Should the Town of Wasaga Beach hold public meetings before selling the beachfront properties to Bayloc Developments?

The Survey

The Wasaga Beach Ratepayers Association believes that the Town of Wasaga Beach should hold public meetings before selling the taxpayer owned  beachfront properties to Bayloc Developments, the firm behind Baycliffe Homes and the only remaining respondent to the Beachfront Redevelopment Request for Proposal.

We have a new website that allows us to conduct surveys and polls directed to the entire population of Wasaga Beach. SpeakUpWasaga.com is an alternative to the Town's under-used Let's Talk Wasaga Beach portal, a commercial software product used as a public engagement platform by a number of  municipalities.

Our survey simply asks if you think public meetings about the plans are necessary or not and if you think an audit of Bayloc, known primarily as a residential developer, should be done as it was for FRAM. Since the collapse of negotiations with Slate Management, there has been no information on the nature of Bayloc's plan and no concept drawing has been shown.  The deal could be completed by the end of April, according to a statement made to the press by the Town Chief Administrative Officer. We encourage everyone to complete the survey regardless of which side of the issue they are on.

The Reaction

WBRA has come under attack on the Town's "Truth Corner", the media watchdog run by the Chief Administrative Officer and his Communications Officer. They are attempting to discredit the association and discourage participation in the survey. While we appreciate them letting people know about the survey, we feel compelled to rebut their assertions and defend our honour.

This being an election year, we anticipate many politically motivated attacks as we continue to ask questions and challenge this council's "truth". We question whether our public servants should be naming organizations and individuals in their expressions of "the truth" rather than sticking to their version of "the facts". Truth Corner should not be used by them to comment publicly on matters that are most likely to become political issues during the coming election campaign. Once candidates are able to register on May 2, 2022, public servants must not do anything to support or oppose a candidate according to the Integrity Commissioner of Ontario.

Facts vs Truth

Facts aren't the truth. The truth is what you see in the facts and what you see depends on your point of view. Same facts, different point of view, different truth. A fact is "true" when it is accurate. The "truth" of the fact is an interpretation, an opinion. The words and phrases used to describe the facts shape the truth you perceive. Beware those who tell you what the "truth" is. Embrace those who share their point of view and give you another way to see things. Determine your own truth.

WBRA is committed to providing accurate information. We will cite our sources and back up our facts. We will absolutely, definitely, most assuredly have a point of view and an interpretation of the "truth" and we will express it. We will not tell you what to think, but we will ask you to think and tell us your thoughts. We will share your thoughts but not your identity. We truly want to hear as many points of view as we can because that's what you need to form a consensus, a general agreement, a fact of what the majority wants.

Don't sell us out!

Fact:  Mayor's statement on the sale of taxpayer owned beachfront properties as reported by Simcoe.com: ‘We want them to build a neighbourhood’: Wasaga takes final steps to put beachfront on market

The process doesn’t necessarily commit the town to selecting one, all or any of the preferred developers, Bifolchi told council’s Sept. 10 co-ordinated committee meeting.

“If we get six lousy submissions, we’re not going to sell the town out,” she said. “If we feel that none of them are sufficient, we have the right … to have another RFP. We aren’t bound by anything that comes forward.” 

Opinion: We're down to one lousy submission. We should have a new RFP.

Truth: Your decision.

The Rebuttal

There are several points in the Truth Corner post that we will comment on: Secret Negotiations; Audit; Public Engagement; Privacy.

Secret Negotiations

The Town takes exception to our use of the word "secret" when referring to the negotiations with Bayloc Developments. They quote the legislation pertaining to land transactions that permits them to be done confidentially. The definition of confidential is secret, private, or shown in trust. The negotiations are, in fact, secret. They just object to our saying so.

The real question is: What is the plan? No concept drawing has been shown as was done with Slate Management's massive condominium proposal or the visionary FORREC Downtown Development Master Plan (DDMP) that FRAM was chosen to develop. This was not supposed to be just the sale of the properties but a proposal for the redevelopment of the beachfront. Surely the plan, if there is one, should not be a secret. Your council members don't even know what the plan is and if you think that's misinformation, ask one to tell you what it is.

If the Town doesn't believe this process is "secret", then it must certainly admit that it is "transparency impaired". Incidentally, the only elected officials in the negotiations are the mayor and the CAO who was elected to council in Penetanguishene.

Audit

The Town says it's misleading to speak about the need for an audit as the due diligence includes ensuring the financial security of the company. Does that mean there will be a third party audit or is it a way to evade the question? FRAM was put through a rigorous process, presumably because of the Levy Brothers Blue Beach Developments fiasco. The survey just asks if people think one is needed and is not a comment about Bayloc.

Public Engagement

The Town reminds us that the previous council involved the public extensively four years ago in the development of the Downtown Development Master Plan. They even keep the concept drawing on their website as a painful reminder of the downtown we could have had. As for the current council, they sought input, now closed, on their public engagement site for the DDMP Policy AmendmentsOfficial Plan Review, and Backyard Chicken Consultation (backyard chickens will remain prohibited in Wasaga Beach, by the way).

None of the above tell us what the Bayloc project concept may look like. Use the links above to view the two mandatory public engagement opportunities that affected the beachfront redevelopment project (not the chickens one). It's worthwhile reading the comments. There is no Beach One Redevelopment Project to comment on.

The Official Plan (OP) is essentially the rulebook for developers. In 2017, a review of the 2004 OP was initiated by the prior council  "...to ensure that the Official Plan remains reflective of community goals and priorities". In 2021 the current council proposed amendments to the Official Plan, the Zoning By-Law, and the Downtown Community Improvement Plan to "...increase flexibility in how the Beach One component is developed". Part of that was to "...Soften language with respect to urban design guidelines...".

When reading the  red-lined version of Official Plan Amendment No. 52 for the Downtown, it appears that  "softening" means "reversing" the language. There are many, many changes from "shall" to "are encouraged to", "shall" to "should", "shall pursue" to "may consider establishing", and similar phrases. One example to have a look at is about Festival Square.

22.5.1.1 Festival Square
1. A Festival Square, as identified as Special Policy Area 1 on Land Use Schedule "A-10", is proposed to may be developed in the vicinity of the Main Street Pedestrian Mall between Mosley Street and Beach Drive and should have regard for the Downtown Urban Design Guidelines in accordance with the approved Downtown Urban Design Guidelines.

The Zoning By-Law Amendment makes all of Beach Area One and Beach Area Two the same: six-storey condominiums are permitted on both.

Change the zoning of the lands bounded by 3rd Street North to the Playland Parking Lot and Beach Drive to Mosely Street from the Beach Transition Holding (B2H) Zone to the Beach Mixed-Use Holding (B1H) Zone;

These are the facts about the mandatory public engagement opportunities. Draw your own conclusions about the intent.

Privacy

Truth Corner points out that the survey asks for your email address and advises extreme caution as it could be used for purposes you had not intended. The email address is used to make sure we have one response per email address so no individual or group can submit multiple responses. We may send one email to each respondent letting them know where to view the results of the survey and ask them if they would like to opt-in to receive additional surveys and polls. WBRA follows the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPDA) requirements for privacy of your personal information.

In a letter to the mayor one year ago, WBRA Director Peter Gribbin, a member of the disbanded Downtown Development Master Plan Steering Committee, addressed the issue of public engagement, the changes to the DDMP, and the changes to the Official Plan. The mayor declined to reply to the points in detail. In his letter, he also refused a second request by the mayor to share the list of our members with her: "For the record, we will not share our list of members as we value our members' rights to privacy, and frankly, we are shocked you asked for it."  Why the mayor wants the names is irrelevant. Our duty to our members is to respect their privacy and we do.