By Chad Ingram
Published Nov. 17 2016
Minden Hills council addressed some confusion and concern from its advisory committees regarding the development of the municipal property that was formerly the site of the Pritchard House during a Nov. 10 committee-of-the-whole meeting.
Minutes from an Oct. 19 community services advisory committee meeting show that committee members were concerned after they became aware that the township’s planning advisory committee had scheduled a Nov. 4 on-site meeting with an architect who’d agreed to do pro-bono work.
The former Pritchard House property sits and the corner of Milne and Prince Streets and abuts the municipal parking lot as well as other vacant property owned by the municipality. Minden Hills demolished the Pritchard House (the one-time home of a prominent Minden family) in late 2015 after council determined saving the building was not feasible.
Members of the community services advisory committee were requesting that council “adopt a new resolution that cleary directs the planning advisory committee and the community services advisory committee to meet jointly and work in conjunction with each other; that public consultations and due process occur before drafting conceptual plans; and that the director of community services be appointed the lead staff person with the support of other applicable township departments and staff; and that property in question be incorporated into the master parks and trails planning process.”
“The feeling of the committee was that cart was put before the horse on this” said Councillor Jean Neville adding that committee members thought it was premature to be meeting with any kind of consultant on any kind of design at this stage. “The area is still being used by the fire hall. We haven’t even built the new fire hall yet. Just so you understand this was a shock to the community services committee that his was happening.”
Neville said the community services committee had only become aware of the planning advisory committee’s plans because members had seen the minutes of a meeting.
The existing Minden Hills fire hall is part of the stretch of municipally owned property abutting the municipal parking lot. The township has begun the process of constructing a new fire hall along Highway 35 which it hopes will be completed in 2017.
Reeve Brent Devolin said the issue of advisory committees with overlapping purposes and properties that have multiple departmental jurisdictions had come up during a mid-term review council conducted in early November.
“There is a silo problem” Devolin said adding that committees as well as other groups and organizations need to pay attention to what one another are doing.
The reeve said that council would be making no decision on the item at Thursday’s meeting.
“There’s no resolution here today” Devolin said. “This is a by-product of some problems we’ve already identified.”
Councillor Ron Nesbitt said the concept of pro-bono work made him uncomfortable since it could create the impression the township owes someone something or that the individual or organization providing the pro-bono work would have undue influence.
“We have an incredible amount of expertise in our community” said Councillor Pam Sayne who said she’d done pro-bono work in the past and that the township shouldn’t be rejecting such assistance. “We have a problem. It’s a problem because we don’t have a strategic plan for this council going into our third year of budgeting.”
Devolin later told the paper that council would also be starting upon a strategic plan and economic development plan for the township reviewing studies that have been done in the past.
Chief administrative officer Lorrie Blanchard said she would put the issuing of a request for proposals for a project at the site on the list discussion items for the 2017 budget.
Deputy-reeve Cheryl Murdoch reiterated that it’s council not advisory committees that makes ultimate decisions in the municipality.
“Let’s be very clear” Murdoch said “it’s the people that sit at this table that make the final decisions.”
Closed to the public since 2008 the Pritchard House was last used as a headquarters for local spinners and weavers. A number of concerns including lack of accessibility requirements mould and asbestos prompted the buildings’ closure. In 2009 it was estimated the building would need nearly $200000 worth of work to be brought up to a useable condition.