An alternative design for Port Elgin Beach presented to Council

‘The Beach Preservers’ is a local group of Port Elgin residents that has arrived at an alternative design for the proposed Cedar Crescent Village to be developed on Port Elgin’s main beach.

Presented at the last Council meeting by resident Neil Aitchison, the alternative design was created by designer Mitch Hughes, also a life-long resident of Port Elgin.  According to Aitchison, the new design offers the same footprint and amenities as the proposed design by the consortium of developers with one exception – that the entire development be turned from a north-south direction to east-west, which would retain a primarily unrestricted view of Lake Huron.

As set out in the alternative design, Aitchison said that it appears that many options are offered that are not in the proposed development, including less salt usage as the west side won’t need to be plowed in winter; improved coastal E-W views for ALL; protection against flooding, surging waters and highwater mark; location that is off the environmental hazard area; restaurant and market would be adjacent to roads minimizing the excavation required for sewer/water/electricity.

The new alternative would also provide open access for patrons and deliveries for both the Harbourlite Restaurant and the proposed new Whitefish Grill as well as access for Sunday night summer concerts eliminating the proposed viewing tower.  “Joan Johnston has been the owner of the Harbourlite for over 30 years and to block her restaurant would be unfair,” said Aitchison.  “There are still concerns over the environment and wildlife given the footprint and we think an environmental impact study should be done.”

The new design would also provide close access to the beach for beachgoers while providing easy access for skating and/or volleyball players along Harbour St. resulting in  better traffic flow.

The Beach Preservers have also recommended a ‘charrette‘ be held to discuss the possibilities of change to the proposed development.  “The emphasis of a charrette is collaboration and teamwork and we hope that Council will consider this,” added Aitchison.

Both Vice-Deputy Mayor, Mike Myatt and Councilor Cheryl Grace said that they, in fact, liked many aspects of the new alternative designs and Grace said she would like to discuss them further.

“When I read your presentation,” said Myatt, “I was blown away with the amount of work that’s gone into this!  I do appreciate the passion, the interest you people have shown. You’ve done, you’ve put a whole lot of work into this, and a lot of thought into it. And I, basically, just want to thank you for your efforts. There’s a lot of good information in here!”

Grace also said that she appreciated the presentation and the work that Mr. Hughes put into the new design.  “I think there are some interesting ideas, and, you know, I would like to talk about some of these ideas.”

“We are a community that cares and the community should be involved in this,” said Aitchison.  “There are 4,400 names on a petition and people are asking can we not come  together on this and make it a beautiful beach.”

Councilor Kristan Shrider agreed and posed a question to the CAO, David Smith asking what the path forward would be. “There were a lot of great ideas in that presentation,” she said, “so where does that go from now? And I know that it’s Public and the owner (Pier Donnini) is here in the room tonight but, just for clarification, will there be conversations  regarding some of the items that were presented tonight as potential ideas or considerations?”

The CAO however, said that the alternative had some concepts that were initially reviewed but were discounted through the evolution of the process.  “It’s highly unusual to put a parking lot between an activity space and the Beach, because then you’ve got people going back and through a parking lot. So, there’s basic elements that don’t make good planning sense. There are some though that, that could be considered. Council will be approving the final design as you know, and we’re (staff) working closely with the proponent to come up with the final design.”

“We are not against change at the Port Elgin beach,” added Aitchison, “and we recognize that something has to be done. We are hopeful that this alternative design, or one similar to it, will be one that we can all get behind. We hope that a charrette will help ease the social divisions in the community that this issue has caused.  The alternative presented is not the only design and there are many people who have creative ideas for a vision of our waterfront.  This is just one idea.  By incorporating a charrette into the design process, there should not be a big rush, we should share things and find a compromise. I suggest we work together to avoid having a mistake at the lake.”

According to Aitchison, one of the partners in the consortium, Kevin Carter, asked the Beach Preservers to tell the developers what they didn’t like about the proposed project.

“We have never been against everything,” added Aitchison. “What we don’t like about the design is the ‘storage locker’ look that runs across the entire beach.  We also believe that the Harbourlite shouldn’t be cut off completely to the people who have been going there for many years. It’s been there longer than many of us and it should have the opportunity for people to come for breakfast or lunch and watch the sunset and I don’t think parking is a problem.”