Chelsea mayor candidates talk issues
When asked about the development of the Chelsea village over the past decade, both mayoral candidates agree that it happened quickly.
Both Pierre Guénard and Shelley Fraser told The Low Down in recent interviews that the centre village of Chelsea was developed rapidly.
When asked, they wouldn’t say whether the development was a success or failure. But what they did say is telling.
Fraser, a newcomer in the Chelsea political scene and who has lived near the centre village since 2006, said she would call for a “pause” if elected.
“We need to pause to look at where we are and where we want to go,” she said.
This will allow Chelsea residents and the new council to take stock of the impact of accelerated centre village development and what needs must be addressed first.
She said that the developments have impacted centre village traffic and access to Gatineau Park, and increased carbon emissions and the pressure on the municipal water and sewer system.
Guénard, who has represented the centre village on council since 2013, said that centre village developers built faster than municipal staff could plan for. But he added that the growth has allowed for people from Pontiac and Gatineau to move to Chelsea.
“I would not say ‘success’ but [the centre village] was made according to the old master plan [from 2005] and the 2010 visioning exercise,” Guénard said. “Those criteria, with the input from the population back then, were respected.”
He said that despite the clustering of homes in some areas of the Hendrick Farm, Chelsea Creek, and Quartier Meredith neighbourhoods, they all have an average at or below the maximum four units per acre.
“As we go forward we have to look back at the good practices and what we can improve,” Guénard said, adding that he wants increased protection for the environment and biodiversity, and less-traditional building styles.
He said that what’s coming to the centre village now is the “commercial phase,” which includes more businesses and services – such as a planned daycare, medical clinics, and more – to serve the people who moved to the centre village as the neighbourhoods are built.
Both Fraser and Guénard said that they’ve heard concerns about development while chatting with voters during their respective campaigns over the last couple weeks, but that’s not the only issue at the forefront of the minds of residents.
Mayor candidates talk docks
Docks have been approached with a laissez-faire attitude in Chelsea for decades, but recently the municipality has taken a stricter approach — it’s imposed a fee system for docks along the Gatineau River shoreline that Chelsea recently purchased from Hydro-Québec.
Starting in the new year, docks along Chemin de la Riviére and the community trail will be subject to building standards, a $400 annual dock fee, and more. But docks that have been maintained by road or community associations – in some cases for decades – were left out of the bylaw Chelsea council passed in September. Those docks could be municipalized for wider public use.
The Low Down asked Guénard and Fraser for their thoughts on the issue of docks.
“Still today, I get calls from residents with ideas [for the dock bylaw], which is good,” said Guénard, who voted to approve the dock bylaw.
He said that, if elected, he would consult with road and community associations to create small scale water access points.
Fraser said she wants equal water access for all residents.
“I believe that Chelsea should have access to green space and blue space,” Fraser said.
Chelsea has identified two possible spots for public docks — between Gleneagle and Peter’s Point near the Chelsea Smokehouse and in Farm Point.
Fraser said those locations are good water access points if the residents of those areas approve of the plans.
And the NCC...
The municipality and the National Capital Commission have been locked in an expensive, ongoing – three years now – dispute over payments in lieu of taxes owed for Gatineau Park lands. Chelsea says the NCC hasn’t been making full payments since 2018, while the NCC says the parklands in Chelsea were priced too high during the MRC des Collines’ 2018 lands evaluation.
During its October meeting Chelsea council threatened to take the NCC to federal court if it doesn’t agree to pay.
The Low Down asked the candidates if that’s the right move.
“I liken it to divorce court — it’s not a good situation. We abut the NCC, so it’s like we’re married,” Fraser said.
She said Chelsea and the NCC must build a healthy and fair relationship in order to co-exist. The NCC draws tourists who visit businesses, and Chelsea maintains municipal roads for those tourists to access the park.
What Fraser said she doesn't like is the closure of the park entrance in Aylmer, which funnels nearly all park traffic through Chelsea’s centre village.
“I would like to open up a new relationship with the NCC so these [issues] can be solved,” she said.
Guénard – who voted for the council resolution that gave the NCC an ultimatum – said the NCC’s refusal to pay is costing Chelsea residents on their tax bills.
“We are only 7,500 residents in Chelsea and we need to have respect for the taxpayers,” he said. “…I’m fully in favour of going the way previous council decided to go.”
Chelsea, like a lot of municipalities, has been in debt for years. The centre village water and sewer system and other large projects has Fraser calling for fiscal responsibility.
According to a report made public in June 2020, the municipal net debt at the end of 2019 was almost $38 million.
In October, council approved a $43 million, three-year spending plan.
Guénard said that municipal finances will be fully balanced soon.
He added that roads are only going to get worse if they’re not fixed and tax revenues have been, and will continue to, go up as more people move to Chelsea.
“Some people say the debt is raging, but those [projects] are all infrastructure deficits we had to cover,” he said.
Guénard added that there are other ways to pay off the debt, such as using the municipal welcome tax for new residents to offset the debt and increasing revenue by allowing projects in the industrial sector at the bottom of Mile Hill in southern Chelsea.
Fraser painted a grimmer picture.
“I think we have to dig into that debt and understand what it means. If tabling is accurate, it could be $76 million in three years,” she said, adding that she sourced that figure from the municipal site.
Fraser said she wants to reign in spending, but that would need to be balanced with necessary spending.
“We have to be very aware of how we spend taxpayer dollars,” she added.