By Joanne McDonald
Dennis D’Alessandro calls a future three-kilometre waterfront trail one of the seven wonders of Grimsby.
It will play a critical role in the economic prosperity of the Town and will provide for the physical and mental well-being of its residents.
It is priceless, infinitely valuable shoreline, and, says D’Alessandro, chairperson of the Grimsby Waterfront Trail Committee, it belongs to the community and residents.
Standing last week on the windblown waterfront, the spray from the lake washing against the wave of condo development that hugs the shoreline, D’Alessandro and his wife Jenny shared a warning that now may be the last opportunity to preserve the stretch of lakefront between Fifty Point Conservation Area and the Grimsby Water Treatment Plant.
“The waterfront trail must be built before a shovel goes in the ground for the Fifth Wheel development.”
And he cautions, it must not be built by the developer but rather by a professional trail contractor who has a proven record.
He has the specs from those companies, cost estimates and years of fact finding for an all-season two-directional trail – built 20 feet wide, 50-70 feet from the shoreline with a 16-inch base and at least three inches of asphalt on top.
And there must be space for the public to park.
“Grimsby has the potential to have the finest waterfront trail in all of the Niagara Peninsula. So far, what has been constructed (along former Place Polonaise property) is a disappointment. It can and should be corrected.”
D’Alessandro has written a comprehensive document, History of the Grimsby Waterfront Trail 2002-2020, following every step of the advocacy work that for him began in 2002 and expanded with the 2007 formation of the citizens’ group, Friends of the Grimsby Waterfront Trail Committee, that brought together four stalwart stewards including D’Alessandro, his wife Jenny, Carol Mazur and Peter Bennett.
The 160-page book serves doubly as an extensive guide and a current reference for planners at all levels of government, and a passionate history of the group’s tenacious work to preserve the waterfront jewel and make it accessible to the public.
Copies have been presented to local politicians and citizens who can refer to this document in the Reference Department of the Grimsby Public Library and the Grimsby Historical Archives.
The document also takes an extensive look at development and population growth trends across the province, with questions of how much growth is too much and who will protect the remaining bio-diversity.
“What remains of our waterfront today is under severe pressure and this will certainly continue into the future.”
“On April 3, 2018 the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) was replaced by the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) whose members are appointed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council.
Unfortunately, the obvious bias exhibited by the OMB has continued unabated by the LPAT which has the authority to overturn town council decisions concerning development, density, height restrictions, etc. Nothing has really changed and the Tribunal only exists in Ontario. Let the mayors, councillors and citizens decide what is best for them.
Presently, local councils are practically impotent in terms of deciding where they want development to occur, the extent of the development and which companies they will hire. Today, cities and towns are at the mercy of the federal and provincial political agendas.”
Trouble is the power is not in local hands.
“The federal government is leaning on the provincial government which in turn puts pressure on the Region. The Local Tribunal is all powerful and they are sympathetic to developers.”
D’Alessandro points to the highrise condo residential development, like a tsunami roaring in from Toronto, Mississauga, Burlington and Stoney Creek. “And now it’s here. Once they’re through with Grimsby, they will be looking carefully at Beamsville.”
“I want people to be aware of the changes that have not only recently occurred but the changes on the horizon,” D’Alessandro said. “The big prize for developers will be who will gain control of the vast Rogers property. Perhaps it has already been sold.”
D’Alessandro is on record stating that at no time did the committee put forward a motion that the Department of National Defense should vacate the Winona Rifle Range. He has previously submitted a plan by which both the Rifle Range and the trail could be accommodated.
He recalls 2007 as the “long hot summer.” The newly launched committee went full steam with public meetings. Support grew quickly to include more than 2,000 local signatures and 200 Grimsby businesses. The committee reached out to communities that had already built waterfront trails, consulted with construction companies specializing in trail building and lobbied all levels of government.
“At a televised town meeting in February of 2008, our committee was asked by the Mayor to basically allow the town ‘to carry the ball forward.’ Because negotiations with private landowners were at a sensitive stage, we agreed to his request. However, one could argue that based upon the shortcomings which resulted at the former Place Polonaise property and the installation of the trail there, that we were blindsided by the council and town planners. For example, the trail is too close to the shoreline (storms and rising lake waters) and will eventually be threatened, it was not 20-feet wide (there was room), there is no foundation but only two inches of asphalt placed upon bare earth and the bridge at the east end is a safety hazard because it is too narrow.”
D’Alessandro said he is optimistic that the present mayor and council will vigorously pursue the waterfront trail on the Fifth Wheel property and the waterfront east of Casablanca Blvd.
“One must always keep in mind that a waterfront trail must be viewed as a project which must stand the test of time for future generations. If Cobourg and Goderich can build wonderful waterfronts, then surely the Town of Grimsby can do the same.”
D’Alessandro says past councils made mistakes but looks to the present council to get it right.
“I do not want the trail to be an afterthought. Build it first,” D’Alessandro said.
“We have never given up on this.”