Rebecca Belanger

Town gathering input on new parks master plan



By Ron Giofu


The town’s process towards a new parks master plan continued last week.

Part of the process was a public meeting last Wednesday night at the Libro Centre, which manager of planning services Rebecca Belanger said drew about 30 people. Belanger said consultants Steve Langlois and Joannah Campbell went over the process and the recommendations that are in the report.

In all, there are 71 recommendations. Some deal with upgrades and expanded services at some parks, while other recommendations deal with how repairs and maintenance should be funded.

Among the recommendations are adding baseball diamonds to the Libro Centre, adding a soccer shelter to the Libro Centre, remove deteriorated backstops at Anderdon and Warren Mickle Parks, investigate outdoor fitness equipment at an existing park, upgrade playground surfacing to meet current accessibility standards, continue to replace traditional playground equipment with “creative and challenging” play structures and providing playgrounds within 500 metres of residents within urban areas.

The replacement of the track at Centennial Park is not recommended.

“The plan has provided an audit of the condition of all of our parks,” Belanger told the RTT Thursday morning. “It maps out the locations and comes forward with over 70 recommendations.”

Moving more sports fields and features to the Libro Centre is a possibility under the plan, she stated, with additional amenities to possibly include a second splash pad, basketball courts and a relocated skateboard park.

Belanger noted that “there are recommendations that are park specific but there are overarching recommendations also.”

Under the plan, parks would be classified as destination, athletic, leisure, heritage, civic, natural and linear, the latter including trails and greenways. A natural park is described as municipal open space and “natural properties used for conservation and passive recreational activities.”

A public survey was taken with 120 responses, Belanger added, and there were six organizations that were met with. There are opportunities for redevelopment of existing assets, she continued.

Belanger said the full draft of the parks master plan is on both the town’s website and the town’s “Talk the ‘Burg” site and public feedback is encouraged. The town hopes to have people respond by May 23 with a final draft plan to go before town council June 11.

Consultants from Monteith Brown Planning Consultants conduct a public meeting May 9 at the Libro Centre regarding the draft parks master plan. (Submitted photo)

There are also recommendations that deal with the Belle Vue property and the former Duffy’s location, but Belanger noted there will be more public consultation on those projects.

Pertaining to Belle Vue, the town is hosting two public consultation meetings on consecutive Tuesday nights regarding the future of the Dalhousie St. property. Those meetings “will be held to assess future opportunities, identify potential uses and solicit public input on proposed concepts for the renowned heritage site.”

The Belle Vue meetings are May 29 and June 5 at the Libro Centre, both scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.

Councillor Diane Pouget brought up the future of Centennial Park at Monday night’s council meeting, specifically the 12 acres that was not purchased by the Greater Essex County District School Board for the new public high school.

According to Pouget, the park was removed from the town’s inventory of parkland and questioned

agreements with the public school board to use the site. She also pointed out the park is named for former mayor Murray Smith, calling him “a great mayor” and stating he made many contributions towards the park’s development.

CAO John Miceli and Mayor Aldo DiCarlo disagreed with Pouget’s assessment of the status of the 12 acres. Although listed as “N/A” in the study, Miceli said when the draft plan was being written, it was not known by the consultants how much of the park would be sold.

“It does not mean it has been removed,” said Miceli, adding that council wants “opportunities” for the site explored.

Miceli doubted the public board would challenge the previous agreement about park usage, since the board is the purchaser of the adjoining lands, adding that a football field is no longer planned for the remaining acres anyway.

Pouget pressed on, stating the public has a right to know what is going on with that land and whether the town is going to get rid of it. Miceli repeated that nothing has been removed from the town’s parks inventory and that “it’s always up to council to do something with parkland. If anything does happen with the 12 acres, council will make that decision and make a responsible decision.”

DiCarlo questioned how many past bylaws Pouget was going to read, adding that issues surrounding the 12 acres was addressed in-camera.

“It will be addressed by council at a later date,” the mayor said of the 12 acres, adding Pouget was starting to get into issues that were discussed in-camera.

Town council, business owners participate in workshops on Community Improvement Plan



By Ron Giofu


The Town of Amherstburg and its partners from Monteith Brown Planning Consultants held workshops last week where people got a chance to give input towards the Community Improvement Plan (CIP) and urban design guidelines.

The workshops were held at the Libro Centre March 5 with business owners invited during the afternoon session while town council received an opportunity to participate during a late-afternoon meeting.

A series of questions were put to the participants with those involved asked to brainstorm answers. Questions included what is most important to you in the downtown core and what is missing, what is the biggest opportunity to attract visitors, what are the biggest challenges for attracting businesses to Amherstburg, how can the town improve its street facades and how to incorporate heritage into designs.

Members of town council and administration discuss the Community Improvement Plan (CIP) and urban design guidelines during a workshop held at the Libro Centre last Monday night.

Answers ranged from the obvious – the need for a hotel – with others including a desire for increased accessibility, downtown Wi-Fi, more parking, better traffic flow, transportation and a more accessible waterfront.

Manager of planning services Rebecca Belanger said 60 businesses were invited to the afternoon session with 15 people showing up. At the session with council a few hours later, Mayor Aldo DiCarlo and councillors Leo Meloche, Diane Pouget and Rick Fryer joined members of administration in participating in the sessions.

There were some council members concerned the study didn’t go far enough.

Fryer said “you need to look at other areas rather than the downtown,” believing more attention should be paid to smaller hamlets. Meloche said having a busy downtown core is important but so too are the other areas of town.

“Building a vibrant downtown core will lead to trickling into other areas,” said Meloche.

Consultant Michael Clarke from Monteith Brown Planning Consultants listens to some of the conversations.

Meloche added that other areas are sometimes “forgotten” and that more attention should be paid to them, but Pouget said the downtown was the mandate of this particular study. She said the next council may proceed with a larger project.

Belanger said policies in the town’s Official Plan direct how to go forward with the CIP and that if the town were to look at secondary settlement areas, it “may be a larger process” as amendments to the Official Plan might have to occur.

CAO John Miceli said businesses and developers will need to get on board when the plan is implemented. As for the Duffy’s property, he said it is at the environmental assessment (EA) stage now and that further development is included in the 2019 capital budget.

Community Improvement Plan, Urban Design Guidelines to be subject of open house



By Ron Giofu


Now that town council has authorized the development of a Community Improvement Plan (CIP) and urban design guidelines, administration is moving ahead with those efforts.

An open house is planned for Oct. 30 at the Libro Centre with sessions planned for 3-5 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. The town stated that the purpose of these two plans is to assist the municipality with enhancing Amherstburg’s downtown core and commercial area “through a variety of planning, incentive and design strategies.”

One of the main drivers of the Community Improvement Plan is to provide a program for attracting overnight accommodations in the commercial area of the town. Town council authorized administration to move forward in August.

A Community Improvement Plan is described as “a tool that will support and provide incentives for sustainable revitalization and heritage conservation within the downtown and commercial areas of town” while “Urban Design Guidelines with a heritage theme will work in conjunction with the Community Improvement Plan as it relates to incentives for commercial façade improvements. These documents will assist in guiding the evolution of the urban fabric of the town in terms of commercial developments and streetscapes.”

Manager of planning services Rebecca Belanger said town council approved the initiative and Monteith Brown Planning Consultants awarded the contracts for both projects.

“The purpose of the open house is for the public to meet the consultants, have them introduce the study and hear people’s ideas on the project,” said Belanger.

Belanger said “it’s very preliminary at this point” and that past documents on heritage districts and similar studies will be incorporated into this project.

“There’s a lot of background work that was done in the past,” she said.

Noting it is a “multi-phase program,” Belanger also noted the CIP is designed to attract overnight accommodations to Amherstburg while the Urban Design Guidelines are geared towards incentives for façade improvements and infilling opportunities downtown as well. She said the programs will help support the town’s business community and enhance built heritage.

Speaking specifically of the CIP, Belanger said possibilities include setting up grant or loan programs for interested developers and offering relief on fees.

“It may be multi-tiered depending on what is proposed,” said Belanger.

There will be a lot of consultation throughout the process, Belanger added, and it will also be placed on the recently-launched “Talk the Burg” website as well.

“The CIP will provide a business friendly program that the Town of Amherstburg will offer to businesses to support the competitive market for the attraction of overnight accommodations and business façade improvements” says Mayor Aldo DiCarlo.


Community improvement plan process starts, could hotel follow?


By Ron Giofu


The town is getting started on a new community improvement plan and the town’s chief administrative officer (CAO) believes it could lead to the resolution of a long-standing wish for many in Amherstburg.

Town council agreed to move the process forward at Monday night’s meeting and that is no small thing according to John Miceli.

“It’s a huge deal,” said Miceli. “We are going to identify what conditions need to be for development opportunities to create a new hotel here.”

The town has heard “loud and clear” that Amherstburg needs a hotel and a completed community improvement plan will lead the community in that direction. He said the town has “a Class A facility” in the Libro Centre but no place to house people and suggested an interim measure to expand the bed and breakfast program in town to allow for additional opportunities to keep people local.

Manager of planning services Rebecca Belanger said $50,000 was approved for the initiative with Monteith Brown Planning Consultants awarded the contracts. She also noted in the town’s strategic plan process last year, the need for overnight accommodations was a common theme. The strategic plan also identified the importance of built and cultural assets with the plan also to incorporate urban design guidelines.

Belanger said those guidelines will provide architectural and urban design requirements for developments, promote cultural heritage, identify building features such as facades and proportions in streetscapes, identify and update required changes to signage and other streetscape features, support streetscape beautification to trigger private sector investment and identify strategies including phasing, design tools, costing and potential funding sources.

Public consultation would also be part of the process, she added. The targeted completion date for the community improvement plan and urban design guidelines is February 2018.

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Miceli added that people who doubt if the town is serious in trying to land a hotel or protect cultural heritage will be able to look at that report and “see we are doing what we need to do to bring these things to the community.”

Town council also gave the green light to administration to begin the parks master plan process. That plan will include a comprehensive review and analysis of parks and recreational needs based on trends and demographics, contain “an extensive public engagement program,” provide a “clear action plan” and strategy to guide the development of future park facilities and recreational amenities over a ten-year period.

Belanger noted that $80,000 was budgeted for the parks master plan initiative with Monteith Brown Planning Consultants also landing that contract.

“A significant consultation plan will occur throughout the process,” she emphasized, noting there will be such things as two public input sessions, online surveys and stakeholder interviews.

The goals that Belanger outlined for the parks master plan include assessing parkland supplies including “a hierarchy of parks and future levels of service,” identifying physical improvements to existing parks and new park amenities and soliciting further public input on the concept plan for the Duffy’s lands.

Belanger said the hope is to have the parks master plan completed in December.

Town considering Official Plan amendment to allow breweries in agricultural areas



By Ron Giofu


The town of Amherstburg is considering an Official Plan amendment to allow craft breweries and cideries in rural areas.

A public meeting was held last week with a low turnout. It was the second public meeting on the issue, said manager of planning services Rebecca Belanger, with it being held to ensure people are aware of the matter. She said no one attended the first public meeting.

“The intent is to add breweries and cideries to the wineries provision in the town’s Official Plan,” said Belanger.

If someone were to open a craft brewery or cidery within the town of Amherstburg, it would be under similar conditions that wineries have to face, said Belanger. That is assuming the Official Plan amendment and zoning bylaw amendment passes, with the latter being the next stage in the process.

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“It would be subject to the same conditions as wineries in terms of agricultural policies,” she said.

Belanger said wineries have to devote a large portion of their site to agricultural purposes with the actual winery operation being a secondary use. The same would have to hold true with craft breweries and wineries.

“A lot of the property has to be dedicated to growing crop,” said Belanger.

There is one applicant at the moment to operate a craft brewery in Amherstburg but with so much interest across the province for the industry, Belanger said, “it’s time to do this.

“It’s time to put these policies in place.”

Belanger said the town of Essex has similar provisions and “we’re following suit with the rest of the region as well.”

Should this amendment be approved, it could lead to more uses in agricultural areas.

“I think it’s an opportunity for agricultural diversification,” said Belanger.

There will be a report coming before town council at the April 10 meeting and, if approved, it will be sent to the County of Essex for its approval as well. Belanger said the zoning bylaw amendment process would start after that.