Norfolk council to debate selling off parkland for housing

A staff report coming to Norfolk County council on Tuesday recommends the sale of several parcels of county-owned green space in order to build houses, despite opposition from residents concerned about the loss of parkland.

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Thirteen vacant properties are under consideration to sell to improve Norfolk’s financial position.

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County staff gathered feedback online and at three public meetings late last year.

“It’s not a fire sale,” general manager of community development Brandon Sloan reinsured residents.

“We know the value of parks and green space in our community.”

But in spite of strong opposition from some corners — especially over the proposed partition of a well-used park in Port Dover — staff recommended all 13 properties be declared surplus and sold.

During the open houses, Sloan explained that, since the municipality itself does not build houses, one way Norfolk can add badly needed housing stock while boosting the property tax base is selling surplus county-owned land to developers.

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“Green space is important for a healthy community, as is fiscal responsibility for what lands the municipality can maintain,” reads the staff report coming to council.

“It is not the intention to declare all parkland surplus.”

Proceeds from any sales would be split between enhancing nearby parks and public spaces and replenishing Norfolk’s reserves.

County staff could find no records to verify residents’ claims that Percy Ryerse Park in Port Dover was donated to the municipality under the condition that it forever remain a park.

Sloan’s team crafted three proposals that would sever different portions of the park and build up to 10 houses, plus a fourth option to leave the park as is.

Staff recommended the option that puts three lots on two severed sections of the park, leaving most of the green space untouched.

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Council could also look to sell green space beside Colonel Stalker Park in Simcoe, where one large house could be built, despite protests from neighbors.

Residents are similarly opposed to staff’s recommendation to sell a wooded area between Highway 59 and Hawtrey Road in a Delhi subdivision because the green space creates a buffer between nearby industrial land.

The list of properties under consideration for sale — which includes parkland in Waterford, Vittoria and Walsingham — came out of a review of 511 parcels of vacant county-owned land.

A tiny triangle of grassland on Sovereen Street in Delhi would be rezoned and prepped for marketing as a “tiny home” site, while selling three sections of Kenneth Avenue would fill in gaps in an existing small lakeside housing development in Port Dover.

A vote on Tuesday to consider rezoning and selling the 13 vacant properties would not lead to them being listed on Wednesday. Public hearings would follow where residents could put their concerns directly to council before any decisions are made.

JP Antonacci is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter based at the Hamilton Spectator. The initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

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