Concern from council over the potential limitation of public access to Fish Lake caused council to defer a request to close a road allowance and declare it surplus Tuesday.
Potter Road property owners James and Raeanne Neilson requested that council close a portion of the road allowance between Concession 1 West of Green Point and Concession 2 West of Green Point and convey the lands to them.
The road ran through the property and they conveyed a desire to connect the two parts of their property. The landowners would pay $1,000 to have the move completed. The proposal was subject to a public meeting in January, at which time no objections were heard. A report prepared by the County’s civil engineering technologist Tanya Reddick that was approved by senior staff came before committee of the whole earlier this month.
In it, Redden concluded that the municipality did not believe it had to retain the land because the subject road allowance was not actively used or maintained by the County and it was unlikely to serve a future need. The conveyance would also not result in any other property being landlocked.
The allowance led to an area described on a reference plan as “edge of marsh” which may be navigable by a canoe or small boat. Redden also noted the area might become shoreline as water levels fluctuate.
While committee of the whole allowed the recommendation to move forward, councillor Janice Maynard pulled the item from the committee minutes for further discussion. Her concern was that the County was going against a previously stated preference not to close access points to water.
“Access to water is something that once you give it away, you never get it back,” she said. “It’s death by a thousand cuts. Every time we close one of these roads, we’re one step closer to removing public access for people.”
While Maynard conceded there is public access from a road on the other side of Fish Lake, she cited policy council approved to not close public access.
Councillor Lenny Epstein asked commissioner of engineering, development, and works Robert McAuley if such a policy exists. Going from memory, the commissioner said he believed council did make that direction though he didn’t know how strong the wording was.
Epstein pressed for why staff might be recommending a course of action contrary to policy.
McAuley replied that staff felt that given the marshy condition of the land around the access, there wasn’t any real benefit.
Councillor Steven Graham said he’d also like clarity on why the recommendation appeared to fly in the face of council’s direction. McAuley said without the policy in hand, he was unable to provide further information, but he added “council has deviated from its policies before.”
Councillor Brad Nieman said he could not support closing the road allowance.
“I’m in the same boat. We have access to water and, I think, in previous years sitting here we’ve had this discussion before about closing public access to water,” he said. “I just can’t support closing that access up. On the other side of the lake, if that gets closed, nobody has access to that water. I can’t support it.”
McAuley said he didn’t know who owned the title to the other road allowance.
Councillor Jim Dunlop said he was prepared to support the closure, surplus declaration and conveyance.
“I will support this. We have access on the other side of the lake and we’re talking about Fish Lake. Who uses Fish Lake?”
Councillor Roy Pennell said he’d be prepared to move deferral to allow staff to bring back a report with more detail. “Right now, there may be a lot of people affected,” he said. “I think there was good reason for this to be brought forward but I think we have to know all the facts,” he said.
McAuley supported the deferral.
“Something rings in my mind that there was a severance involved or a planning decision prefaced on this action being taken as well… that this arose from a planning decision. I’d want to check on those decisions as well to see if we’d given a double jeopardy to the planning decision,” he said.
Council supported Pennell’s motion to refrain from making a decision until it received a report from McAuley. No timeline was set in the motion.