St. Clair Township will be moving ahead with the construction of a new parking lot at Port Lambton’s McDonald Park.
Following a public meeting during on June 7, councillors agreed to have a 45-space parking lot built on the southwest side of the park. It would also see gates built on the north and south side of the new lot.
In 2019, council asked the township’s director of community services Kendall Lindsay to find a solution to the ongoing safety issues at the park. Those issues included ball diamonds overlapping in the outfield, the children’s playground located too close to the north ball diamond, as well as ongoing parking challenges in the area, as park users were regularly parking on homeowners’ land and in no parking zones on adjacent streets.
The project was approved during council’s 2020 capital budget meeting.
Lindsay said a garden and sign located in the southwest corner of the park will be moved to another part of the park while the flagpole will be relocated between the two ball diamonds.
Council’s decision came despite opposition from a group of homeowners, including Karen and John Moran, who gathered a 146-signature petition opposing the new parking lot.
Karen Moran addressed council virtually during the public meeting.
“Our objective, along the majority of homeowners located between First and Second Street, is to have the green space on the west side of the park left green and to look at other options to solve the current parking problem,” she said. “(The signatories) are people who walk and train their dog in that space, parents of kids who love to do cartwheels along the way as they walk through and other community-minded people who want to believe that our councillors will make the best solution for everyone a priority.
“This may not be the quickest or easiest solution, but it might be the right one for all of us. A paved parking space would not invite dog walkers or kids, but instead would create a permanent change in the footprint of McDonald Park, a huge loss of privacy in the backyards that border it, create a significant increase in noise and undoubtedly decrease the property values,” Moran continued. “Conversations with three real estate professionals all resulted with them saying in their professional opinion, it would have a negative impact on the property value. Every owner purchased a property that backed onto a green space.”
Moran told council that many problems would arise from building the new parking lot.
“The handful of residents who have complained that could not bear to have a car parked in front of their house for a few hours are completely fine with funnelling it all into our backyards, into a permanent parking lot. We have cars parked in front of our house all the time during games and other times and we have never complained,” she said. “We, along with our neighbours, would be happy to work with council on a reasonable solution … we hope that council will reconsider the decision to place this parking lot in our backyard.”
Following her statement Moran suggested that a location on the east portion of the park might be more suitable for a parking lot, though that land is owned by CSX Rail Transport.
Mayor Steve Arnold replied that the township had been trying for some time to purchase the property from CSX.
“Just so everybody knows it’s been almost 20 years that we’ve been communicating with CSX trying to get that property and we still don’t feel that we’re any closer than we were,” Arnold said. “So it’s a point of frustration for all of us, because we want to rip tracks out over there … and everyone’s well aware of the issues there.”
Coun. Pat Brown asked Lindsay about the nature of complaints from local residents.
“In Kendall’s report, he talks about parking issues and states that park users are parking on homeowner’s land,” Brown said. “Is that true?”
“There were complaints that came in where people were parking on homeowners’ land and people being on homeowners’ land,” Lindsay replied. “Ballplayers were actually stepping on people’s back lawns.”
“I can see the residents’ concern – hard asphalt is permanent and I hear the other side is these vehicles show up for a game and then they’re gone,” Brown said. “It’s one of those damned if you do or damned if you don’t.”
Coun. Pat Atkins said the new parking lot was necessary due to real safety concerns.
“Parking has been an issue there, as everyone knows, for years,” she said. “And as more and more people started parking on both sides of those side streets, I can barely get through with my bicycle, let alone an EMS vehicle had to come through or if there was two-way traffic.
“We can’t have a park without parking. And the River Trail is used more than it has ever been used before, and the more that cars park along the parkway to get to the park, the more safety issues that creates,” Atkins added. “I empathize completely, but I cannot see having a park with nowhere for cars to go to.”
After making the motion to move forward with the proposal, Deputy Mayor Steve Miller said, “This isn’t a knee-jerk reaction to complaints; this is a safety concern – we can’t get emergency vehicles down the street if they’re required.
“And it’s unfortunate … that we’ve been trying for years to get that (CSX) rail property. But we’re not rushing into this – this has been years in the making. And when the fence at the park came to the end of its life expectancy and had to be replaced, and trees in the park had to come down (due to disease), it gave us an ideal opportunity to reconfigure the park and find a place to put those cars.”
Council voted in favour of Miller’s motion. The project will be tendered shortly.
Following the meeting, Moran expressed her disappointment.
“We’re disappointed and saddened by their decision to deny our request to explore other options and instead move forward with the removal of green space,” she said. “We’re also a bit confused as to why there was so little consideration that seemed to be given to the homeowners. There wasn’t a conversation ever with us.
“The ideal location would be on the east portion of the park, which is currently owned by the railroad,” Moran added. “Now (council) said that they had looked into (obtaining) this land and it wasn’t available. But what we believe is that it may not be available today but it will be available eventually. So could this wait just a little bit longer to get the best solution for everyone or an easy solution just to alleviate a big headache for council?”