Tourists vs. Residents vs. Businesses
Draft community plans stir debate in Port Franks, Grand Bend
By Casey Lessard
EDA Collaborative Inc. presented its draft community plans for Lambton Shores at three separate meetings May 6-8, with some praising and others panning the progress.
Moves to make Port Franks a “lakeside residential natural neighbourhood” mean advertising signs will be dropped from the main entrance to the community, a move that is frustrating business owners.
“They’re trying to drive away all of our tourists by taking down our signs,” says Christine Orosz of Christine’s Marina Bar & Grill. “They should at least have something saying there are businesses in our town.”
The Welcome signs include advertisements for Port Franks businesses; businesses pay an annual fee to advertise on the signs. In his presentation, EDA’s Bruce Cudmore noted community feedback indicated residents want signs with no advertising.
“You’re not going to please everybody,” says Ward 3 councillor Mark Simpson, “but it’s more of an aesthetic facelift.”
“It lets people know there are businesses here,” Orosz says. “Port Franks is extremely hard to get around if you don’t know the area.”
Cudmore concurred that visitors “get lost very easily” in the community, and the plan includes better signage to solve the problem. The draft plan hopes to make the community more natural and less urban with multi-use trails, more opportunities for recreation, and seating to enjoy community gardens.
The goal is to “protect Port Franks’ quiet beauty,” Cudmore says. The plan calls for pedestrian and cycle connections within Port Franks and to Grand Bend.
Betty Urbanski of Harbourside Trailer Park has concerns about the plan.
“Port Franks is at the end of the road. To me this (plan) discourages business. How many locals come to my store? Not very many. Who is riding bikes in Port Franks? Our campers and boaters.”
Wayne Nelson, who lives in the east part of the village with his wife Maureen, disagrees.
“We have a safety issue because there are so many cyclists and walkers on the road,” he told the meeting, saying he’s excited by the prospect of a better trail system.
The May 8 meeting in Grand Bend met less resistance from a much larger audience. The Grand Bend plan involves discussion about how best to design sidewalks, roads, parking, bridges, trails and street fixtures. Few questioned the designs, which aim to create a “sustainable countryside lifestyle,” with Grand Bend billed as an “attractive residential community,” “lakeside destination,” and site for “regional tourism.”
Among EDA’s recommendations: two pedestrian bridges over the river connecting the River Road area to the main core; more pedestrian crosswalks over Highway 21; a road connecting the Legion parking lot to Main Street East and a centre median on Main Street between Highway 21 and the health centre; shrinking Main Street to three lanes with parking on the south side only; redeveloping the former casino site with underground parking, retail on the main floor and residential on the second; and renewed intersection with paving stones and an overhead Welcome sign at the entrance.
Grand Bend resident Bob Sharen is not impressed, noting businesses are being left out of the equation.
“Why spend money fixing the physical appearance of the street when it’s the physical appearance of the buildings on the street that’s most of the problem?”
Ward 1 councillor John Dehondt says the market must drive change.
“Fifty years ago there was a casino. Then (Grand Bend) became more youth oriented. With the aging of our population, there will be stores that cater to that clientele.”
Sharen thinks the change needs to be driven by town council.
“Homes pay less tax but get more services. Why not address the issue of the extremely high commercial taxes and the ability to have a sustainable business when you’re paying that kind of money?”
Dehondt says giving the community a facelift is the first step, not the last.
“We can fix and change the things we can control. Step one is to develop a master plan. I think you’ll see a lot of it redeveloped over the next few decades.”