North Huron Council throws support behind Festival outdoor stage
BY DENNY SCOTT
North Huron Township Council has approved a site plan control agreement with the Blyth Festival for use of space at the Blyth Campground after fast-tracking the issue on Monday night.
The purpose behind the project, according to Festival representatives, is that the campground, which is municipally-owned, will be the site of an outdoor performance stage for Blyth Festival shows this year.
Huron County Planner Monica Walker-Bolton recommended approval for the site plan after Festival representatives addressed questions regarding water at the site, engineering concerns and accessibility issues.
Walker-Bolton said Huron County’s Planning and Development Department has no concerns and the project could be approved by council if that was its desire.
While some council members supported the plan, East Wawanosh representative Councillor Chris Palmer had concerns about the site, starting with the future plans for the structure.
“Do they [the Blyth Festival] have plans beyond this year, when everyone expects life to be more or less normal?” he asked of Walker-Bolton.
Blyth Festival Artistic Director Gil Garratt spoke to Palmer’s concerns saying that there is a five-year plan for the site, which is the duration of the agreement signed between North Huron and the Festival.
“We’re planning, for the next five years, to have shows on the outdoor stage,” he told council. “The hope is to continue to grow, build and expand on this facility for years to come.”
He said he hopes that other groups will be able to make use of the outdoor stage as well, saying that he had been in talks with the Huron Pioneer Thresher and Hobby Association about the site being used for fiddle contests or concerts during the association’s annual reunion or if the Festival could put on themed plays during the reunion.
Garratt also said he had talked to several musical groups about using the stage, including the Barn Dance Historical Society, the Huron Waves Music Festival and the Goderich Celtic Roots Festival.
“[The outdoor facility] has the potential to serve the Blyth Festival beautifully and serve the community more broadly,” he said. “That’s our hope.”
Palmer was also concerned about “protecting” the asset, saying he likes the design and doesn’t want to see it ruined.
Garratt said that is an issue of concern, but there have been plans to address it.
“We have, at this point, already designed some deterrent pieces that will attach to scaffolding to prevent people from getting on to the second tier [of the structure],” he said. “We’re also talking about other security options, including everything from a camera to lights.”
Deputy-Reeve Trevor Seip commented that the design is a “grander outlay” than he anticipated when it was first brought to council, which was a good thing according to him.
“I”m not against it,” he said. “The Blyth Festival has always been [a] ‘go big or go home’ [organization], and the Festival is going big.”
Seip did say he was concerned with parking spaces, however, as the number of seating spaces and the number of visible parking spaces demonstrated a potential issue with traffic flow. He said that could be dealt with throughout the development process.
Reeve Bernie Bailey commented he was excited to see the project come to fruition before council voted unanimously to both fast-track the issue due to its timely manner and approve the site plan.