Many readers will recognize that the question above comes from the iconic rock song, Big Yellow Taxi, and its haunting lament “you never know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone, they paved paradise and put up a parking lot”. Well, the Beachway Community is hardly “paradise”. In fact, one unsuccessful candidate in the recent municipal election was quite clearly appalled at the thought that people would live and raise families there. Putting aside this rather smug arrogance, the Beachway residents are a long-standing and resilient culture within Burlington and the Halton Regional Government has, at least in part, elected to take away their homes and “put up a parking lot”. To make this happen over time, the community, which has existed for over 100 years, will eventually be demolished.
The Beachway residents fought hard in 2013 to be allowed to stay and co-exist with the expanded Beachway park. They observed then that they have never prevented the public from accessing the beach nor posed a threat to the shoreline. The Burlington Waterfront Committee (BWC) took up their cause and, in a campaign that lasted from Spring through Fall of 2013, argued that the residents should be left alone. A survey conducted by the BWC in the Summer of 2013 showed that 82% of Burlington respondents agreed. However, only three Councillors in Burlington ( Meed Ward, Dennison and Taylor) were of like mind; the other four members of Council voted for acquisition of the properties. As a result, Burlington took a divided voice to the Region in October 2013 and a local community was earmarked for destruction when Oakville representatives and the Regional Chair voted as a block. Such are the ironies of municipal politics. However, our purpose here is not to comment on this unnecessary loss of community. That perspective is very effectively covered by Councillor Meed Ward in her December 2014 Newsletter (https://madmimi.com/s/c94ca5#lakeshore). Rather, we would like to seriously question the associated economics and business case with the benefit of new information.
Readers may or may not be familiar with all aspects of the planned purchase of all 30 houses in the Beachway community by the Region. The purpose of the acquisition is ostensibly to add another 3% of land to the Regional Beachway Park. Our concern is at what cost and to what end use? The houses will be demolished, as acquired, and the properties will be restored as natural land (foundations, pavement, septic tanks/beds and any other contaminants removed). The Region has estimated the cost of the property acquisition alone to be $10 million or an average of over $330,000 per home. Significantly, the costs of restoration, which will be considerable, have not been estimated.
Now we have learned that the first domino in the property purchase game has fallen. It is 1011 Lakeshore Road, a property on the west (non-shore) side just south of the Sewage Treatment plant. The cost to regional taxpayers is well over $600,000. It is early in the game and one home sale does not represent a pattern. It does, however, provide a reason for concern and caution. If each house (on both the shore and non-shore side) was valued with this cost as an average, the total cost just to purchase all of the houses could be over $18 million or nearly twice the estimate given to taxpayers. If the costs of restoration are then factored in to the total, the cost becomes far, far greater. Whether or not this is good value for taxpayers is subject to debate and interpretation. Our point is that the debate has never occurred and, given a decision made with a completely different set of cost metrics, may never occur. Are there other projects in the Region that have better value, that exhibit a better cost/benefit ratio for our tax dollars? Quite possibly and, of course, “value” is largely determined by the use to which these resources are put. This leads to the second major issue, our “parking lot”.
What is the plan once the Beachway homes are all demolished over time? Well, the Region’s “Park Plan” is not complete, so we only have the latest “Burlington Beach Regional Waterfront Park Master Plan” to go by ( cf. Burlington Parks & Recreation Department, document PR-23-13, dated August 28, 2013;cms.burlington.ca/AssetFactory.aspx?did=28125 ). Under the list of elements that the park zone is envisioned to include (cf. page 11), there is a proposal to “relocate parking from the dynamic beach to parking in less sensitive areas”. Significantly, the only “less sensitive areas” in the park are on the west side of Lakeshore Road where the one rectangle of fifteen (15) houses exists today. Under Option 2 (cf. page 15) “with the entire beach area as parkland” (the plan now approved), it states that this “allows for expansion of existing parking capacity west of Lakeshore Rd. & Lakeshore Court.”. This makes it reasonably clear that the fifteen (15) houses on the west side of Lakeshore Road are to be purchased and demolished for a parking lot. Did someone just hear the screen door slam?
Based on our estimates to buy half the houses, tear them down, clean up the mess and pave it over, that parking lot alone could cost over $10 million of taxpayer money. Arguably, it would be the most expensive parking lot in Burlington. So that is the likely fate of these “park” lands we are going to purchase on the west side of Lakeshore Road. There is no mention of what is intended to replace the houses strung along the east side of Lakeshore Road after they have been demolished, but the proposal to move parking away from the dynamic beach area would suggest these lands would not be parking areas but possibly naturalized areas of grass. Still, at a possible total cost of twice the initial estimate, is the original decision still valid and is all this destruction both warranted and cost-effective for the citizens of the region? At the very least, the first business case needs to be re-examined with a new and more critical set of eyes. As such, we would ask concerned citizens to communicate with the City and the Region to encourage a proper cost benefit analysis be undertaken, to advocate that it include all relevant costs and to ensure that both City and Region commit to a process of extensive public engagement and awareness once the true costs are known. The contact information for both Regional and City Councillors is available below:
Halton Regional Council:
Burlington City Council
Mayor Rick Goldring – email@example.com; (905) 335-7607
Councillor Rick Craven – firstname.lastname@example.org; (905) 335-7600. ext. 7587
Councillor Marianne Meed Ward – email@example.com; (905) 335-7600, ext. 7588
Councillor John Taylor – firstname.lastname@example.org; (905) 335-7600, ext. 7459
Councillor Jack Dennison – email@example.com; (905) 632-4800, ext. 211
Councillor Paul Sharman – firstname.lastname@example.org; (905) 335-7600, ext. 7591
Councillor Blair Lancaster – email@example.com; (905) 335-7600, ext. 7592