Huron East Council seeks more information on property purchase
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Several Huron East Councillors found a report on the municipality assuming ownership of the Brussels conservation area lacking in detail and have requested more information from staff.
The issue was discussed at council’s Nov. 3 meeting. This came after it was first raised two weeks earlier by way of a request from the Brussels Community Development Trust. It asked that the Trust serve as a conduit for the Maitland Mills Association to purchase the Maitland Valley Conservation Area in Brussels, with the municipality officially assuming ownership of the land. The Trust would pay for the purchase, according to a motion coming forward from the committee’s meeting, and also act as the management board.
After the discussion on Oct. 20, council asked staff for a report to be considered at a future meeting. In his report, presented at the Nov. 3 meeting, Chief Administrative Officer Brad Knight recommended council decline the request from the Trust.
“Given the level of community support and involvement, I suggested that the Brussels Community Development Trust might be in a better position to manage and promote the area than the municipality,” Knight said in his report. “Given the general mandate of the Trusts [there is one in Brussels and one in Seaforth, created after amalgamation] to use the former PUC (public utilities commission) hydro reserves for the betterment of the community and the ability of the Trusts to acquire property, the Trust could co-ordinate the efforts to maintain, improve and promote the facilities.”
Several councillors, however, including John Lowe and Zoellyn Onn, felt the report was inadequate and didn’t include necessary information, such as the potential purchase price for the land and what would be included in the purchase. The property includes Logan’s Mill, several acres of green space, a small covered area and storage structure, the new Brussels Leo Club playground and the butterfly garden, so councillors were wondering if the purchase would include the entire property – which measures between six and seven acres – or just the mill.
Mayor Bernie MacLellan returned to his position on Oct. 20, saying he didn’t see the benefit to the municipality in owning a green space that would continue to exist in Brussels whether the municipality owned it or not. Onn, however, said she didn’t know why the municipality wouldn’t want to own it. Owning a green space in Brussels along the Maitland River would ensure the preservation of a tremendous natural asset for residents for years to come, she said, and the municipality is already maintaining it.
Councillor Ray Chartrand said he wasn’t necessarily against the municipality owning the property, saying it could utilize a similar arrangement to other parks in neighbouring municipalities, which are owned by conservation areas and maintained by service clubs. Perhaps, he said, Huron East could enter into an agreement with a service club to maintain it if the municipality wanted to get those costs off of its books.
Several councillors inquired as to whether the Maitland Valley Conservation Authority was even considering selling the property and Councillor Alvin McLellan, who is on the authority’s board of directors, said the property had been declared surplus, so he was sure the authority would entertain a reasonable offer to purchase the property.
Lowe agreed with municipal ownership of the land, saying several councillors had already asked for more information, adding his name to that list. He said the property is unique and beneficial to Brussels and it would be a shame for it to fall into the wrong hands. He also tied the property to economic development opportunities for Brussels, attracting people to the community and its downtown core.
He also expressed his frustration with the process, accusing Knight of dissuading Gerry Wheeler and Doug Sholdice from the Maitland Mills Association from presenting that night and rushing through the process when he said the report would be presented to council at its Nov. 17 meeting.
Knight denied the accusation, saying he received a delegation request regarding the association after the deadline for the meeting, as set out by the municipality’s procedural bylaw, but still worked to get it on the agenda. However, after some back-and-forth with Wheeler, Knight said, Wheeler called on Monday and said he wouldn’t be attending the Nov. 3 meeting.
Lowe then recommended deferring the motion until staff could obtain further financial information on the potential sale of the land and until the Trust could hold another meeting. Council passed the motion.