Town seeking public input on North Shore Park proposal

As part of the effort to reimagine Port Elgin’s North Shore Park, Council in a recorded vote with five in favour and three against, supported in principle a proposal to incorporate the historic Port Elgin and North Shore Railroad (mini-train) and amenities into the park’s new design. 

Council heard a proposal from train owner Scott Pearson on Monday night (April 11th) that includes a site plan and related amenities.  The proposal brought to Council by Pearson has grown in scope to include some 30,000 square feet of buildings, a manicured mini-golf, a charcuterie for outdoor dining, an event space and the possibility of food trucks.

Proposal Summary

     For larger view, Click on Image

Pearson first came to Council in May, 2022 with his proposal to reinstate the original steam train.  In a staff report by Frank Burrows (Manager Parks) presented to council on Tuesday, April 11th (2023), it stated that following the original presentation in May, “… Council subsequently directed staff to advance further discussions with Mr. Pearson. A public consultation session was undertaken, along with background work in relation to the park and work with Mr. Pearson to assist him in preparing his detailed proposal.”

The train proposal comes as the Town seeks to rehabilitate North Shore Park following a significant amount of damage after storms in September 2021 and December 2022 took out hundreds of trees, ripping up the surrounding turf, as well as damaging trails, washrooms, and amenities.   

The storms forced the Town to remove the damaged trees along with hazardous debris.  Arborists say more tree damage is likely because the storms have weakened the canopy and root system. 

After the initial storm, the Town held a public consultation on the park’s future in July 2022, including the possible return of the train with 31 respondents indicating support for the project.  That consultation led the Town to limit work at the park in 2022 in order to develop an integrated plan with the train proposal. “Other than hazard tree removal, limited work has been undertaken in the park to ensure that a holistic and integrated plan for North Shore Park can be developed if the train proposal is approved,” said Burrows in his report. 

July Public Meeting Results

Deputy Mayor Diane Huber however, raised several concerns over the proposal.  “I would like to see public consultation happen sooner rather than later.  This is some of the most valuable real estate in the community. This is not about putting the park back together, it is about changing the park significantly and is this really the direction that people want to see going forward?  We have almost $1million in the budget and $550,000 is associated with the parking lot.  This is a public park where there will be an investment of at least 30,000 sq ft of space coverage based on figures included in the proposal along with assuming a 3’ width for the track” and that does not include fencing, signals, gardens, a charcuterie … this is the only park of its kind and why would we change the character of the park to one where more than one third will be a pay-to-play in a public setting.  The public investment is significant and i don’t think we should so easily change a public park into an amusement park … I am disappointed there was no RFP and don’t believe we should move forward prior to public consultation to ensure it is what people want.  I also question the level of public investment required to enable a private business to a long-term lease in a public space and fencing that will set up barriers in that public space. I don’t think we have enough information to warrant moving forward right now.”

Councillor Bud Halpin also pointed out that 31 respondents does not indicate “very strong support” and represents only 0.19 per cent.  “I want to hear from the residents of Port Elgin and they have to express their opinions.  I’ve heard from a lot of people that they want to see the park maintained as natural.  We need more public consultation.”

The project has a timeline of project milestones, including further public consultation, that can be found in Monday night’s report The Town will revise that timeline to bring the additional consultation forward in the coming weeks.

The Town’s strategy and work along the waterfront continues to be guided by the Waterfront Master Plan

Mayor Luke Charbonneau said he realized how important the train is and how people missed it.  “I feel confident from 16 years on Council that people want to see this train return.  If you’re going to have a train and all the things we want it to be, there has to be a business that is more than a train and the amenities presented will be a business.  We heard from the public last year but now we have a more detailed plan to take  back to the public. This is an important piece of property and close to everybody’s heart and we have to do the right thing.  If we express support in principle, it is contingent on public consultation.  I am keen to hear from the public.  We are here to work with you (Pearson) and I feel an obligation to put it to the public. I would like to see the words ‘in principle’ added to the recommendation, and until we vote on a lease agreement there is no project.”

CAO, Kara Van Myall explained that the town was in the process of hiring a landscape architect to look at the design of the park, gather feedback from the community and come up with a plan that makes sense to the investor and the community.

“Is the architect creating a plan for the proposal or a plan for the park?” asked Deputy Mayor Huber.

“Council is keen to hear what the public thinks about the proposal with all its amenities as presented,” said the Mayor.  “We can pass this resolution ‘in principle’ and direct staff to consult with the public. Council wants to hear what the community thinks of this plan before proceeding with any changes at North Shore Park.

The CAO added that she would like to see the July public consultation take place in concert with the landscape architect.

Pearson said that it would take two years before the project would be operational.

Recorded vote Results for ‘support in principle’:
Yes – Mayor Charbonneau, Councillors Rachel Stack, Cheryl Grace, John Divinski and Vice-Deputy Mayor Mike Myatt
No – Deputy Mayor Diane Huber, Councillors Bud Halpin and Dave Myette

To listen to the entire discussion, CLICK HERE and scroll to 1:49 on the timeline.