Although Huntsville Council is just a year and a half into its current term, it is not too early to think about what their legacy will be at the end of their mandate. We got a peek into that this week during the Great Ice Cream debate at Council. On the face of it, not the most important issue to come before them, but in substance it raised a serious issue: basically whether Huntsville is a closed community or whether it is open to everyone.
We have of course had this debate before in a much more significant way, when the big box stores wanted to come to Huntsville. There was huge concern that the influx of these mega stores would change the nature of our town and seriously hurt local businesses, especially in our downtown area. But in retrospect it was the right thing to do and Huntsville, including our entire business community, stepped up to the plate and we are all better off for it.
One of the more difficult roles of a municipal council is having to walk the fine line between acting only in the interest of their constituents and doing what is best in the longer term for the community they serve. In this instance, it is only an ice cream truck, but Mayor Scott Aitchison got it right when he questioned how much government intervention there should be in a free market society. And so it was an important signal that the Mayor and some members of Council sent, effectively saying that Huntsville is open to anyone who can contribute to the well being of our community.
There are other issues that will contribute to the legacy of this Council and with the summer season fully upon us, there are two in particular that come to mind.
Hunters Bay Trail is a great asset to our community and good deal of public money has been spent to expand and maintain it. Sadly however, Hunters Bay Trail has a big brother, Fairy Vista Trail, which has been badly neglected. This trail, the first in Huntsville, was the brainchild of former Mayor Terry Clarke and an important part of his legacy. I hope he hasn’t walked it lately because it is a disgrace. Culverts break through the trail, potholes abound and the nature signs posted throughout the length of the trail are either vandalized or unreadable. Frankly, it looks as if the trail has been abandoned. If the Town has funds to improve and expand Hunters Bay Trail, surely they can find a way to maintain and upgrade Fairy Vista Trail so that residents can again enjoy this important part of our outdoor trail system in Huntsville.
This Council also has an opportunity to return River Mill Park to what was originally intended, which was to maximize green space in the heart of our downtown core. It is interesting that the plan recently spearheaded by Councillor Bob Stone, to have parallel parking along the periphery of the park, was much like the original plan but, of course, without the parking lot smack dab in the middle of it.
Scott Aitchison was a part of the Council that designed River Mill Park with a maximum amount of green space. In fact, he played a leading role in it. He was not on the Council that opted to “pave paradise and put in a parking lot” and I really don’t believe he would have supported it if he had been. He is therefore in a perfect position to get those cars out of the park and return it to green grass.
Of course, there is the reality of huge parking congestion in the downtown core, especially during the summer and fall seasons, but River Mill Park should not be the victim of this. Council knows they have parking issues downtown and they are looking at solutions such as making High Street one way, with additional parking areas. There are other options as well. As this study gets underway, finding parking options that would take cars out of River Mill Park should be a priority.
Returning River Mill Park to entirely green and recreational space would be a significant expression of leadership for our Mayor and Council for which they would be remembered. It would be welcomed by the thousands of people in our community who cherish outdoor public space and it would recognize that the environment is far more important to our economy and lifestyle than a concrete parking lot.
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