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Online commentary ‘unfounded’ on downtown archway proposal: Deputy Mayor

Hull calls online backlash to project ‘a very minor sampling of public commentary with no scientific backing,’ while council votes to move to fast-tracked public consultation on design
All the Arches
The four colour options the BIA presented for the proposed archway.

If you want your voice officially heard on the proposed downtown Collingwood archway, you’ll soon have your chance.

During Tuesday night’s regular meeting of council, councillors voted in favour of proceeding to public consultation on the Collingwood Business Improvement Area’s (BIA) downtown archway project, deviating from their initial decision made during their strategic initiatives standing committee meeting in early April. Public consultation is slated to occur within the next six weeks through the town’s Engage Collingwood website.

However, the decision didn’t come without some words between councillors.

Deputy Mayor Keith Hull acknowledged that the project could have been better communicated, but questioned the online commentary.

“We would not be having this conversation tonight if it wasn’t for, quite frankly, the unfounded comments of many online as it relates to this particular project,” said Hull. “Most of the comments are misdirected... we have people weighing in who do not live, work or play here.”

“I’m sorry that it has come to this, because I truly believe we are voted in to make decisions, and I truly believe this decision tonight is a result of a very minor sampling of public commentary that has no scientific backing,” he said.

Controversy over the downtown archway project began when Collingwood Downtown BIA’s general manager Susan Nicholson came to council at the beginning of March 2022 with an update on the archway sign project, indicating it could be standing at First and Hurontario Streets as early as the summer.

The project is a BIA initiative, covered in the BIA budget, which is funded through a levy attached to the property tax bill for downtown commercial buildings. The project was proposed due to a wayfinding signage report commissioned by the town and BIA in 2017 which concluded the downtown was not easy to find for newcomers to the area and a gateway feature might help.

Soon after Nicholson’s update in March, comments, emails, and letters flooded into town hall, council and local media opposing the archway, and expressing particular disdain for the design – a black metal arch with white font reading “Historic Downtown Collingwood” on one side, and “Historic Harbourfront Collingwood” on the other.

Among the comments were accusations the project was heading to approval without public consultation.

Since the presentation in March, the BIA was notified it had qualified for a federal grant for $280,000 for both the First and Hurontario Street arch, an entryway feature (not necessarily an arch) at Hurontario and Hume Streets, as well as some other downtown projects.

During an April 4 strategic initiative committee meeting, council members voted to postpone approvals for the BIA’s proposed gateway arch at First and Hurontario Streets and instead schedule a visioning exercise for 2023 or later. Councillors also voted in favour of giving the BIA $32,403 to reimburse them for the money they spent to get the arch project to this point.

During Tuesday’s meeting, council went back on that decision, voting instead by a vote of 4-4 to defeat it.

Following the defeat, Deputy Mayor Keith Hull put another option on the floor proposed by the Collingwood BIA, where the archway at First and Hurontario would proceed, but a visioning exercise and public consultation could start regarding a feature at Hurontario and Hume Streets.

This option would also give the town the opportunity to remove the archway at First and Hurontario at a later time should they deem it appropriate which would also make sure the BIA could retain the federal grant funding, which is time-sensitive.

Coun. Chris Carrier, Coun. Deb Doherty, Coun. Mariane McLeod and Coun. Yvonne Hamlin all spoke against this option, and it was defeated by a vote of 7-1 with Hull voting in favour.

“The BIA does a lot of great work for our downtown...but I feel what’s happened here is they’ve driven out of their lane,” said Hamlin, adding that the role of the BIA is to support businesses and oversee the beautification of the town-owned infrastructure.

“Oversee means supervise. It doesn’t mean go off and come up with plans and build them. I think we’ve strayed from what the traditional role of the BIA is,” she said.

Mayor Brian Saunderson disagreed with some of Hamlin’s assertions.

“I don’t think the BIA left their lane,” he said. “However, I don’t think putting up an arch and then doing public consultation is the way to do this.”

Doherty said she was very against the idea of consulting after the arch has been erected with the option to remove it later.

“I appreciate the creative thinking, but I just think that is a waste of federal tax money, time and materials,” she said. “I think it’s better at this point in time to go to the public.”

Hamlin also disputed that her opinions on the archway were formed solely based on social media comments.

“I read the wayfinding study. There has been no evidence this is even needed. I spoke to people in the community,” she said.

McLeod brought back an option considered as part of the strategic initiatives standing committee meeting to move to public consultation on the archway on the design – which will include a no-arch option – and asked it be done within a short time frame through the Engage Collingwood website.

“We want to avoid sending federal money back,” said McLeod.

Saunderson asked that the town work with the BIA on the consultation, and confirmed that consultation could be completed by the end of May.

Council voted 6-2 in favour of the public consultation option, with Carrier and Hamlin opposed. Coun. Bob Madigan was absent from the meeting.

With files from Erika Engel.


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Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen brings 12 years of experience to her role as regional reporter for Village Media, primarily covering Collingwood, County of Simcoe and education.
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