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