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.