Opinion: When it comes to River Mill Park, how about option three – none of the above?

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It is expected that later in April councillors will vote on a staff recommendation to increase parking in the River Mill Park area.

At an earlier public meeting about the plan, two options were presented for comment. Option one would see ten parallel parking spaces added at the perimeter of the park, along Dara Howell Lane, and option two would see 21 angled spaces added. The cost for the additional parking is estimated to be around $30,000.

Here’s the problem. The problem is the question. The public was asked to comment on adding ten parking spaces or 21. What if your preference is none? It’s like asking you if you would like peas or lima beans with your dinner, when you hate both! How about option three – none of the above?

And here’s the rub. River Mill Park is neither a park, nor a parking lot. In its attempt to be all things to all people, it has failed everyone.

You may recall that the redevelopment of this area was mired in controversies over costs, a plan to incorporate a condo development perhaps even a restaurant, and difficulty getting all the property owners in the area to agree to sell a portion of their land to the Town which resulted in ugly expropriation proceedings. Subsequently, the election of a new mayor and council bent on putting their own mark on the development sent the project back to the drawing board, changed the plan and further increased the costs.

The result is what we are left with today – a very expensive parking lot with a playground and a little bit green space.

As someone who has owned a building in that area I am more than familiar with the frustrations over parking, and the disappointment with the derelict look of the buildings on the water side, and with the difficulties getting delivery trucks in and out. However, none of that trumps the value of the natural asset Huntsville has with the river flowing through the downtown; an asset none of the other Muskoka towns will ever enjoy. What a huge boon for us that should not be squandered for the sake of ease of parking.

Rather than spend more money on a piecemeal parking plan, councillors should look to the future. They should explore options that would see the parking lot between the playground and the park grassed over, the introduction of a pedestrian street for Dara Howell Lane, and incentives for business owners to clean up the backside of the buildings.

The right plan for the area would indeed increase traffic, it just won’t be vehicular traffic. Amen to that.

Feature photo courtesy of the Town of Huntsville.

13 Comments

  1. What a great Idea..But, there is a problem to making 100% of the area green grass…namely a small access lane at the North end of the current parking lot, leading to King Street. This lane is frequently the only means for residents of King Street to exit out of the area in the winter time, as they are confronted with uphill left turns that are often impossible to negotiate in the winter..even with snow tires. Additionally, it is for the fire Department to access a hydrant for our fire protection …as well as for their access..and egress.. So, a laneway through to Dara Howell way will still be needed..as there is no other access to main street for the area behind Main Street.

    With construction occurring at the moment, there have been several instances where my only means of getting off King Street was to use this laneway…exactly why it was set up this way as the area was redesigned for River Mill ‘Parkettes’.

    • Forgive me Bill Wright, but if area residents are using the pathway to exit from King Street south to the parking area to Main because the roads are impassable, then the town needs to address the winter maintenance of those residential roads. There are far more tretcherous areas where residents do not resort to using footpaths to exit their homes.

      Clearly anyone looking at the present or long term impact of the area in question needs to recognize that in-town waterfront is extremely limited and anything other than pedestrian and recreational space (allowing for delivery and fire safety) would be a colossal blunder.

      The BIA, the town itself can improve parking along Main Street by restricting owners and staff from parking within a block of Main Street and encouraging the use of the derelict Dollar Store parking area, as well as the currently empty Empire space at little to no cost.

      Big picture folks. And it’s not even that hard to see.

      • @Katie Cox…What you refer to as a “Footpath” is maintained as a road, by the town. Have you attempted exit from this area under winter conditions, despite double sanding by the town?

  2. I hate the idea of adding any parking spots. It’s a park. Leave it a park. Any councillor who has a business on the Main Street should say he is out of the voting.

    • Wendy Brown , Any improvement is better than no improvement at all! Also, if I recall, you are the one who said “nobody shops downtown anyway” so who cares about your opinion?

  3. Hooray for Bob Stone’s initiative. Right now the area behind these stores is waste land and in poor shape. By doing what he is proposing it might finally look somewhat decent, and we might get rid of all the ugliness back there. Leave it alone and it will stay like wasteland. Also, it might encourage merchants fronting this area to improve on it. GO BOB, and don’t listen to the naysayers.

  4. Roxanne Driedger on

    I agree with option 3, none of the above. Green space seems to be what the majority want…. give it to them.

  5. I agree that the backs of the shops in the area aren’t very attractive, although just a few years ago it was way worse. Many shops seem to be at least trying to perk things up. The parking in town is definitely a challenge. The idea of having all staff (shops, town, etc.) park a couple of blocks away is a good one. Some days it’s extremely difficult to find parking in any of the in-town parking lots, and it’s not even summertime. More green space by the river is an excellent idea. Even reducing the number of parking spots would be good, but I would like to see some creative re-organization of the open space behind the shops. There are a lot of boulevards and multiple “lots” with borders that could be opened up into more parking spots while increasing green space on the park side of Dara Howell Way. That way, delivery trucks could get access. The huge derelict area on the far side of the river is such an eyesore, never mind extremely hazardous to drive through. Might be a good place for “town parking” but not sure if the conversation should include that area at the moment. Who owns all that mess – multiple businesses? Improving the green space in the park, maintaining access (deliveries, King St. residents, etc.), and creative parking designs are possible. I don’t like the idea of reducing the green space around the current parking pad so suggest improved design behind the shops.

  6. We could have had 60 new parking spaces next to the old A&P building on Main Street if the Town hadn’t granted the developer a variance to avoid our parking requirements. How about we leave River Mill Park alone and enforce our bylaws?

  7. With all due respect Mr. Reijnen, I don’t see how adding parking along the edge of the grass makes the area more attractive. Business owners will do what they feel will enhance their businesses regardless of more cars being closer or not. If there’s a business case for opening up a back entrance facing the park the business owners will decide. Do you think That Little Place is opening facing the park because there might be more parking back there? This is a bad idea through and through. I hope council can see that the only answer is “none of the above” to this idea and get more creative about other places for parking and incentivise the business owners further to fix up their park facing facades.

  8. In planning at all levels of government, we seem to be victims of our own “short term” thinking. This leads to short term solutions. I believe that we need to look ahead and ask the question, “what is the right thing to do for all of our people, and especially our next generations?”

    If we really believe in and value the natural beauty of our local environment and doing the “right thing” for our present and future people, then we should vote for “none of the above” for the parking issue at River Mill Park.

  9. The town has some big areas just across the river (the old “Beer Lake” parking area that are currently very under used. Could the sidewalks and Main street bridge access be improved a little and this area utilized?
    What about the areas where the old Empire Hotel used to be, and the Derelict Dominion Store? If a little incentive and imagination was used in re-development of these areas quite a lot more parking could be gained.

    I still applaud the removal of those old parking meters from the downtown streets. I love the two hour parking system we have now and I think it helps all the downtown to have this free parking.

    Maybe if the whole downtown area was looked at, a few relatively small changes could add quite a few extra parking spots.

    Perhaps part of the Public School grounds could be utilized for overflow parking in the summer months, when school is not in use and parking demands are highest? Another crazy Idea as it involves the School Board working with the downtown and maybe dual use of some of the playground is not feasible anyway but maybe, just maybe worth a look.

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