Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Ball in Breslau's Court - Community Building

Last night, September 29, 2015, a Committee of the Whole meeting occurred in the Township of Woolwich council chambers on 24 Church Street in Elmira. The key issue of the night was a discussion of the WCDSB proposal to purchase land in Breslau to build a new elementary school.  The land in question is pictured above.  The goal of the school board was to partner with the township and share the gymnasium facilities.  This project was presented to the public in February 2015 if you are new to this situation scroll down through this blog to catch up on the details.  At the meeting last night the Councillors were to vote on accepting this proposal and moving  it to the next stage or denying it.

There were 9 delegations that registered to speak on the project, 6 of them (including myself) spoke against the project, 1 was neutral, and 2 were supportive of the project.  Everything about this project has demonstrated that the community was deeply and equally divided and this meeting was no different.
In the end there were 3 Councillors who voted against the project (Bauman, Merlihan, L.Shantz)  and 1 Councillor (Martin) and the Mayor (S.Shantz) who voted for the project.  Councillor Hahn was not present and did not vote.  
Before each of them voted they spoke about how difficult this project was to vote on.  Each side of this issue had valid points and had many supporters.  The specific details of this meeting, who said what, who was right, who made mistakes, who was misleading, and who was wrong are not important. I voted for Councillor Shantz, Councillor Martin and Mayor Shantz, if that vote was held again today I would vote for them again. They all did their job as best as they could and they represented those who voted for them. The reason the three Councillors voted against the project was because they were putting their trust in Breslau. They spoke loud and clear and with their votes and said, "Ok Breslau, if this isn't how you want your park to be upgraded, the ball is in your court.  What's the plan?"

I deeply respect Councillor Martin and Mayor Shantz for voting the way they felt was right.  Breslau is divided and so was council this is expected.  We live in a country were we can celebrate diversity and disagree with each other respectfully.  In the end my side won, but the sober evening after what does that mean? I remember the night I wrote my first blog post on this topic.  I thought in the back of my mind, "What if I win?" One of the delegation said something very true, he said, "If we don't do anything to the park for the next 20 years we are going to regret that we didn't take this deal."  I whole heartily agree with this statement.  We, as a community, now need to step up more than ever before, we have to live up to the trust that council has put into us.  No more complaining that Elmira gets everything, no more whining.  Now is the time for action!  We have to let the past drift away as we build our future.  I plan on being in Breslau for a long time and I want to make it a great place.

I would like to begin the healing process right now.  I want to reach out to everyone in Breslau and say what next?  How do we build our community into something we can all say we are proud of.  Our individual positions on this project are now irrelevant.  We have a community to build and maintain.  That is not up to Council, that is up to us.

Sonya Willsher spoke passionately at the meeting that we as Breslau can come together to do this.  Sonya wanted me to put the challenge out to Breslau.  If you want to be part of organizing and fundraising for new park equipment, facilities and/or library please contact either Sonya at or me at  We want to recruit those in Breslau who want to build our community together.  This project has woken everyone up, now it is time to capitalize on that and get to work.  There have been many historical examples of great things that Breslau residents have done.  It is time for all of us new comers to do our part.

I would also like to reach out to the established groups already in Breslau, I am aware of the Lions Club and the Breslau Recreation Association.  Those groups already do great work in Breslau and we don't want to conflict their efforts. The Lion's Splash Pad project is an example of a project that has had significant amounts of work and hours of volunteer time put in.  This is a project we need to move forward now that this is cleared up. If there are any other groups in Breslau please let us know so we can be as coordinated and as efficient as we can.

I am excited about where we have come from and I am even more excited about where we are going.  Let us all go there together.

PS. GO Jays GO! AL East CHAMPS!!!!!!

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

WCDSB New Breslau School - Update

The saga of the new school proposal from the WCDSB continues.  Tonight I attended another Township of Woolwich council meeting, if you are ever interested in how our municipal government works I would strongly encourage you to check out the Council Meeting section of the Township of Woolwich website. I chose to attend this meeting because Sandra Hanmer, our Task Force chair, presented to council our final report.

If you haven't been following this story the Breslau/Waterloo Catholic District School Board (WCDSB) Project Task Force was established by the Township of Woolwich Council at its March 31, 2015 meeting.  We are a committee of residents from Breslau who were tasked to look at more detail into a proposal from the WCDSB to purchase 4 acres of parkland in the middle of the Riverland community for the purpose of building a new Catholic elementary school.  More detail about the task force can be viewed in my State of the Park Address.

Sandra presented to council our findings, you can review the final report on your own if you are interested in further detail.  In my opinion the coles notes summary is as follows:
  • The task force was split 3 in support, 2 undecided, and 2 against the project
  • Pubic opinion was split 36.5% in support, 21.5% undecided, and 34.6% against the project
    • Task force members spoke to 312 individuals by going door-to-door in Breslau's three distinct communities (Riverland, Hopewell, Old Breslau)
  • The core components of this project have not changed since the first public meeting on February 26, 2015
    • Selling of 4 acres for $1.75 million
    • Expanding the school library and make it a public library
    • Upgrades to the community centre gym
    • Using proceeds of the sale to fund recreational upgrades to the park
All of the Councillors expressed a little disappointment and frustration that the split was as close as it was.  Despite the intense effort that we put in as the task force we still had 2 undecided members and only 1 person on the task force was swayed from their original opinion.

Following this presentation there were 2 official delegations.  First was a resident expressing her opposition to the project and second was the Manager of Planning for the WCBSB who expressed excitement to proceed with this project.  Councillor Bauman was interested in staff reviewing the recommendations from the task force on recommendation one to sell the land.
  • Limiting portables on site to 4
  • Requiring school board to build a secondary accessible play structure to ensure the community has access to the play structure in the public park
  • Getting results from the WCDSB funded traffic study (Completed June 2015)
  • Staggering bell times with WDSB to alleviate traffic into the community
The school board representative explained that the school they were closing (St. Boniface) has a population of 130, they plan to build for 250 with upper floor expansion of a 4-6 more class rooms and felt that a limit of 4 portables was doable but 6 would be better.  The WCDSB plan for 10 students from every 100 residential homes.  They would not be looking for more land even in another location in Breslau.  Councillor Hahn asked a great question, "[Since the public meeting on Feb 6] have there been any changed to the general plan?"  He didn't get an answer to this question but the answer is, "No." Nothing about the project has changed, this means the "public consultation" means "public information"  there isn't really hasn't been a dialog between residents and the project.

This is where the meeting turned to the funny (from my perspective), an unregistered delegation requested to speak and was given permission to do so.  He asked the council when they expected to have a motion on the floor that council would then vote on for this proposal.  No one had an answer for him, not even an approximate timeline, nothing!  I found this slightly bizarre, but hey what do I know.  I believe Councillor Bauman was saying something about staff recommendations or report on something, I didn't quite catch it.

As Council was trying to direct staff to what kind of information they were needed the question came back to the school board representative about time lines.  She mentioned that the best case scenario for their development process was 2 years from the time they get an official approval to when they can build the school.  Since schools are very time sensitive for a September 1 start date she request that a decision gets made as soon as possible.

Shortly after this and a mere 8 minutes after they said they couldn't say when they would table a motion to be voted on, our Mayor decided she liked recommendation one and stated, "If council has the appetite to accept it then [she] would recommend they adopt recommendation one."  I know that sounds strange and slightly on the other side of rational when they just told the delegation they would have no way of knowing when a motion would be on the floor to vote on and our Mayor decides 8 minutes later that now would be a good time.  Despite the extremely close split on public opinion, despite numerous time people accused the council that this was a done deal.  I just about lost my cool.  I had been telling residents for several months, this is not a done deal, trust our elected officials, they want to hear from you.  Then just like that on a whim she tries to put a motion on the floor.  There was a bit of confusion at this point but the proceedings were stopped due to a scheduled break.  

Nice unused spaced at the end
 of Andover Dr. in Brelsau
I had to go out to the hall to collect myself, was this actually happening.  I have admitted to myself throughout this whole process that I do not speak for all of Breslau (at least now I know I speak for about a third).  I have my views and others have theirs and this project is a win in the finance department for a cash strapped township.  I knew that I would most likely lose this battle but I didn't expect this.  I didn't expect our Mayor to try and slip in an unscheduled motion to sell 4 acres of parkland without even telling Breslau about it.  I was told that this was an information session not a vote.  If this was a vote I would have been more persuasive to those that talked to me about it.  I felt stunned.

Don't worry things get even more interesting from here.  On the resumption after the break, wisely there was no one to second the Mayors motion.  Councillor Bauman stated while he may agree on the recommendation this was not the appropriate place for a motion and a vote. Councillor Bauman worked to direct staff while the others stayed quiet.  Mayor Shantz immediately backtracked and agreed with that approach.  Then Councillor Merlihan mentioned the report came out late on a long weekend, there has not been an appropriate amount of time for feedback.  After this back and forth *magically* they were able to determine that the staff report would come back for the September 29 meeting and I am assuming there will be a motion on the floor during that meeting.  I guess the delegation that asked for the timeline got his question answered in the end.

So attention Breslau, regardless of your position on this proposal you need to check out the Council Meeting web page for the September 29 meeting.  I can assure you there will be a vote.  If you have new information or would like to highlight information in the report please register as a delegation and share with the Council. Delegations can register up to noon on the day of the meeting with the clerks division. Written comments can be emailed in on the Thursday before the meeting.

The next key part of information on this project also came out tonight (as if the above wasn't enough). In order to sell the land they need to declare the land surplus according to their procedures.  This would involve a public notice and then 30 days for feedback.  This procedure must happen after council votes in favour of selling the land.  So at the earliest the land could be considered surplus and sold at the end of October 2015.

Sunrise over the park
This post has taken far to long to write and now I am sleepy and I am not sure that any of it makes any sense.  I apologize for any of the creative grammar and spelling I may have used, feel free to point them out in the comments. I felt it was important to get this information out to the Breslau community as soon as I could.  I have many more questions that I don't have time to get into:

  1. Will this create a precedent which essentially puts a "For Sale" sign on our underused public parkland in Woolwich?
  2. How do we justify forcing developers to "donate" 5% of their assets as public parks and then we turn around and sell them for a profit?
  3. Those who oppose the project are asking those who want to have the school to wait a few years and your school will be here regardless, if you build on this park now, it is gone forever.
  4. Even if the school is built on the park, you can expect it to open in 2018.  I wonder how soon they could build on other open lands when the Secondary plan is approved?  Might be a year later 2019 and we still have a park?  Who knows?
  5. What happens after the land is declared surplus?  Can anyone buy it?  If I win the lotto max this weekend and I offer 2 million for surplus land, then what?
I do not want to come across as an "out of control bully" or a disgruntled task force member who didn't get his way.  I want to know how we can make more people happy in Breslau then just 36.5%.  Do you have an idea, can we find a deal that benefits everyone or will we just have winners and losers and we are OK with that?  We need to grow Breslau as a single community.  How?