Listen Up! What will be this council’s legacy? Let’s hope it’s green space – Opinion

Hugh Mackenzie Huntsville Doppler

Hugh Mackenzie
Huntsville Doppler

Legacies matter

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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  1. Terry Clarke on

    Good points, Hugh. In addition there is parking across the bridge that should and could be utilized…. Just needs to organized…until the long range plan for “beer lake” is formulated.

  2. Susan Conroy on

    Hear ye, hear ye! As a taxpayer these same issues have been a bone of contention with me. River Mill Park = parking lot and trucking route! with a postage stamp green space thrown in to shut the taxpayer up. What is town council waiting for…a serious accident before they do anything about it. Preventative maintenance corrects the issue before it becomes a problem.
    Don’t bother making High Street a one way street!! Gosh the chaos and confusion for a few extra parking spots….that’s another band aid on the sore spot!

  3. Jean Bagshaw on

    I agree that River Mill Park needs to be green space only, no parking.
    I’m in favour of a multi-tier parking garage, just back from the Main Street…maybe one street south of Main Street. I know it is expensive, but people are so used to paying for parking, especially those from urban areas, that they would likely accept it without complaint. Those who live around here will find other places to park that tourists aren’t familiar with, where they don’t have to pay.

  4. Rob Millman on

    As a “far too” frequent commenter in this medium, I completely agree. I have consistently supported the concept of a parking garage as part of the Empire lot development: This would likely provide twice the number of parking spaces which exist in River Mill Park.

    With respect to making High Street one-way, I would support that far more as a safety measure, than to glean additional parking. It should only apply from Brunel Rd. to West St., and also north on West St. to Main St. High Street (“West”) and High Street (“East”) should both be right-in only from Brunel Rd. Parking could be increased by using either a 60-degree or 45-degree configuration on both sides of High Street (‘West”) and West St.

  5. Jonathan Wiebe on

    On the thought of creating ONE WAY streets south of Town Hall, it’s my belief that we could improve traffic flow, provide many more parking spaces AND make the the intersection of Brunel Rd. and High Street far safer by creating a ONE WAY street from Center st. east to Brunel starting at Minerva and the reciprocal westbound ONE WAY from Brunel to Center one block south (Princess). Right now many people use Main St. to get to Brunel and that creates unnecessary congestion in the core. Let’s also not forget the opportunity to improve our active transportation network. We should be able to connect areas such as Commerce Park, McCulley Robertson Park, River Mill Park and the Summit Center with non-motorized transportation options.

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