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Cedar Crescent Village, interior perspective rendering. G.M. Diemert Architect Inc.

Hub Staff

It was February 2019 when the Town of Saugeen Shores issued an RFP to revitalize the Port Elgin Main Beach. This RFP was promptly answered by a proposal from Pier Donnini, owner of the Queen’s Bar and Grill, and soon images of a Whitefish Grill, Sunset Tower and beach skating rink were projected into the minds of many permanent and seasonal residents of Saugeen Shores. On February 20 Saugeen Shores Council voted to pass a by-law to authorize the Town of Saugeen Shores to enter into a Lease Agreement that was presented and reviewed December 16 in Council Chambers.

Not all council members were in agreement with the lease and a lengthy discussion was had before the vote took place.

Councillor Matt Carr objected to the non-competition clause in the lease, Section 3 of Schedule B. This condition would prevent the Town from leasing or sub-leasing land or buildings within the land contained “south of Elgin Street, north of Izzard Street, and directly adjacent to Harbour Street" to anyone with the interest in operating a restaurant or banquet hall. In addition, this section states that the proponents will make reasonable efforts to accommodate non-profit and charitable events proposed for the outlined property.

Although Carr agreed that there should be restrictions to setting up a second restaurant or banquet hall, his issue lied with the second statement. “I don’t feel that the proponent should have any say over any kind of charitable or non-profit events that want to be using our beach,” argued Carr.

Vice Deputy Mayor Mike Myatt admitted this to be one of the most difficult decisions he’s faced during his time on Council. “I’ve laboured over this one and I’ve had a tough time with it,” he said. “I’ve had some sleepless nights over this actually and I do tend to take things a little too personally, but this is a life changer. This is a game changer for our community,” stated Myatt.

Myatt pressed for clarification on whether any collaboration between the ownership group and the members of the community would take place before the drawings are finalized, to discuss the look and feel of the development. Town CAO David Smith informed Myatt that the process taken to get to a final design is at the discretion of the proponents.

“To date, the proponents have made adjustments based on feedback received from a number of people, some supporting the proposal and some not so supportive,” noted Smith. “The proponents have demonstrated a willingness to listen. I expect that they will continue to seek input and feedback before they make a final design submission to the Town,” he concluded.

Saugeen Shores Mayor Charbonneau interjected to remind council that the Town still maintains some influence on the overall appearance of the development, explaining that when it comes to the final aesthetic design of the development "there’s a lot of control from the municipality built into this lease that ultimately will come back and Council will again, as always, decide what to do with whatever’s presented to us."

Councillor Cheryl Grace referred to several emails received that questioned the process the municipality followed to calculate an appropriate level of rent for the property. The lease states an annual basic rent of $2.50 per square foot which equates to $82,500 for the project lands.

The CAO advised Council that a neutral, professional real estate appraiser was hired to assist in determining a fair and accurate lease rate. The Town used these results to validate their own calculations of a lease rate which, according to Smith, was within $200 of the total annual rate from the rate suggested by the external source.

Town staff first looked at the 10 cents per square foot previously paid by the train station tenants, which translated to $7,000 for the new proponents.

“That didn’t feel right, so staff looked at another method taking into consideration the built form, the square footage built form, recognizing that the former tenants of the train station property had much more space than just the built form,” described Smith, adding that when they looked at the built form costs, they varied with different tenants on the waterfront, between $1.30 and $3.50. When they took the scale and scope into consideration, the staff deemed a rate of $2.50 per square foot appropriate and would maximize revenue for the Town, said Smith.

Councillor Grace also voiced concerns about accessible parking for the Harbourlite Restaurant and parking for boaters on the harbour front.

Smith claimed that the most recent site plan had addressed both of these parking issues. “As they continue to refine their proposal for the final Town approval, I think they’ll consider to listen and I think what you’ll see when they bring it, is that they have been responsive when they’re able for reasonable concerns that don’t negatively put them out of business, quite frankly."

The discussion returned to the Vice Deputy Mayor who pointedly asked the CAO if the Sunset Tower was in fact removed from the current plan. The CAO was reluctant to give a yes or no answer, arguing that any answer he might give tonight could be misconstrued and designs are still evolving.

“The most recent version that I’ve seen, there has been some adjustment to the tower. It’s more incorporated into the building,” said Smith, but again cautioned that he was reluctant to say anything for fear of things being taken out of context.

Charbonneau reminded again that everything would be brought back to Council for final review.

“The work continues, diligently, behind the scenes, I’m sure,” said Charbonneau “and it will come before us when it’s ready."

A recorded vote resulted in seven Yes's and one No from Councillor Carr.

After the meeting adjourned, Carr elaborated further on his issues with the Lease.

“I don’t think we should be holding back from non-profit groups, you know if we want to hold a car show on the beach and have a charity fundraising barbecue, why do I have to have proponents' permission to do that,” he said. “Why isn’t that something I can just get permission from the Town to do."

Carr also questioned how far the non-competitive clause will extend and used the example of someone wanting to rent Sea-Doos on the beach and whether that would be viewed as competition with the tuck shop. He also expressed concern with the length of the Lease that he said was more like 52 years if you consider the two years they have to vacate the land.

Donnini offered some insights to media outside of Council Chambers following the meeting and spoke of an advisory group that would be called upon to offer additional perspective on aesthetics of the design. He also recognized the decision made by Council as an important step in their process.

“It was long and it was fair, I think the process worked,” said Donnini. “We are lucky to have a Council and a staff that take their jobs very seriously and professionally," he said, adding that he would like to be ready to operate in the summer of 2021.

"You know Canada Day would be a wonderful opening," Donnini mused but admitted there are a lot of factors to consider. "Like I said, as hard as it’s felt in the last year, the real work is yet to begin,” he said.

In response to Councillor Carr’s concerns, Donnini alleged to be a strong supporter of not-for-profits and community groups. “There will not be any conflict with non-profits trying to use that valuable land to help our community, absolutely not,” he confirmed.

Donnini again reflected on the overall process and glimpsed down the path ahead. “It’s been exhaustive, exhaustive in the terms we’ve gone through all the paces and all the steps that needed to be done to do this properly and fairly," he said.

To see the lease in full, visit saugeenshores.civicweb.net/FileStorage/861ADB9B1BC14A6488683CE2021BECFE-Land%20Lease%20with%20Build%20(FINAL%20v2).pdf

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