kraft-General Foods. Deputy Mayor Bob Spooner is also a retired salesman.
Notice almost the entire council is made up of retired people. It speaks to the type of people who run for council. They have the time to devote to politics and are not worried about the income because they have another source.
But it also means there are many problems, too.
Wayne DeVeau, one of the candidates for council this fall, is also retired. Mariam Mutton is an independent businesswoman. Ben Burd is a tow truck driver.
Maybe Cam has a point.

Cobourg finally puts some teeth in heritage preservation

With more than 400 properties on Cobourg's heritage wish list, it is about time the town took some action regarding preservation of historic homes.
A proposal to incorporate the town's heritage district guidelines into the property standards bylaw is an excellent one and there should be no delay. This would enable the town to enforce important standards to preserve these buildings when homeowners fail to adhere to the guidelines that control any exterior changes that might change the appearance of the building, ruining the historic features.
Sadly, the town has lost many wonderful building, including the St. Michael's Rectory, the Chateau Hotel, the Lydia Pinkham building, the old post office among others because the town lacked the ability to enforce building standards.
The battle over heritage preservation is an old one placing those who wish to keep the architectural history of Ontario in tact against developers who only see old structures that need to be torn down to make new ones.
Until now, there are very few tools municipalities have to stop a developer. Under the Ontario Heritage Act, the best a municipality can do is delay approval on demolition permits to buy time to negotiate a deal. But this meant developers only needed to wait out any deadlines then go ahead to rip the building down. This has not changed.
The other challenge is the number of homeowners who are not interested in preserving the integrity of the of historic exteriors. Real estate agents are notorious for not fully informing homebuyers when they purchase a home in the heritage district. The guidelines recommend everything from the colour of the building to any renovations. Many time, uninformed owners are hauled before council pleading ignorance.
The Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee, a group of citizens designated by council to be watchdogs over the historic buildings in town, are often left talking to themselves rather than to council. This is the first time in a long while where the group has actually come forward in a proactive way. Usually, they come to council once a crisis exists.
They have a list of 400 buildings they want to have designated. Council must decide whether to impose these designations or continue to try and persuade the owners to follow the rules.
This is where the proposal to incorporate the guidelines into the property standards bylaw will become highly effective. This way, owners will have to comply. Also the fines must be raised. Offenders are hit with a meagre $150 fine. LACAC wants to hike it to $500. It should be $5.000 or more.
As for those who argue property owner's rights must take precedent, it is a poor argument. People who buy historic homes have a greater responsibility to the community and to history. If they don#039t wish to be custodians of these amazing homes and structures, then go buy in one of the countless subdivisions.
Cobourg once promoted its heritage far more than it does now. Citizens continue to be proud of the town#039s history despite the efforts by the current council. Once in office, Mayor Peter Delanty changed the marketing strategy away from heritage into "wellness" (whatever that means). Still, there are many who wish to ensure the preservation of the town's history for generations to come.
This proposal is a good step.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

God Bless Robert and Patricia Barker

This couple blasted the Northumberland YMCA and town council over the paid parking at Victoria Beach. The Y runs an outdoor pool adjacent to the parking lot.
The Barkers think it is unfair to pay for memberships and registrations at town-run facilities and then have to pay for parking when their grandchildren want to go swimming.
They were so upset they wrote a letter to council.
Deputy Mayor Bob Spooner pulled a nice flip-flop when he agreed with the letter. Mayor Peter Delanty and Councillor Dean McCaughey chimed in their support, too. When the parking meters were being debated, they were strong supporters. In fact, the entire council unanimously endorse the meters about a year ago.
Councillor Lloyd Williams suggested a review of paid parking might be necessary.
While council failed to act, Mr. Barker promised he will try to approach the YMCA to get results.
First, it is great to see I am not alone in being upset with the paid parking situation around the beach area.
Second, it is stunning to watch council bounce around this issue like a fish on a dock, flapping all over the place in the hope it will find the water. I guess a municipal election will have this kind of affect on a politician's memory.
It does have a bit of a Zen quality to it. They just focus on the moment in front of them, not worrying about the past or future. Makes you want to say "Ohm..."

Telling comments by planning co-ordinator Dean McCaughey

A proposed 222 acres in Cobourg's east end will be transformed into 1,300 residential units, parks, schools and a church in one of the largest subdivision site plans in recent memory.
Rondeau Development submitted its massive plans earlier this week and council got to take a quick look before the planning department does its usual analysis.
Councillor Dean McCaughey, who is the longtime planning co-ordinator, said staff will move as quickly as possible, but the review will be done thoroughly.
"There won't be any attempts to throw roadblocks in the way," he promised.
On the surface, this is all very unremarkable. But it is not.
Just above this story on the front page of the Cobourg Daily Star is a piece on the upcoming Ontario Municipal Board hearing for a proposed Home Depot. A businessman is fighting the major hardware and lumber retailer over a marketing study it submitted for zoning approvals to build one of its big box stores near the Wal-Mart.
It was only a few months ago, Mr. Sub built its new store on the main downtown street after a major battle between community activists and council. McCaughey took a beating over the conflict as the heritage perservationists worked overtime to try to get the facade to match the rest of the historic downtown buildings. In the end, the corporation got to keep its pseudo-heritage design that compliments the other architecture, but definitely does not match. It looks like a kid in his father's suit, and ill fit that is awkward and out of place, but a nice try.
When the fight was over, McCaughey was mighty upset with lots of scars. One thing politicians worry about is the message potential developers get about an area. If there are too many problems and a very strong activist community to oppose projects, they will take a pass.
Thus, McCaughey's comments are meant to send a clear message to developers that council is more than willing to push through plans. And, he is trying to keep his opponents at bay by saying the job will be thorough.
He should know better than to try to assuage the situation. In the meantime, this might mean McCaughey is hoping to run for re-election. If he can keep both sides in the development world happy, he may get a shot at coming back. But, that may be a long shot.

Petty, petty, petty

Northumberland Hills Foundation chairman Bob McCoubrey went before Cobourg council Monday night seeking $300,000 toward a new CT scanner, only one week after Port Hope council committed the same amount to the $1 million machine.
Councillor Lloyd Williams was quick to argue it is a "no brainer", since the new technology will be able to provide early diagnosis for heart attacks. With an aging population and a mass migration of retirees to the region, it could be easily argued the equipment is absolutely necessary. Otherwise, patients will be sent to Peterborough, Oshawa or Kingston for the scans.
But, with the usual acrimony, council delayed, seeking a report from staff as to where the cash will come from. But first, councillors got their licks in by stating the town has already contributed more than Port Hope. When the hospital was built, the town spent $4.2 million in free infrastructure like sewers, water and roads.
With an election this fall, it is highly unlikely any politicians wants to appear to be a Scrooge. It will depend on who is looking to run again in the fall. The mayor, deputy mayor and councillors Williams and Brocanier are all seeking re-election. But if Jackson, McCaughey and MacDonald want to, they can put the screws to this proposal. The mayor can be petty. So, all eyes will be on council for this vote.
What is even more shameful is the continued bickering that goes on between the two municipalities. Despite any effort to bring the two communities together to co-operate on any level is impossible. The historic rivalry and bitterness will never go away. For the Toronto refugees who come here to retire, it is impossible to fathom why. But, for those longtime residents, it is the equivalent of the Hatfield-McCoy feud. Annie, get your gun.
And poor McCoubrey better buy a flack jacket.

A divided downtown? What else is new.

The Port Hope downtown business association, known as the Hertiage Business Improvement Area, is squabbling over last weekend's sidewalk sale.
One member, Julie Aldis, who runs a John Street bistro, said the road closures serious hurt her operation. Her opening salvo in her war with the organizers began with a blunt letter in Monday's newspaper claiming she was not informed. She has other concerns. It met with a cool response from HBIA president John Campbell arguing a newsletter is sent out to all 120 members informing them of upcoming events. He also notes all meeting of the group are open and she is free to attend in order to make her concerns known.
One other businessman stepped up to defend the downtown association saying the communication is good and the organization is doing a great job.
As downtown business owners duke it out, no one should be overly surprised. It seems these battle are constantly going on and occasionally bubble up to the surface for everyone to see.
Cobourg's downtown association is a prime example. For many years, it was like trying to herd cats when any initiative was offered up. Anything from common hours to promotional activities were greeted with a complex mixture of enthusiasm and dread. The old boys would rarely comply. So, it the suggestions would die. I have known three downtown co-ordinators and they were very harried and often discouraged.
It is sad. There was a time in Cobourg when the downtown merchants were community leaders. And, it wasn't that long ago. The Christmas parade in Cobourg owe's its genesis to these people. They sponsored sports teams and donated untold amounts of money, time and products to fundraising.
Not so much anymore. Parking is a perennial debate which advances at a snail's pace as neither side seem to be able to control employees from using space close to entrances that should be for customers. There is always the issue of paying or not paying for parking.
Back in 1988, at Christmas, local businessman Bill Patchett hung the most amazing decorations. It was a series of wreaths and holly strung across the mainstreet overhead. As you drove downtown, it looked amazing. He did it one year because there were so many complaints from business owners.
These petty squabbles are legendary. The response will be swift and silent. No one from the downtown or those support the HBIA will eat at her establishment. She will be blacklisted until she goes out of business or is so frustrated she will quit. It is small town politics.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Province must help municipalities with outstanding tickets

Northumberland County is owed more than $3 million in outstanding tickets and fines by people from outside the area - the equivalent of the entire county roads budget for 2006.
Sadly, about $2 million of this was transferred to the county when the province downloaded responsibility for unpaid fines to the municipalities in 1998. Most counties in Ontario face the same fate, said county CAO Bill Pyatt.
The main culprits are U.S. visitors or people from other provinces who cannot be forced to pay when they leave. There is virtually, nothing anyone can do, Pyatt added. Some fines date back 15 years.
This is an opportunity for federal-provincial co-operation and could be easily dealt with, if governments were serious about assisting municipalities. A central database of fines and unpaid tickets could be created, if it does not already exist. When a U.S. visitor is leaving, they could be stopped at the border and made to pay. Or, the province should pick up the cost of seeking payment, including additional fees for using collection agencies. Regardless, this cannot be allowed. The same system could be used to force out of province offenders, as well.
Municipalities cannot afford to do this. The most efficient system is to do this provincially, since the large number of offenders would justify the cost.
As for those deadbeats who try to get away with this, the government should add charges to make it punitive and unattractive to not pay.

Town will challenge court decision over abandoned factory

The owner of a former tannery in Cobourg will face another round in court after town council decided last night to challenge a decision allowing the old buildings to remain standing and in disrepair.
The town deems the buildings on Alice Street to be unsafe and seek to have owner Richard Beasley to either repair or demolish the buildings. The town took Beasely to court after orders to do the work were issued in April 2004. Originally, it only asked the buildings be repaired. However, the town was forced to re-issue new orders seeking either repair or demolition.
Beasley said, in a published interview, he was not given enough time to comply. He also complained the orders were vague.
The town is right to go after Beasley. And, while he may feel there is not enough time or the orders were not clear, it is no excuse. These building represent a hazard both as an environmental concern and as a safety concern. Wayward individuals could easily light a fire that could threaten many heritage homes in the downtown. This is one of the oldest factories in Cobourg and presents a real danger.
Sadly, it is another example of an irresponsible businessman who is trying to get out of fulfilling his duties because he doesn't either have the money or he doesn't want to spend money. He has not paid his taxes and hopes the town will take over the lands and sell them for failure to pay.
Taxpayers' money is being wasted fighting this in court and coughed up all the money for staff time and lawyer's fees. The public should know the final bill and whether or not Beasely is going to be fined to reimburse the town. If not, it sends a bad message that the public purse is going to support bad business practices.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Victoria Park meters fall short in many ways

One of the great benefits of living in Cobourg is Victoria Beach. Nothing beats going down to the beautiful sandy beach on Lake Ontario when the heat skyrockets during the summer. It takes no time to get there - about five minutes anywhere in town - and it is rarely closed.
Yet, the town council is bent on making this wonderful resource another cash grab. More than a year ago, the put paid parking meters on all the street surrounding the beach and park area. This means it costs $1 an hour to use visit the beach. And, while some may say this is nothing, it is a punitive measure at the least and an unnecessary deterrent at best.
What is more ironic is the meters are not meeting the expected revenue projections. When the budget was being drafted for this year, a report from the town manager, Rick Stinson, showed only $17,700 was collected, far less than half the expected $52,000 projected when the project was first proposed.
There was a huge uproar about the proposal as many citizens felt the park and beach, two jewels in Cobourg's crown since the 19th century, should be free to the public. Many visitors from upstate New York travelled across on the Lake Ontario ferry to spend time on the lovely beach. To pay for this natural attribute is wrong, critics said.
Also the Cobourg Lawn Bowling Club, another historic fixture of the area, felt the fees were unfair to their members, many who are seniors, who enjoyed free parking.
For those low-income residents, the meters are a huge slap in the face. Already the Northumberland YMCA shares for its use of the pools. (Tim Horton's pays for one night a week free.) For these people there is no place to go for relief from the heat.
Sure, paying for parking for a day at Cobourg beach is nothing compared to going to a movie or dining out. But what is more aggravating is the dogged meter maids who hand out $10 fines if the meters expire.
Council will not remove the meters, regardless of how many complaints it receives. The politicians on this council are far too money-grubbing and cash hungry to step back. Still, future councils could give back the public beach to citizens to enjoy. The lifeguards cannot be such a huge expense that taxpayers would scoff at carrying the minor costs to all residents and visitors can enjoy this incredible resource.

Friday, July 21, 2006

DeVeau joins race for council

Former Community Services Director Wayne DeVeau announced he will run for Cobourg council in the municipal election this fall.
With 14 years of service, he has a good knowledge of the inner workings of town hall and he comes to the table with some pretty impressive credentials. He helped get the $1 million grant for the construction of the C. Gordon King Library and $4.1 million from the Waterfront Regeneration Trust for habourfront redevelopment. Those are two very high profile projects in town and will carry weight in the minds of voters. He retired in 2004.
DeVeau also has plenty of insight into the machinations of council, too. His wife, Gail, was a councillor for three years.
It is difficult to rate his chances at this point seeing as the race has not really taken off.
Deputy Mayor Bob Spooner is stepping down from his post to run for council because he is too frightened to take on Gil Brocanier for the deputy mayor's spot. Longtime politician Ben Burd will take on Brocanier for the battle of the budget chief. He announced his candidacy in his blog
Also, landscape architect and community activist Miriam Mutton is running. She stands a good chance because Pam Jackson, the only woman to sit on council for the past two terms, dropped out of politics a few weeks ago. Voters like to see a woman on council, which sounds very sexist, but it is a pattern for at least the past 20 years. For many years Joan Chalovich in the late 1980s and 1990s held the spot as the lone councilwoman. Then, when she became mayor, Johanna Loken became the only woman. The, she was replaced by Jackson.
Incumbents are still sitting in the weeds waiting. Lloyd Williams will likely run again because he can't help himself. Dean McCaughey had a tough term and may bow out after getting beat up pretty severely on the Mr. Sub project, the preservation of Molly Baker Lane and several other development proposals he supported. Finally, Bill MacDonald is very quiet. He has served for three terms, but has held little power or influence on council. His portfolio this time around was community services and he did very little of note.
So, it is not time to get too excited. But, with the incredible heat wave, there is not much energy anyways.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

And then, there were three PC's

With the entry of Jan Spragge into the race for provincial Progressive Conservative nominee for the Northumberland-Quinte West riding yesterday, the race became very interesting.
Spragge, a resident of Cobourg, will join Cathy Galt, wife of former MPP for the area Doug Galt, and Carl Eggimann, a retired OPP officer from Trenton.
The first thing to notice about this race is the geography. Spragge will be the candidate from the west end of the riding,while Eggimann is from the east. Notably, Galt is from the Colborne area, which sits approximately in the middle.
Nomination races tend to be very internal affairs for local riding associations. We might get a small glimpse into the minds of these people, if the media decides to profile anyone one of them. But, the real battle at the gut level will not be for public consumption.
Galt's entrance into the race mirrors a similar jump into politics by Canada's finance minister, Jim Flaherty's wife, Christine Elliot. Both are wives of Tory politicians. Elliot won the Whitby-Ajax riding comfortably. Doug Galt has a power base in the riding and served two terms, beating out some tough competition. He lost in a province-wide shift that threw the Tories out of office when Dalton McGuinty won. So, Cathy has some pretty strong connections.
Eggimann may be trying to mimc Rick Norlock's success. The current MP for the riding is also a former OPP officer, who won in the Harper sweep of eastern Ontario. The law and order stuff plays well in this riding and garners much respect from voters.
Spragge will launch her campaign in two weeks and then we will find out more.
This is one worth watching.