Jim and Marie’s one wish for the Beachway
Jim and Marie Milner have lived on Burlington Beach for more than 70 years. They grew up here, got married and raised kids here, have seen storms come and go (with no flood damage), and lived here long before the acquisition policy was developed to acquire the homes for parkland. The residential community has been in the area for more than 100 years.
I spoke to the Milners and recorded their story to share with the public and decision-makers to provide a human face and eyewitness history on this issue. In the attached video, the Milners share their memories of the beach as a vibrant community, eyewitness accounts of storms, and hopes for the future – to stay in their home.
Halton Regional Council voted 16-5 in favour of the acquisition policy to buy out the 30 private homes along Beachway, for an estimated $10 million. I voted against this along with Councillors Taylor and Dennison. Residents must be allowed to stay along Beachway Park, as they have for the last 100 years, without the cloud of an acquisition policy hanging over their heads for years to come.
Here are 10 reasons why the Beachway residential community should remain:
1. The city’s long-term vision for the park can be achieved without removing the residents that live near the park. Save for one property, the existing homes are not on the waterfront; don’t impede public waterfront access; and are outside the environmentally sensitive areas and dynamic beach. 97% of the park area is already in public hands.
2. The residential community has coexisted with park for more than 100 years and can continue to coexist. Some of the current homeowners have lived on the beach for more than 60 and 70 years, and predate the policy, which was introduced in the 1970s. These include people like Jim & Marie Milner who’ve lived on the beach more than 70 years, and spoke about their experience and hopes for their future in the video. We need to maintain the existing city zoning which is low-density residential on the west side, and consider similar zoning for the east (currently zoned mixed use which allows businesses).
3. The existing residential community enhances the park experience. The residential community adds character, history, visual interest and eyes on the street to the beach area. Visitors to the beach have often called on the residents for aid, and many have said they feel safer in the area knowing there are residents living nearby.
4. A blanket acquisition policy is not required for a case-by-case purchase of individual properties. The city has and does acquire property on an individual basis without a blanket policy in place that encompasses properties we are not interested in. All that is required is a report to council outlining the rationale for the purchase. If there is only interest in acquiring some strategic properties in the Beach, we should not hold the entire area under an acquisition policy.
5. There are insufficient funds for acquisition (even of a limited number of properties) – and better use of taxpayers funds. It will cost upwards of $10 million to acquire all 30 private properties to add 1% more non-waterfront parkland, plus thousands more to demolish the homes and convert them to parkland. In addition, the city will lose the annual tax revenue these properties pay. There is only a little over $2 million in the Region’s budget dedicated to this park, which must also cover design and upgrades. It’s better to use taxpayers funds to upgrade the existing park and pathway, and provide for the ongoing annual maintenance.
6. The purchase of private homes along the Beachway is based on “willing buyer, willing seller.” Most of the residents are not willing to sell. That should end the matter in itself. The residents own their properties (they are not on leased land) and pay taxes.
7. The formal policy to acquire and remove all properties for a park ended in the 90s, so it is unclear what the current “policy” actually is. Master Plans still show the land base for the park that includes all the private homes – but there’s no formal policy to enable that. Residents have been asking for and deserve clarity on this.
According to the staff report (chart pg. 5) acquiring and removing all housing for a major park was included in the 1974 and 1987 Master Plans for Beachway Park, but was not in the subsequent plan in 1994. Instead, the goal shifted to acquiring only some strategic properties. Council voted in 1995 that “the 16 freehold properties on the beach [East] side of Lakeshore Rd be given a very low priority” (Page 7). Such acquisition was dependent on available funding.
Regarding the properties on the West side, according to staff memo in 2008 (CC-176-08), the recommendation in 1994 was to leave the properties on the West side as residential. (About half the existing homes are on the West side, half on the East).
What these decisions have meant over time is that as properties came up for sale, there was no public buyer. There were no public acquisitions after 2005, although 16 properties came on the market in the 2000s.
This happened to one resident, Chris Collier, whose house burnt down. He offered the land to the city and region, with no takers, and ended up rebuilding, only now to face the prospect of a decision that defines the park as including his property.
8. A blanket acquisition policy is not benign. It negatively impacts the homeowners. Residents report that uncertainty over the future of the Beachway residential community and lack of clarity on plans for the park has scared off some potential buyers, made it harder to obtain a mortgage and made it more difficult to renovate and enhance their properties, among other challenges. It has also deflated real estate prices lower than they might be. Any risk in a real estate transaction translates into reduced price. A blanket acquisition policy creates risk and uncertainty for future purchasers. If the goal is willing buyer/willing seller, it must be on the open market at fair value free of these kinds of government-imposed impediments. Elected officials should be very cautious to use our policy-making power in a way that is detrimental to our own residents. In this case there is neither demonstrated nor sufficient reason to do so.
Residents simply want the same property rights and obligations enjoyed by residents elsewhere in the city, and that requires clarity on where the park boundaries are, and no blanket acquisition policy.
9. Keeping a policy just “because it’s there” isn’t good government. The argument has been made that simply because there have been Master Plans and ongoing discussions (though not approved policy) for some time about acquiring all the private homes, those plans should remain. However, the plans and policies themselves have changed over time (see Item 7). Further, policy is not an end in itself. Policies simply implement a predetermined plan or vision; if the plan or vision changes (as it has in this case) so should the policy. The key issue for elected officials isn’t whether the policy has existed, but whether it’s the right policy. As pointed out in Item 1, a blanket acquisition policy isn’t required to implement the overall beach vision.
10. Residents “should have known” is not a reason to maintain a policy. Much has been made of properties changing hands privately after the acquisition policy was put in place. This is a distraction from the main issue, which is simply this: is the policy a good one? Some residents predate the policy; some don’t. The community itself has existed for over 100 years. Some purchasers knew about the policy when they bought; some didn’t. Given the low priority and lack of offers from public agencies, the sellers had no choice but to sell privately, often at a price less than these homes would normally command. The issue for elected officials isn’t who came first – the policy or the current homeowner. The key issue for decision-makers is whether the policy is the right one for the city in the first place. For all the reasons stated here, it’s not.
In summary, the acquisition of all 30 homes on both sides of Lakeshore Road isn’t necessary to realize a public waterfront park (we already have that), nor can the city afford it. A blanket acquisition policy has a negative effect on the existing residential community and isn’t necessary for case-by-case purchase of property. We’ve got to clearly define the boundaries of the park so residents can get on with their lives with some certainty, and we can turn our efforts and tax dollars to upgrading what we already have.