The next milestone in the City of Kingston (Ontario) debate over the fate of Belle Park, and subsequently the 9-hole Belle Park Fairways Golf Course, will take place Tuesday, March 5th.
After a city staff report last September recommended that the golf course be closed and part of the 86 acres of parkland be turned into a Solar Farm, a public information meeting was held on January 29th that evoked a strong response. Nearly 40 city residents voiced their opinion on the topic, a nearly unanimous outcry in favour of saving the park from the city staff proposal.
The entire situation was precipitated by the city’s desire to put a 2.5% cap on tax increases and since the Belle Park Golf Course operations have run into the red in the recent past, they had become a target. The proposed plan is meant to stop the monetary bleed of the golf course and augment the city coffers with revenue from the solar farm. It appears the situation is not as clean cut as the city staff had hoped, as resistance to the plan has mounted. A delay in carrying it out seems to be a great probability.
A report (No. 13-122) based in part on that pubic meeting will be given to city council on Tuesday night. Attributable to Lanie Hurdle, Commissioner of Community Services, with the support of the CAO and three other City Department Commissioners the report reads in part:
“A public meeting was held in January to present information and collect feedback from the public. Additional meetings and discussions have also taken place with interested members of the public. Staff have collected and reviewed information and comments. As a result, staff are in the process of obtaining additional information to clarify comments/questions on a few options presented to Council. Staff have also been informed that the newly formed ‘Friends of Belle Park’ are in the process of developing a proposal which will be presented to Council as an additional option.
Given some of this additional work and information collection, staff anticipates that an updated report for Belle Park will only be submitted in late spring. This timeframe will provide Council with an opportunity to further discuss this option within the context of its upcoming strategic discussions along with corporate priorities, provincial program changes and financial challenges. It should be mentioned that this timeframe could also have an impact on the City’s ability to submit an application for a large FIT project, (Editor’s Note: FIT is a Feed-In Tariff Program regarding renewable energy projects) should the City decide to proceed with solar panels at Belle Park. Applications for FIT projects have to be ready for the intake process which is anticipated to open in 2013.”
Many questions were asked of city staff at that January meeting with not a lot of answers immediately forthcoming. At times it was clear the staff in attendance had not considered some of the points being made in the original report. Many critics questioned the accounting given for the golf course operations along with the quality of attention given to help it prosper. As such it appears the staff have retreated a bit in favor of gathering more information.
As noted in the report, the “Friends of Belle Park” will be presenting more information on Tuesday evening at the council meeting and a representative contacted Flagstick on Monday to comunicate that their group is prepared to create a formal Working Group to initiate a stronger assessment of the Belle Park Fairways golf operation. And the most significant part of this plan is that it will apparently have the support of the Community Services Commissioner.
Frank Dixon provided this statement to Flagstick on behalf of the group:
“Friends Of Belle Park will present for five minutes shortly after the meeting begins, and take questions from Councillors. Commissioner Lanie Hurdle has agreed to our group’s proposal to form a new Working Group, under the Arts, Recreation, and Community Policies Committee, for a study period of several months, to examine all aspects of the facility and property. This will include intensive study of golf course issues, environmental factors, maintenance practices, equipment appraisal, business, and staffing. This outcome has been the target for FOBP for the past few months, and we have been preparing accordingly. We will have the opportunity to staff the Working Group with personnel of our own choice, including golf industry professionals. The Commissioner has promised to designate funding for the operation.
The Working Group process promises to unlock many new, interesting and optimistic possibilities for the Belle Park facility, which has been neglected and mismanaged for decades.”
City Councillor Rick Downes has publicly stated the Solar Farm idea was very premature and recently City of Kingston Mayor Mark Gerretsen took up the invitation of a local citizen to walk the Belle Park property accompanied by her dog to better understand the significance of the green space.
What looked like a simple report and recommendation has gotten a bit more complicated. As least as far as the golf course portion of the park is concerned, the new Working Group will look to clarify the situation a little better before actions that will be hard to reverse will take place.
The possible transition of the park and golf course to another use is still not off the table but, to the relief of many Kingston citizens, it appears it will now be given a fairer assessment.
The City of Kingston Council Meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 5th. The public are welcome to attend.