Update

Last May 300 residents and tax-payers signed a form letter directed to Town Council with the following requests:

1. That the Old School Lands not be sold unless a vote, preferably at the time of the October 2008 Municipal election, clearly demonstrates that a majority of the Town’s citizens wishes this public land to be sold;

2. That before any proposed sale or development of the Old School Lands, the Town will make public all projected financial benefits and expenses including costs of all infrastructure, maintenance, and services, and also provide an estimate of the projected cost to individual taxpayers; and,

3. That any development proposed for the Old School Lands be considered only in the context of an overall vision for development in the Town of Mahone Bay and after fully consulting with stakeholders (including nearby property owners).

On September 9, Council passed a motion directing the CAO to negotiate an Agreement of Purchase and Sale with M.A.D.E. FOR MAHONE BAY LIMITED for the sale of the Old School Lands and that the agreement “shall consider the following issues”:

1. The need to finalize a lease with Nova Learning and the South Shore Regional
School Board in respect to community use of the playing fields at Bayview School;
2. The need to have a second appraisal to help establish the Fair Market Value of the Old School lands;

3. The need to complete a survey and signed easement from the Mahone Bay Centre Society for emergency vehicles access form School Street across the Mahone Bay Centre Society property to the Old School lands;

4. The need to protect the future interest of the Town including time lines for the development and responsibility for various costs.

On October 18th a new Council was elected with five incumbent councillors plus the mayor returning, and one new councillor. At the November 13th meeting, the new Council received a progress report from the CAO concerning the Old School Lands with the following points of information:

1. A lease between the Town and Nova Learning is in process of being finalized.

2. A second appraisal of the Old School Lands has been done. ( No information is yet available to the public.)

3. A survey has been completed for the easement across the Mahone Bay Centre property.

4. The developer held a public information session showing details of a revised, down-sized plan for the Old School Lands.

The CAO’s report did not address the fourth condition (the need to protect the future interest of the Town including time lines for the development and responsibility for various costs) nor was there any mention of the specific requests made in the “Press Pause” letter sent to Council in May.

It is anticipated that the issue of the Old School Lands will be on the agenda at the next Council meeting November 27, 7:00 PM. It appears that a negotiated sale of land to the developer, Bob Youden, is imminent. If you wish to express your views to the mayor or councillors, now is the time.

For your records, here is an updated list of contact information for council members:

Mayor Joe Feeney 624-8133 CJFeeney@ns.sympatico.ca
Deputy Mayor Dave Devenne 624-0117 davgeri@eastlink.ca
Councillor John Bain 624-1265 jbain@eastlink.ca
Councillor David Hennigar 624-8559 dhennigar@bwr.eastlink.ca
Councillor Karl Nauss 624-1232redden@whalesculptures.com
Councillor Lila O’Connor 624-9293 no email
Councillor Virginia Uhlman 624-9363 (contact Town Hall for address)
CAO Jim Wentzell 624-8327 jimw@townofmahonebay.ca

NB: If you wish to receive council agendas by email in advance of meetings, contact Crystal Berringer at Town Hall crystal@townofmahonebay.ca

This is also an opportunity to let you know that the Town’s new Sustainability Committee has started its important and hopeful work with Pam Birdsall as Chair. This committee will involve a cross-section of townspeople in planning for our Town’s future.

FYI, the Promagica website which posted many town documents has been “turned off” for the time being. Meanwhile, a committee is developing a website for the Town with a target date of April 1st to be online. This site will likely include many Town documents such as Council and Committee minutes so citizens can be well-informed..

S.O.S. sign taken down

The large Save Our Soccer Field sign was taken down last week. For the past year the 8′ x 4′ sign has stood to the side of the field and garnered a great deal of publicity for the field and woods. Keith Mcdonald, who was largely responsible for making the sign and putting it up, decided to dismantled the sign as the 1 year permit was about to expire.

Background Information

We maintain an e-archive of documents outlining the background issues surrounding the Old School Lands and our efforts to save them. The archive includes Council minutes, PAC minutes, land use by laws, the S.O.S. sign, the Kinburn Development and the UARB Hearing.
visit http://www.promagica.com/

Youden asked for new proposal!

Town Council was presented on June 3rd with 300 letters with the following requests: no sale or development of the Old School Lands without a decision by the electorate, full disclosure for any potential development of all costs and benefits for town and taxpayers, and community participation in planning for any future development. The Mayor at that time said that Council would respond on June 26th.

At the June 26th meeting of Council, the following motion was passed unanimously with no discussion;

Whereas the proposed conceptual plan for the development of the old
school lands has resulted in a number of issues of concern to the
public, and whereas some members of the public have requested that the
development be delayed until various issues are addressed, and whereas
the present town council is committed to promoting new housing
opportunities for young families and seniors as one part of the
sustainable development plan of the town, be it resolved that Town
Council request Mr. Youden to consider re-submitting a new conceptual
plan that responds to the issues that have been raised, and be it
further resolved that any sale of or development of the old school lands
be delayed until revised concept plans are available and a public
presentation is held as part of the public consultation process.

This wording of the motion was obtained from a member of the press who received it in a press package at the council meeting. There has been no reply from Town Hall to this writer’s request 5 days ago for the wording of the motion.

If you wish to share your response to Council’s decison with others on this circulation list, send your responses to pmcarver@eastlink.ca and I will collate and distribute them to the list anonymously. It’s good to know what others are thinking.

And, if you wish to contact the Mayor or Councillors, here are the numbers:
Mayor Joe Feeney 624-8133
Deputy Mayor John Bain 624-1265
Coucillor Cathie Slauenwhite-Nowe 624-8723
Councillor Lila O’Connor 624-9293
Councillor Virginia Uhlman 624-9363
Councillor David Hennigar 624-8559
Councillor Karl Nauss 624-1232

Petition still going strong!

We have gathered 270 signatures from Mahone Bay residents and taxpayers, which is pretty impressive! There’s a paper copy of this petition to sign at the Biscuit Eater coffee shop down town.

Please read the comments made on the on-line petition to the right of this page to find out what people really think.

Clear-headed advice from a Planner

We think everyone should read it this important letter of concern:
Wanda Baxter, Planner, and Environmental Designer
Northwest, Lunenburg County
October 10, 2007

To the attention of Mayor C. Joe Feeney, and the Town Council of Mahone Bay:

I am writing to voice concern about the proposed sale of the publicly owned old school lands for the purpose of building private residences and a complex for seniors.

I write from an objective perspective. I am not a user of the site; I have no connection to the soccer association and I don’t have children; and I live in Northwest (the value of my home will not depreciate due to the loss of adjacent parkland, and I will not be directly impacted by the development). Nonetheless, I am amazed and saddened that you propose to give up this valued piece of public green space to a housing developer.

**
Why do I care?
I was raised in rural New Brunswick, upriver of Saint John, and I went to university to study rural planning because I had watched my home region change radically from my youth to my late teens. It transformed from the farming, fishing and shipbuilding community that my father and his father knew, into basically a bedroom community for Saint John.

Like Mahone Bay, much of the land along the waterfront is “cottage country”; owned by seasonal residents. The price of land there continues to climb. Much of its forests are leased and harvested by Irving. But the worst aspect is the suburb-type developments that house people that live mostly in their vehicles – traveling to work, shopping, entertainment, and places to recreate. The result is a place of diminished community and natural splendor – the very thing it was once known for.

I went to the University of Calgary to study planning and environmental design in order to learn how to prevent and respond to such haphazard, shortsighted development.

I have worked in positions with: rural community groups in Alberta, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the Southwest Nova Biosphere Reserve (N.S.), the Municipality of the County of East Hants (as Open Space planner), and others, and, regardless of the situation, when I have seen valued public land sold amid substantial opposition; the wound doesn’t heal. I am writing because I care about community, and land, and the preservation of both. And this is where I live, and consider to be my home.
**

Selling ‘on spec’
The proposed plan is especially controversial because there is no guarantee, at all, that the potential for jobs or increased revenue or the betterment of the community (or region) will improve due to the sale of the land. There is also no guarantee that the flattening of the hill and loss of the forest and its root system, the infilling of wetland areas and spring streams, and disruption of slate, arsenic and sulphuric compounds won’t effect environmental problems.

The ‘plan’ for the subdivision is loose, at best. There is no guarantee that the developer will sell any percent of the lots he portends he will sell, and there is no guarantee that the number of homes he predicts he will build will, in fact, be built.

There is no guarantee that he won’t carry through with the development and, instead, eventually sell the land to the highest bidder. In other words, the town intends to sell a piece of public land – even though a good percentage of townspeople are kicking and screaming about it – on ‘spec’ (i.e. speculating that what ‘they’ – the town government – wants to happen, will happen).

**
What the development could mean
At best, the development could mean an increased tax base for the town, but at worst; it could mean long-term community animosity and increased economic hardship for the town, stemming from:

•     Increased traffic on roads intended for minimal local traffic that will cause traffic problems, the need for traffic studies to figure out how to deal the problems, a need for road improvements (especially as they are already in need of repair), more crosswalks, sidewalks, road widening, possible need for street lights at busiest intersections, and possible need to encroach on and/or appropriate parts of private properties as road widening proves unavoidable.

•     The unforeseen possibility that people who have cared much about their community will move out of town – because: Council has ignored their opposition to and stress over the sale of the land, and the conflict over its sale may cause irreparable conflicts,

•     The diminishing of the general quality of life, that will result from: lost organized recreation opportunities (i.e. soccer, which is the fastest growing sport in Canada); the loss of walking trails in a peaceful, ATV-free forested area; increased traffic issues and fewer walkable streets, and ongoing community conflict that won’t soon go away.

•     An increase of taxes due to requirements for road improvements, traffic calming infrastructure, pedestrian protections, and unforeseen problems with water and sewage which put pressure on the town budget,

•     Green space and recreation opportunities that were provided, are gone, and need to be replaced.

•     Erosion problems and consequent increased flooding (in homes below the development, which is already a problem) that may result, and cost the town reparations again,

•     The fact that tourism numbers may go down, as a result of the influences above, and especially as the character of the town will be drastically changed. It may seem that the development will be hidden back up on the hill, but character is holistic: the town is what it is because it has a sense of history and community in harmony with the natural environment. This development doesn’t blend at all with what is there, and it will change the whole (perhaps more than imagined), which is what people have been drawn to. They/we are drawn to and inspired by places that haven’t been spoiled – that aren’t a mishmash of subdivisions and random, economically driven decisions.
Mahone Bay stands apart as a place that has maintained its dignity, with respect of the past and the natural beauty that surrounds. The preliminary plan for this development does the opposite.

There is a single aspect of this sale that, on its own, is reason enough to wait, and not go forward. That being: it is irreversible. The town will very likely never be able to buy back such an important asset: a forested, central land parcel that offers natural drumlin features, wildlife habitat, and walking links to various parts of town (to future development above the trans-Canada Trail – and to the trail itself from the lower streets – and to the soccer field, Mahone Bay Centre, and preexisting recreation facilities at the base of the hill).

In an environment where real estate prices are going skyward, public land becomes near sacred. Invaluable (and unsellable).

The proposed development will diminish the character of the town – not because it has a modern suburb at its core (though this will have a negative affect, in disrupting the historical and classic sense of place it is so celebrated for), but more for what it no longer has and can no longer offer: a substantial tract of green space that is easily accessed and partially undisturbed.

**
Houses don’t make Community
At the meeting regarding the development in June, a long-standing member of the volunteer fire department and other organizations stood up and argued that the development is needed because only the imported rich and cottagers live in town anymore.

Somehow, his argument followed that the development will bring people who will be volunteering types, and the fire department will no longer be in crisis. The fact is, volunteering in Nova Scotia is way down for many organizations, in most towns. Two people working full time in a family means everyone is tired when they get home, and if they have leisure time or energy left, it’s likely going to their children, or to neglected chores or hobbies (or television). There also seems a general decline in our culture of the idea of civic responsibility. More people living in town doesn’t necessarily mean more volunteers or civic-minded ‘folks’.

It has also been argued that the new development will bring people who will live and work here. Again, there is no guarantee of this at all. In fact, there is nothing to say that the people who buy the properties won’t be people who would love to have a ‘summer place’ on the South Shore but can’t afford a place on the coast or in town. Or, they work elsewhere, but wouldn’t mind having a home base in Mahone Bay. So: the development creates a demographic of more people who don’t live here much of the time – and rarely shop here – who get better prices on their new homes in this burgeoning ‘commuter town’, and choice public real estate is given them for the taking.

Houses don’t make community. And housing developments don’t mean people do anything in the town except own a house (or cottage, or weekend getaway), or live in a senior’s residence.

**
To be held in trust
Without being able to guarantee that this proposed development will attract enough people who will live there as full-time residents, and work in town, it is unthinkable to sell this land for 90 thousand dollars, or anything near that sum. It is unthinkable, regardless.

This land is a public resource. It is important to the public, and to the character of the town, and to future generations who will be thankful the town held it in trust when there are few places left to go. Look at the NO TRESPASSING signs dotting the coastline and people’s lawns and docks for an indication of things to come.

The town is entrusted with preserving this land, and the ecological services that the land provides, in part because:
•     The forested area limits erosion down the hill and contributes positively to air quality;
•     it serves as a sound buffer, a windbreak, and visual green-scape above the town;
•     The wetland area at the back and lower stream-area of the property serves to filter run-off and impurities thereby improving water quality;
•     It is an important place for organized and casual recreation (the health aspects of having natural places to get out in are well-documented, and their provision are an increasing priority of our provincial and federal governments).
**
The red flag
When there is the kind of substantial outcry to a plan as is currently happening, it is a red flag. The flag means slow down, slow way down, make sure you’re on the right track … get a second opinion … do research and get advice … reassess the reasons for going forward (while ensuring that emotions and/or politics aren’t the underpinnings of refuting compromise, and refusing to consider alternatives).

To deem this land ‘surplus’ and raze it for high-density housing is comparable to the decision that was made years ago to build a mall and parking lot on the waterfront in Bridgewater. It is an example of taking best assets for granted, and sanctioning their destruction. People will shake their heads in amazement when they see it. People are shaking their heads now in amazement at the idea of it.

In retrospect, people will wonder how the powers that were could have approved such a blight.

The place of beauty you invite people to share deserves more that this out-dated approach. As do you. And your children. And theirs. And all of us.

There is time to change tack and alter course. I truly hope you do, before the chance is gone.

Respectfully submitted,
Wanda Baxter
Home and farm owner, Northwest

Bulletin:10 October

Letter to Editor
“We invite you to share the beauty” is a uniquely warm welcome to Mahone Bay. The powers that be today in that gorgeous town should have that same attitude, not one of “spend your money here on our Main Street and love and support us financially, but do NOT speak your ideas at our meetings.”

I have been appalled and insulted by the tactics of (current) mayor Joe Feeney.  At the first public meeting concerning the destruction of the great soccer field and the adjoining woodland, he stated that only the residents of Mahone Bay would be allowed to speak. He not only opened, closed and dominated the entire meeting with his own statements and defenses, but he appeared intolerant of others’ ideas.  And the more he spoke, the less time there was for citizens to be heard.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but in respect of the office, I’ve always believed that a mayor of any city, town or village is (or should be) the mayor of ALL the people.
In this particular meeting, I was baffled that “Mayor” Feeney from start to finish was a hard-driving salesman for the private developer.

Like many undercapitalized Nova Scotia communities in transition, Mahone Bay was wrought with serious financial, demograhic and infrastructure problems long before this development issue appeared. Communities without well-thought, long-range strategic planning end up desperately taking the first panacea offered to them, not realizing that even greater problems will result; thus a careening from one crisis to another.  It shocks friends of mine when I tell them that  Canada’s wealthiest city, it’s financial capital, Toronto, is fundamentally broke with infrastructure crumbling!

As I sat at the back and listened during the second town meeting (more openly run by citizens), I so badly wanted to say that the problems Mahone Bay faces
Today are greater than the people in that hall, greater than the financial capabilities of the town, greater than the resources of all the local residents combined. The answer lies in drawing in the talents, resources and strengths of the people who loyally still call Mahone Bay their “home town” and spend their
Volunteer efforts and money there, whether they’re from Clearland, Oakland, Indian Point, Martin’s River, Martin’s Point, Maders Cove, Blockhouse, Sunnybrook, Herman’s Island and even Princes Inlet.

Perhaps the future lies in a Mahone Bay encompassing all these areas but still retaining it’s town hall where it now is, and cashing in on the support of all  who feel no loyalty to the Municipality of Lunenburg (obsessed with Osprey Village and Big Box Town at Exit 12) except for bi-annually mailing their property
Tax check to Aberdeen Road in Bridgewater.

It is time for the Mahone Bay AREA to come together, drop the name-calling, and plan for the collective future carefully: TAKING IT SLOW AND GETTING IT
RIGHT. This includes new development that respects heritage, current needs and future growth!  And it’s more than time for the current leaders of Mahone Bay to drop their defenses and take real leadership, or step aside.
Paul Kellogg
Maders Cove, Sunnybrook

250 signatures say “Freeze the Youden Development!”

On October 9th, Penny Carver made a presentation to Council on the current status of the online petition and recent door-to-door canvassing. Results show approximately 250 names of Town citizens and tax-payers who want a freeze on the Youden development (190 hard-copy signatures plus approximately 60 Town names online). The names represent a wide range of ages, location in town and length of residency and show impressive support for our request that Council seek other alternatives.

The results of the Friends of the Woods and Field petition differ significantly from the summary of a different survey given by the Town’s CAO at the September 27th council meeting. He stated then that, of 77 responses returned, 62 were in favour of the Youden development, 13 were not in favour, and two favoured the proposal with modification.

Here is text of Penny Carver’s October 9th presentation to Council..

October 9, 2007

Your Worship and Councillors:

Thank you for this opportunity to speak with you.

My name is Penny Carver. I live in Mahone Bay. I am here as one of many loosely associated people who call themselves “The Friends of the Mahone Bay Woods and Field.”

I want to discuss the petition which was organized by the Friends of the Woods and Field. The petition registers concerns about the Town’s plan to solve its financial troubles by selling 16 acres of green space – public land – so a private developer can build a large scale development of apartments, houses and new streets.

The petition’s main message – and I have brought copies for all of you tonight – is Wait! Slow down! The final paragraph says – and this was a key paragraph for many who signed the petition – “We call on you not to commit to this development (the Youden proposal) before all the people of the Town have had a chance to fully assess and debate its implications, both good and bad, and to consider alternatives.”

This petition has been on the internet since late Spring. To date there are 345 signatures online. These 345 people cared so much about the old school lands and about the future development of the Town of Mahone Bay that they spontaneously found their way to our website, read the petition, left their name and often added heartfelt and thoughtful comments.

It occurred to us that it was now time for our internet petition to be brought to earth with a paper version; that it was time to talk face to face with our neighbours about this development which has threatened to divide our town.

In the past week, 10 of us, all living in different parts of town, have taken the petition to the streets, talked with people and invited discussion. We have collected many signatures on paper petitions to supplement the electronic version online.

It has been a wonderful experience. We have engaged our neighbours in a significant and respectful dialogue about our town and about our dreams for its future. If nothing else, we have come to know our neighbours better and we are pleased about that. And, it was wonderful to meet so many young families, more than I would have believed possible given recent talk about their dwindling numbers.

We discovered that most of the people we talked with were happy to sign our petition. They expressed many doubts about whether the proposed development could address the Town’s needs and asked many questions. Who would buy/rent the units? Why such a big development? What about extra costs that would drive up taxes? Where are the jobs that would attract new residents? How will we find health professionals to serve an increased number of seniors? Will the affordable apartments require income testing? Will the seniors units impose minimum age limits? If so, by what authority? Why let a developer take the financial benefits? $90,000 is too low – why wasn’t there more than one appraisal? Why doesn’t the Town have a website? Why ruin Town assets for a project with a dubious outcome?

They want to save our green spaces and public land. They want to examine options for scaled-down and scattered development. They said this is the wrong development on the wrong land. They want the Town to slow down, think it over, do it right.

And what about the numbers? How many folks have signed our petition? It’s a little difficult to get an exact count. We have tried to eliminate any duplication of names but cannot claim to have caught them all. This is not an official poll. It does not claim to be accurate within a certain percentage. The value of our petition is as much qualitative as it is quantitative.

It isn’t just about numbers: it’s about acknowledging all the stakeholders in our community. Some signatures are from outside the Town. Should this discredit the petition? Absolutely not! These names represent the very people that the Town wants to attract to visit or live here to ensure economic sustainability – families living nearby in the county, and visitors from an hour or even a continent away. They contribute to the economic and social vitality of our town; their input is important; we must listen to their concerns.

Some of the names from outside of town represent non-resident tax payers who own property within town limits. Surely the voices of these tax payers count in this issue even though they are not eligible to vote in municipal elections.

The petition also has the names of a few younger citizens who care deeply about this civic issue. Are we to deny them a voice? They are the future of the town; they are the people the Town wants to hold here, to work here, to have their children here. They will not stay if they are not heard now.

But the vast majority of names that we bring you tonight are adult residents or tax-payers of the town.

It’s not just about the numbers: it’s about fair process. On their doorsteps, people told us they felt confused, they wanted more information and 3-dimensional models to help them visualize any proposed development, they felt decisions were being made too fast, that the large meetings had not answered their questions, that the lack of information and discussion has led to polarization and divisiveness in the town.

It’s not just about a number count of those for or against development; it’s about ensuring there is dialogue about how and where development takes place. At the doors, many people asked me right away, “Are you for or against the development?” As soon as I indicated that the petition is asking the Town to take more time to think and talk about it, the dialogue began. And let me tell you the conversations were respectful and lengthy – 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 40 minutes! We learned that most townsfolk think development would be good for the Town but that development must take place within an overall vision and plan or vision and should be smaller in keeping with the character of the Town. Many people were surprised to learn about the town-owned land at the foot of Hawthorn Hill and felt that this would be a good site for seniors’ accommodations due to its ease of access to Main Street. They were intrigued also to learn that other options are available and want to learn more about them.

It’s not just about the numbers of people who have signed this petition; it’s about the red flag that their collective signatures represent. Think of them as canaries in the mine.

I want to quote from a letter written recently to the Town of Mahone Bay Council and which may be in your package tonight. The writer is trained in planning and environmental design; she has worked with many community and municipal groups; she lives nearby in the county and she cares about Mahone Bay. She says, “When I have seen valued public land sold amid substantial opposition, the wound doesn’t heal.” Further she states, “When there is the kind of substantial outcry to a plan as is currently happening, it is a red flag. The (red) flag in planning means slow down, slow way down, make sure you’re on the right track…get a second opinion…get a third…do research and get advice…reassess the reasons for going forward…(while ensuring that emotions and/or politics aren’t the underpinnings of refuting compromise, and refusing to consider alternatives).”

That being said, as of today, the approximate number of names of citizens and tax-payers within the Town of Mahone Bay who have signed either the online or paper petition, after accounting for duplications, is 252.

This is a significantly large number of people who are unhappy.

At least 252 people – we haven’t canvassed every home or found all our supporters – 252 citizens and tax-payers of this Town want Council to put a halt to this development. They are not against development per se; they want planned and careful development that does not destroy our assets.

This is a clear message for Council. The responsible thing to do is to put a freeze on the development, to slow down and do it right. If Mr. Youden really wants to be part of Mahone Bay, if his is an honourable offer, he will wait until we have a new council. Let the dialogue continue amongst citizens and tax-payers. Give them all the information. Let us hear from all the stakeholders. This must be an election issue in 2008.

Are there any questions? …

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you tonight.

Respectfully submitted,
Penny Carver
Mahone Bay
October 9, 2007
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