Tori Sutton, Stratford Gazette
The conceptual vision for a multi-use recreational area at the old fairgrounds land has proved polarizing for city council.
While sitting as the community services committee at Monday’s meeting, council voted to refer two concepts for the site back to subcommittee for further discussion.
The master plan presents two different options for the 10 acre portion of land closest to the Stratford Rotary Complex, which is currently occupied by three baseball diamonds.
The first concept proposes an indoor soccer facility and beach volleyball courts to be located in the northwest corner of the site, with an outdoor pitch to the east. There would also be a play structure, a multi-use court and spray elements and jets. There would be an event space and horse ring area on the southeast portion of the land. A multi-use trail would loop around the property.
The second option is very similar to the first, but includes a street connection between Britannia Street and the Rotary Complex. Flexible space for events has drastically been reduced in this option.
While several councillors argued the designs were merely a vision and the city was not committing to spending money on the project at this time, others argued due diligence had not been done.
Coun. Kerry McManus was concerned not all user groups were consulted about the project and many could have missed an opportunity to provide feedback at the open house in late May.
“This report speaks to my concern about the need for a communication strategy,” McManus said, noting the open house was not well attended.
She suggested other items on the community’s wish list should be considered before council makes any decisions.
The fact a decision has not yet been made as to what will happen with the rest of the land – it is suggested in the report it be used for residential development – was worrisome to Coun. Tom Clifford. He noted the item had yet to be discussed in council, adding he was interested in hearing more presentations as to what could be done with the site.
“I think it is way premature to go ahead with this,” Clifford said.
Coun. George Brown thought even if the two designs were referred back to committee for consideration when the adjacent land enters the design stage, not much would be done anytime soon.
“It will end up in an archive drawer for 10 years,” he said, adding he doesn’t want the public to think an indoor soccer facility is going to be built in the immediate future.
There were also questions about the loss of the ball diamonds. Coun. Bonnie Henderson questioned why a diamond wasn’t being retained and suggested roller derby players may also have input as to what they would like on the site.
Director of community services David St. Louis said the ball diamonds are currently under utilized and only basic maintenance is undertaken on them. They are only booked once a year, he said. St. Louis also noted no concerns have been received from the local baseball association. One softball representative attended the open house and did not voice any opposition.
Coun. Martin Ritsma – who made the successful referral motion – wasn’t convinced both options were favourable to Stratford and District Agricultural Society or Stratford Garlic Festival needs.
“I believe there are a number of questions that need to be answered,” Ritsma said.
Community service chair Coun. Paul Nickel argued in favour of embracing the concepts for the site, noting nothing is set in stone by doing so.
“Let’s look at this as a vision,” Nickel said. “Let’s try to do something about it.”
He noted the Stratford Soccer Association has been working on plans for such a facility for many years and that the ag society has been involved in the visioning process for the site as well.
“This isn’t something new,” he added.
Mayor Dan Mathieson said it was time council sit back down to determine what projects take priority in the city, noting a new police station was once near the top of the list despite council not knowing any costs. Mathieson said the debate reminded him of challenges council faced in 2005 while it debated the building of the Stratford Rotary Complex.
Concerns about engaging all user groups were raised at that time as well, and the city ended up completing a recreation master plan to obtain a comprehensive look at all sports and activities.
Though stressing the need to sit down to come to a consensus, the mayor warned council it isn’t able to be all things to all people.
“Just because someone says they want to do something doesn’t mean we can do it,” he said, of potential uses for the land.
Plans for the site will be discussed at an upcoming community services subcommittee meeting.