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Meredith Centre Success

March 4th, 2015

Thank you for your article explaining how much the Meredith Centre costs average Chelsea taxpayers (How much for Meredith? Feb. 18 edition). I would like to share another perspective with your readers.

You report that the capital cost per household to build the Meredith Centre was $60. For those of us who were involved in the early days of fundraising, we remember that projections always included the sale of the old community centre on the revenue side of capital cost estimates. When accounting for inflation and today’s dollar value, and including the $400,000 net revenue to the municipality from the sale of the old community centre, we can be enormously proud that together, as a fiscally responsible community, we built the Meredith Centre within the original target of $52 capital cost per household.

Now what about the report that taxpayers are “shouldering an additional $148.80 per household for operating costs”? Remember that from this we need to subtract the $135,000 per year that the old community centre was costing to operate. Also remember that construction design flaws and the resulting wall damage inflated operational costs of the new building in its first two years of operation. Insurance money will recoup much of this.

In 2015, the Meredith Centre expects its four-season cultural and recreation program to grow. We know that sewage and water costs will decline significantly once the Meredith Centre is connected to the new village systems. And we know that there is potential for significant electricity cost savings. In other words, Meredith Centre operational revenues are growing while costs moderate.

The team that manages the Meredith Centre, led by General Manager Sharon Ryan, is dedicated, hard working and creative. Two full years of audited financial reports provide rock-hard evidence that the centre is able to generate an annual surplus given the present management agreement with the municipality. The trend lines provide confidence that this surplus can be sustained and that operating costs reported by the municipality in your article can be halved.

The untold story of the Meredith Centre is this: Chelsea came together and built a brand-new community centre. Total cost to the average household in 2014 was roughly $4 per week. It will be less than this in 2015 and less again in 2016.

The Meredith Centre was conceived and built by the community of Chelsea, and supported by generous provincial and federal grants, and a loan approved by a visionary municipal council. Unlike many community centres that are operated by city officials, the Meredith Centre is directed and managed by a community-led board. By trusting and empowering its citizens, the municipality has assured that the Meredith Centre program is responsive, efficient and sustainable.

Become a member, participate in a program, come as a volunteer, or stand for election to the governing board or a board committee. Above all, celebrate. The Meredith Centre is one of Chelsea’s great success stories.

Bob Vandenberg is a Chelsea resident and member of the Chelsea Foundation Board of Directors

 

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Biased campaign against Chelsea development

February 25th, 2015

By Peter Markhauser

In Barbara Martin’s Valley Voices submission (Feb. 18), she laments the fact that I am trying to build 120, rather than just 35, new residences on our property in Chelsea. She suggests that the people of Chelsea will be “victims” of this development.

The properties that we own are approximately 30 acres in size , which were to be developed with 120 single family homes for this neighbourhood, as allowed in the master plan. The Quebec Ministry of Transport study on land stability released in 2011 rendered approximately 25 of our 30 acres unsuitable for residential development, which required us to consider other ideas, including clustering the 120 homes onto unaffected land on our property. Clustering is an accepted concept included in the master plan.

A building of this nature will yield cost efficiencies that will allow us to introduce more affordable housing solutions for a broad spectrum of our community – not just seniors. It will also allow us to build underground parking and communal spaces. This is about sustainable development that meets the stated needs of our community and leaves 25 acres of land for non residential use, such as parks or community gardens already included in our plan.

Barbara Martin states that only 35 homes should be allowed and that these can still be affordable, but the reality is that each time that we compromise on efficiencies of scale, there will be a corresponding effect on the cost of a unit.

She also stated that a building of this size will overwhelm the neighbourhood, including the adjacent “one storey” CLSC building, failing to recognize that the CLSC building, designed by Alan Hopkins and me in 2002, is one of the biggest buildings in Chelsea; and it has two stories, not one. It is in harmony with the streetscape as direct a result of clever design practices which we intend to leverage again in our current project.

The size of the proposed building will not be out of character with the surrounding buildings, and the design will be harmonious and integrated with its neighbours. It is important to note that the current zoning change request is the first step in a planning and design process that includes other requirements to ensure that the final design will ultimately be appropriate for the neighbourhood.

This biased campaign against this project by a municipal councillor comes as no surprise, as it comes on the heels of similar inaccurate and sensationalistic campaigning on the Facebook group Chelsea Folks, where Martin made the exaggerated statement that we are trying to increase the density allocation from four houses per acre to 30 houses per acre – which was blatantly misleading. Clustering houses is a sustainable practice that leaves green space in exchange for increasing density on one part of the property. This is our plan and we are confident that there is a market demand for these homes from a broad spectrum of our community.

Peter Markhauser is a resident of Chelsea

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Re-writing the rule book?

February 18th, 2015

By Barbara Martin

Change in Chelsea may be inevitable, but we do not have to be victims of change. We can ensure that, as we grow, we respect and protect what makes us want to stay here. Right now, change is being advocated in the name of affordable housing and housing for seniors, which are already identified needs within Chelsea’s Master Plan. That plan was agreed upon three years ago, after extensive public consultation. Developers in Chelsea have sought to incorporate these needs into their plans, and, so far, they have done it without requesting changes to the Master Plan. So, let’s keep our arguments straight. This is not about whether the rules allow affordable housing and housing for seniors. They do.

So why does one developer consider the current zoning for a parcel of land beside the CLSC building to be unacceptable? Right now, some 35 units spread over several two- or three-storey multi-unit buildings up to 39 feet high could be built there. The scale would fit with surrounding buildings. They could accommodate singles, couples, and seniors. What is wrong with that? The condos in Wakefield do it – and provide about 1,400 square feet of living space to boot.

The proposed zoning change would allow for one 91,500 square foot building, 49 feet high, with 120 units (averaging 600 or 700 square feet). A building of this size would overwhelm the small, old houses on Mill Road, and make the United Church and the historical homesteads on Hwy 105 look out of place. It would tower over the one-storey CLSC building. It would not fit with Chelsea’s rural look and feel. Why is such a massive building necessary? Who really benefits from supposed ‘economies of scale’?

According to CMHC, affordable housing costs no more than 30% of total income before tax. However, Logement Quebec has subsidy programs for “affordable housing” for low- and moderate-income households and for people with special housing needs. The Farm Point units come to mind. So what do we mean and, more importantly, what does Mr. Markhauser mean by “affordable housing”?

As to seniors’ housing, there is housing where those over 65 live and there are residences for the elderly. These are very different things. Residences for the elderly require provincial compliance relating to such things as health and safety, food, and medication. Are we talking about condos for seniors who want to downsize or residences for the elderly?

There is a lot to consider before we rewrite the rulebook for the first developer to ask. For the sake of Chelsea, we need to get it right.

Barbara Martin is councillor for Ward 3 in Chelsea

The editor responds: ditto my response to Peter Newing concerning the ‘seniors’ housing’ label – see Letters.

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Pay to play on Gatineau Park trails

February 11th, 2015

By Carsten Podehl

‘Pay to Play’ is an increasingly accepted system in recent years: requests for funding to use public lands for recreation are inundating land management organizations. These come from a growing number of user groups as funding for operation expenditures becomes tighter. Paying to access trail networks and related infrastructure is pretty much the norm across the continent. For our local park, the future may include accessing parking lots and roads via automated fee gates (construction at P19 shows that this may already be underway).

The recent price change for various forms of winter access to the Gatineau Park is an interesting ball of used ski wax. For some, the new fee is welcome, as it helps to level the field among winter trail users. For others, skiing and walking should be free. Yet others understand the infrastructure required for trail maintenance: plowed parking lots, cabins, fire wood, and trail rescue – items not covered under general land management. Then there are the locals, who may have a tainted view of paying for the park and take issue with its governing body. Judging by the money spent on the park, it does seem that, at times, the NCC has money to burn.

Trail etiquette is worth mentioning. Trails are maintained, used, and destroyed with consequences to the end user. For example, one set of footprints or snowshoe tracks on a groomed ski trail can elicit expletives from skiers. The grooming is for specific activities – the trails that leave from P8 are for skate and classic skiing.

Walking over a ski trail can destroy the skiing experience and can even be hazardous. It is peculiar that in the backcountry people charge over a ski trail with their snowshoes without a second thought, destroying the groomed track. The Low Down editor has it right when she says, “to don the appropriate footwear”. The Gatineau Park is finally promoting exactly that with their new signage: ‘To each their own trail’.

The winter experience in the park is world class and, for what we have, we have it fairly cheap. At the same time, I grew up in a family of four on thrice-used gear and skied for free on un-groomed trails; a family of four now needs $60 to simply get on the snow with skis for one afternoon. The library does have a few individual passes for loan, but I believe that the NCC should also offer family passes.

The beauty of the honour system is that it’s designed to allow access for those who can’t afford to pay, who shouldn’t be shamed by those who can pay. In the end, karma and nature have always played well together.

Carsten Podehl is a resident of Wakefield

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Worrisome Wardship

February 4th, 2015

By Steve Connolly

Chelsea’s Council must be congratulated. They deliberated long and hard to come up with a 2015 tax increase of 1.95 per cent. With profound care for their taxpayers, council delayed its budget presentation for a month in order to get it right. They used much of their surplus to reduce a tax increase. Bravo.

For 2015, municipalities are collectively seeing the lowest tax increases in memory. Many have announced zero per cent increases and almost none have come in with more than a three per cent increase. Except for one: the municipality of Low.

Citizens turned out in droves for January’s public council meeting. They are angry and concerned at being faced with an 8.6 per cent tax increase. Council unanimously voted for the increase and supported the director general, who was quoted as saying the increase “was not out of whack with reality.” Really? Knowing that the increase would upset citizens, council did not warn them prior to the public budget meeting in December, where only three people showed up.

Municipal Affairs Minister Moreau, demanding austerity, had noticed that municipalities across Quebec had been overcharging taxpayers, resulting in surpluses totalling $1.3 billion. For 2015, he requested all municipalities to give the surplus back to taxpayers to reduce tax increases. All of the councils in our MRC did so except for Low, which only gave part of it back and, as one councillor said, the amount of the surplus estimate was not even available during budget deliberations.

At the public meeting, it was obvious that the municipality’s priorities are significantly out of whack with those of its people. Citizens are always forced to wait until the council meeting agenda is completed before question period. During the agenda procedure, council nonchalantly approved $3,000 in donations. The audience was furious – they would have preferred that this money be used to reduce the tax increase.

After questioning, citizens discovered that $60,000 is to be used to build another park. Lots of angry discussion ensued about a municipal vehicle being used for personal purposes, high administration costs, lack of confidence with the hastily gathered surplus amount, and huge unpaid taxes. Council did not listen.

The mayor has stated that the MRC 13.2 per cent cost increase to municipalities came as a surprise. Really? On average, the increase has always been about 10 per cent. If there had been no such increase, Low taxpayers would still have seen a tax increase of over seven per cent. Are taxpayers fools?

Unlike Chelsea council, our money guardians refused to go back and review the budget. They feel that they did their best. And that is precisely the problem.

Steve Connolly is a resident of Low

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A universal resolution for the New Year

January 28th, 2015

By Jonathan Feldgajer

In April last year, I was diagnosed with an ‘ultra rare’ illness known as Very Severe Aplastic Anemia (AA). I’m 31 years old, live in Wakefield, and before April I had never heard of AA before. That’s because it only affects one to two people in a million. For no known reason, my bone marrow stopped working. No new red cells, so oxygen couldn’t travel through my body. No new white cells, so I couldn’t fight even the smallest infection. And no platelets, so my blood could not clot.

I spent the following six months in quarantine, both in hospital and at home. Because my body wasn’t making any new blood cells, I was in desperate need. Platelets live only briefly, so I would receive transfusions every two to three days. Red cells last longer so those I received only once a week or so, but usually two bags at a time. Over the course of half a year, my treatments added up to well over a hundred bags, and that was just for one person.

The typical medical treatment for AA is either a sibling’s matched bone marrow transplant (my sister was not a match), or a combination of immunosuppression, steroids, and foreign antibodies (known as ATG) to revive failed marrow which works roughly 70 per cent of the time, but didn’t work for me. My last hope was a riskier path: somewhere in the world someone was a bone marrow match, and would agree to donate their marrow.

The Ottawa Hospital is one of our country’s best facilities to treat blood and marrow conditions. It has excellent doctors and incredibly dedicated nurses (including a wonderful local from Brennan’s Hill). My luck in treatment finally turned a corner, and a perfect bone marrow match was found and they agreed to donate. Through this gesture, I’m here today, recovering and in good health.

Regrettably, though, during my treatment I heard of another patient from Wakefield who was diagnosed and admitted with the same rare condition but who died due to complications before receiving a transplant in time. I reached out, but we never got the chance to connect in the hospital before it was too late.

For readers who are looking to make a New Year’s resolution, donating blood or marrow is a universal and much needed contribution that could end up being a life-giving gift for someone in our community. The processes is simple and you can learn how easy it is by visiting www.blood.ca.

Jonathan Feldgajer is a resident of Wakefield.

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Let’s be transparent: Chelsea should fess up

January 22nd, 2015

By Sylvia Shawcross

It is time for residents of Chelsea to recognize they have a voice. Dragging this town into transparency and democracy practically involves kicking and screaming. In the past, this has involved lawsuits, gag orders, and generalized threats. At present, we have a citizen calling for the resignation of a councillor and engaging in what is, in my opinion, bullying on social media. It is not okay to do this. Councillors represent their wards, and if that ward has elected them, they have the right to expect that no one will attempt to muffle their voice on matters of council. If a councillor does not agree with their fellow councillors, then they don’t agree. End of story. A vote is a vote is a vote. That vote matters. That vote represents a ward. It is many voices.

It is unfortunate that our council lacks the leadership needed to bring this divided community together. How leadership handles constructive criticism and differing opinions is a matter of urgency. Citizens have rightfully become cynical, if not downright afraid, about speaking out. They are tired of feeling as if their voice doesn’t count. The line between developers, business interests, and municipal council does not seem to have been maintained, and it is hard for citizens to understand the difference between them. People no longer believe that their council is working for them; they are working for developers and business interests.

When Judy Grant left office, we had no debt. When Jean Perrault left office, the debt may have been in the millions – a lot, but still manageable. Mayor Green’s legacy will be a $30 million debt, which will be underwritten by the people of Chelsea, now dependent on the developers and new residents to pay it back in a housing market that is clearly in a bubble, if we are to believe the financial news. Development will clearly bring a glut of houses into a market that is already inflated.

Added to this nightmarish scenario is past council’s poor performance on several key projects such as the Farm Point sewer system, the Meredith Centre, and the Mill Road sewer system. Is it any wonder citizens are worried, afraid, tired, and cynical? Track records have not been good.

The single most important thing this council can do is stop intimidating residents. I do not take any great pleasure in saying that citizens can call for the resignation of our mayor. I do not know the mayor personally and do not cast aspersions on her character. I know it is a very difficult job. But this is not a popularity contest. It is about proper leadership. If this mayor’s defence is that citizens don’t fully understand all that is involved, why don’t we understand? Transparency please.

Sylvia Shawcross is a resident of Chelsea.

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A missed opportunity

January 14th, 2015

By Kensel Tracy

As recently reported in the Low Down, Chelsea Council has severed its ties with the steam train. This provides the final nail in the coffin for any future involvement in our area with the train – and it’s too bad.

I came to Ottawa from Toronto in 1984 for a job with the former Ottawa Carleton Regional government as tourism promotions manager. I attended a meeting in Wakefield, where John Trent brought together a group of people to discuss the steam train concept. I was amazed that such a diverse group with varied interests could discuss something like this and have all of them agree that the steam train made good economic sense and provided a much needed boost for tourism in the region.

Years later, I experienced the steam train in action. We purchased a house on the river, and the train was an amazing sight. It was the scene of many family celebrations, including a marriage proposal: a nephew from Toronto asked his girl friend to marry him on the train. How could she refuse?!

Later on, my marketing company was hired to help the original owners market the steam train locally. Research revealed that many people, local and from abroad alike, came to the region just to ride the steam train. This diverse audience experienced local history and culture in the village of Wakefield and the natural habitat along the Gatineau River. Passengers learned about how the area grew up along the train line. What a beautiful way to educate and inform visitors.

So where are we now? The MRC of Chelsea has put out a request for proposal, and is looking for expertise to help develop a tourism strategy for the region.

The steam train represents a fantastic opportunity and would be seen as a ‘tourism cornerstone’. People aren’t drawn to a region just to stay in hotels and eat in restaurants. Tourism is about participating in unique experiences. The steam train was one of those ‘once in a life time’ attractions that was unique to our region.

If Chelsea council gets its way and turns the track into a recreational trail, we’ll be just like every other municipality in Canada. Marketing the village of Chelsea will promote a few nice restaurants, a couple of retailers, spas, the Gatineau Park, and an organic farm. Many other places in Canada boast the same features; not many can say they have a steam train.

Chelsea council missed the opportunity to build its own tourism infrastructure around the train. With a recreational trail, you will get cyclists, cross country skiers, hikers, snowmobiles, dog poop, and garbage. You will never have an international tourist attraction like the steam train and the economic benefits that go with it.

Kensel Tracy is a resident of Burnett in Chelsea.

 

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Painting the Berlin Wall and coming full circle

December 17th, 2014

By Randy McMillan

I arrived in Berlin in late 1977. The city ended up enchanting me and changed my life.

Berlin was in the grip of the Red Army Faction, a group of German terrorist cells who killed and kidnapped, and sprang captives from Europe’s biggest jail, Moabit Prison. Walking through the ‘tiergarten’ on a misty fall evening, one came upon silhouettes of police with machine guns at various Western sights: the Reichstag, embassies, the American library. The atmosphere dripped of melancholy and dark foreboding. The Berlin Wall as a backdrop was pure ‘Third Man’ film noir. The Wall itself was neutral, smooth, unbroken concrete – not nearly as foreboding as what was behind it: landmines, barbwire, and watchtowers.

The East German propaganda designers had neutralised its death trap truth, in big lie fashion. It seemed no more deadly than a highway sound wall. I enjoyed the lunacy of it, but was angered by its murderous intent and inhumanity. Graffiti at the time was not a formalized art form and the Wall was bare of any paint or comment. When John Lennon was murdered, I was outraged and decided to do something positive to fight my disillusion with humanity. The idea of painting an image of a ladder on the Wall came to mind. Someone had painted a section at the Potsdammerplatz black, advertising a punk group called Interzone. This was the most exposed area to drive-by traffic. Someone else scrawled the names of two other punk groups – Teenage Jesus and the Jerks. These were the only markings on the 100-kilometre scar dissecting the city.

My German girlfriend (now my wife) and I decided to make an art attack under cover of darkness. With our worn-out VW beetle, step ladder on the roof, we drove to the Wall. We worked quickly, with her acting as lookout. After I finished, we split back to our apartment. The next morning, we went back to check out our work. It looked like a well planned work of art, despite being spontaneous. To finish it off, we launched helium balloons and videoed them blowing over the Wall.

The piece inspired others, and soon the spray cans came out and people freely expressed themselves. Postcards were made, prints were sold. No cash passed through my fingers, but I enjoyed anonymous fame. Flash forward to 1989, and I was there the night the Wall fell. A friend who worked for state television came to the Brandenburg Gate to check out the media frenzy and filmed me painting another ladder on the Wall. The West German police appeared and forbade me to continue. With streams of East Germans walking to the western side of the city, I felt my work had been done anyway.

Randy McMillan is a resident of Wakefield. His wife, Agnes McMillan, circulation manager for the Low Down, was a willing accomplice in the Berlin Wall art attack.

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Austerity reckoning is upon us

December 10th, 2014

By Steve Connolly

For years, economic experts have stated that Quebec is the highest taxed entity in North America. They have predicted that it would only be a matter of time before a severe reckoning would be foisted upon all Quebec citizens because of poor government at all three levels.

With Couillard’s leadership, the reckoning may have commenced. MRCs and mayors have had plenty of opportunity to get their act in order, but have ignored the warnings. The province is broke; the premier has no choice but to cut expenses and services. This was entirely predictable. The size of our bloated government has been increasing far faster than private industry.

The MRC will now have to directly manage the previously separate functions of Tourisme Vallée Gatineau (TVG) and Centre for Local Development (CLD), with less money. A report I prepared earlier this year indicated that 26 of 27 businesses in Low consider the Tourist Bureau to be a joke – unhelpful and a waste of taxpayer money. Yet it has been allowed to continue with no changes.

The CLD purports to have created 82 full-time and 35 part-time jobs. $363K was granted to create jobs worth $5.5 million in new employment income. But that $363K is nowhere close to the full cost. Taxpayers cover the grant as well as the budget of the CLD – likely over $1 million annually. CLD doesn’t report on businesses that it has helped over the years, but that have failed. CLD fails to reveal the loss of employment data. CLD does not disclose net information because it would show that it is not making a positive difference.

How many new businesses would have started without CLD help? Why not do away with the CLD and simply divide up the $1,363K among the 17 municipalities for their use? If the CLD has been creating the jobs as has been reported each year, then why have businesses and employment declined in our MRC? In Low, the Atlas Enterprise lumber mill has gone from over 100 employees down to seven – a disaster caused by government and failure of the CLD.

The Quebec government must cut $1.3 billion from municipal funding. Most likely, taxpayers are going to see high tax increases for 2015 that will be attributed to Couillard’s austerity program. The MRC, and its mayors, will say, “Sorry, we could do nothing about it.” No wonder the premier has been forced, even if imperfectly, to clean up the mess.

Steve Connolly is a resident, and former councillor for the Municipality of Low.

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