Published May 16, 2024

Not everyone's field of dreams, but Barrie city council gives the nod for waterfront multi-use sports facility

More than two dozen deputations for and against a proposed multi-use synthetic turf sports field and parade grounds on the south shore of Barrie's waterfront culminated with a 9-2 vote by city council on Wednesday night to move forward with the project.

Deputations and then debate by councillors added up to nearly four hours before there was a recorded vote.

The parade grounds would be used by the Sea Cadets. Council also approved moving them from their aging facility at the bottom of Bayfield Street by the transient docks to the lower level of the Southshore Community Centre with a $4.55 million addition.

For those opposed to the sports field, it wasn't about the $4.6 million tab, which is being funded through development charges and reserves, but the location, which is currently forested land to the east of Military Heritage Park, along Lakeshore Drive.

While there wasn't too much angst about the move of the Sea Cadets, not everyone in the council chamber felt the sports facility was a field of dreams.

Cherin Harris Tuck of the Minet's Point Residents' Community in her deputation said they believe Barrie needs more public spaces and more recreational spaces for youth and adults, but they had not heard why the proposed site for a sports field at Allandale Station Park was the only location. She said the sports field goes against Barrie's 2023 Waterfront Strategic Plan.

"The Waterfront Strategic Plan does not advise bulldozing a forested field and habitat and replacing it with artificial turf and fencing it in. Alternatives need to be investigated before targeting this natural environment, a feature that cannot be replaced by simple tree planting."

The organization expressed concern about what they felt was a lack of public consultation and urged councillors to defer the sports field decision until alternative locations were thoroughly explored and key impact studies were completed.

There was a strong turn out from those supportive of the sports field, especially from Barrie Minor Soccer, including coaches and players.

11-year-old Kaelynn Demelo said she struggled at school with her own self-worth and making friends, but gained confidence through soccer.

"I found a community that supported me, believed in me and encouraged me to to be the best version of myself."

Paul Milne, a high school teacher, with experience coaching football and soccer lamented the lack of adequate playing surfaces in the community.

"I've witnessed the challenges our students and players face," he explained. "It's disheartening to see our teams have to travel to different cities, even though we are the host for that game."

Will Devellis, President of the Barrie Soccer Club, said they had over 4,000 members but were challenged to train and compete outdoors, as he noted the city does not have enough all-weather fields.

"Simply, there is not enough field time for all of our youth."

Coun. Jim Harris, who represents Ward 8 where the sports field is to be located, said he doesn't often find himself on the other side of supporting a youth initiative, as he along with Coun. Amy Courser voted against the plan for a south shore sports facility.

"I really appreciate the young people. They spoke so incredibly well and it was quite compelling, and I hope they recognize the people who spoke with concern about this field being here in this location did so with great respect for our young people and the need."

Harris said when he met with residents and heard the rationale for their position, what really resonated was the belief that the proposed location of the sports field should not be the naturalized part of the waterfront. He said it wasn't a question of whether soccer will work or will there be too much private or public use.

"That really isn't the issue. The issue is preserving the natural state of that part of our lakeshore."

A motion from Coun. Courser seeking to defer the proposed sports field and marching parade until there could be more consultation did not pass.

"I feel that we're not being able to really engage our residents on this decision. I would like to see more residents involved in the conversation as a whole."

Deputy Mayor Robert Thompson said he went back to read some of the engagement from the waterfront strategic plan.

"Some of the key things were increasing access to the waterfront, increasing recreational opportunities, increasing a reason for people of all ages to come to the waterfront, increase year-round access for people to come to the waterfront, and be flexible in the space at the waterfront. I truly believe this proposal actually hits everyone of those."

Prior to council's vote on the project, Coun. Gary Harvey noted there would be further public consultation.

"I think the biggest hurdle that this thing is going to be going through is whether or not there are any issues with the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority."

The sports field would accommodate football, soccer, rugby and lacrosse, with amenities such as lighting and benches.

The property is zoned and designated open space (OS), which allows for the development of a multi-use sports field.

Issues dealing with the environment were also addressed in the staff report to council.

It said a stand of Vimy Ridge oak trees were planted in Allandale Station Park in 2017 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The young trees are descendants of acorns gathered after the battle and are significant to the Military Heritage Park.

"The trees can be relocated closer to the Military Heritage Park to accommodate a proposed multi-use field," according to the report.

As well, the city intends to plant 1,000 trees around the waterfront over ten years beginning in 2024.

Banner image - supplied - City of Barrie

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