A group of Sarnia residents has responded to Sarnia’s plan to sell off the Kinsmen Centre lands on Lakeshore Road with a proposal of its own.
“The taxpayer's own this. They own the building, they own this property, they own the equipment that’s here,” said Patrick Marcella, a resident representing a group of residents who live near adjacent Baxter Park.
The citizen group has actually crafted three possible scenarios for the site, which it wants to keep in public hands.
The first two would see all or part of the Kinsmen Centre restored with the addition of a pavilion at a cost of about $500,000.
The third would see a new structure built with washrooms, kitchen and a picnic pavilion facing into the park, at an estimated cost of $250,000.
The Kinsmen Community Centre was declared surplus last year after staff estimated it would cost a quarter of a million dollars to replace a leaking roof and remove mould and asbestos.
City planners tried to amend the Official Plan in January by rezoning the land the centre sits on from “parks” to “urban residential.”
But nearly 300 people signed a petition urging council not to rezone the land, and city council deferred the decision. Instead, it instructed staff to work with the community for six months to come up with a plan that combines new housing with improvements to Baxter Park.
The city has generated two proposals, each calling for the leveling of the Kinsmen Centre and the re-purposing of the land for residential homes.
It’s estimated each lot could sell for $115,000 and, after factoring in the building’s demolition cost, could generate $563,000 to $800,000 for city coffers.
But that’s not what residents want, Marcella said.
“We feel that the city is rushing into this. Selling park land for urban residential in this city, we believe, is the wrong path to follow.”
Marcella said a number of groups and businesses have come forward to say they would help financially with the citizen proposals for the site.
“The city is not going to go bankrupt if it doesn’t sell this property right away,” he said, adding there are other places it could find savings.
City Coun. Matt Mitro supported the Jan. 16 motion to rezone the Kinsmen land for housing.
“It’s no good having parkland if you can’t afford to keep it up, and there’s no one using it,” he said.
“It does no good if we have a whole bunch of parks that aren’t kept up. Baxter is a perfect example of this.”
Mitro said there was a time when city parks were extensively used, but decisions made in 2017 shouldn’t be based on nostalgic reasoning.
“Right now we’re over parked, relatively speaking. We have lots of parkland that is underutilized.”
Mitro added that the additional tax revenue from new housing could be used to better maintain existing parks, including Baxter.
But Marcella said Baxter Park is already well used, including by those who use it to access the beach and lake.
“I honestly don’t think (councillors) understand the dynamics of this park and the value of this park to the people of this community,” he said.
Both proposals — the city’s and citizens’ — can be viewed on Sarnia’s new community engagement website, www.smartsarnia.com.