park, June 17, 2017 is the grand opening. The park is modern, environmentally advanced and is overdue for a community of Musselman’s Lake that has never had the pleasure of a neighbourhood park. Even with construction coordination delays, the park was built within a year. However, few realize – with the exception of those directly involved – that the planning for this park began more than ten years ago.
We would not be celebrating the opening of Coultice Park if not for the endurance of champions: an active neighbourhood association, a local Councillor, a philanthropic family, and dedicated Town staff. Over the course of ten years, the players changed – residents came and went, the Councillor replaced, leading staff moved on. But, the plan was a good one; it rightfully survived the passage of time.
The First Trimester
The first trimester is the most consuming because everything is all so new, so exciting, even overwhelming.
In January of 2007, Town Council approved a study on the issue of parkland within the Community of Musselman’s Lake.
“The Community of Musselman’s Lake had an estimated population of 1,200 persons – the largest settlement area within the Town that currently has no park or community based facility.”
According to the Town’s own Official Plan the provision of parkland or park facilities for a community of this size should be approximately 6 acres in area. But with no new developments on the horizon (being environmentally sensitive lands), there would be no developer-funded mechanism for getting public lands allocated or a park built, and there was no publicly-owned property in the vicinity.
The Town would have to build this park from scratch. The study was geared to engage residents of Musselman’s Lake to answer some questions: Is there a need for a park? Would the locals use it? What amenities should it contain?
Two public information sessions were held, oddly, almost a year apart (2007 and 2008); there were multiple processes at work. 88% of the residents surveyed indicated the need for a park, half said that they left the community a minimum of twice a week in search of recreation space, and 86% said that they would make use of a local park. Residents favoured amenities such as a children’s playground, open space, a splash pad and tennis courts.
In 2009, $100,000 had been put aside by the Town Capital Budget for the acquisition of parkland at Musselman’s Lake. Staff assessed 3 properties: (a) Glendale Beach, (b) the nearby “water tower site”, and (c) a property between Lakeshore & Aurora. One was too close to the water (safety and overuse concerns), one too far from population, and another would require some impossible land use-trading. The Town was approached by a landowner that presented a 4th potential site. This one became the preferred location was owned by the James Coultice Estate.
The Coultice property was formerly known as the Wagon Wheel Ranch. It was or had been a horse farm that offered “horseback riding for all ages, all experience levels… The trails wind their way through woods, hills and meadows, a pleasing backdrop for an exhilarating adventure. Sleigh or hayrides and corn roasts are available with advance booking.” [From a web advertisement listing.]
Two parts of the Coultice property were offered up as an opportunity for the park at Musselman’s Lake; one a large 137-acre site that stretched westerly from the York- Durham Line area, and an adjoining 5 acre parcel that fronted onto Ninth Line. The larger piece is environmentally sensitive land and is deemed a Natural Linkage Area under the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan. Therefore it was development constrained, but an opportunity for the Town to promote environmental awareness and water quality initiatives – objectives that were laid out in the recent Musselman’s Lake Subwatershed Assessment Plan. Staff recommended that the larger parcel ultimately be managed or owned by a qualified partner, such as the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA).
The offer was described as a “win, win, win for everyone” by the local Councillor, and it was.
There were some reasonable objectives set out by the Trust that had to be met: (1) Council had until August 15, 2010 to act on the offer; (2) the sale price would be $2; (3) the Town would prepare a Reference Plan that would divide the holding into 5 parts, including the two parts mentioned above; (4) the Town would assume reasonable costs for the Estate’s solicitor in relation to lands being transferred; (5) the Town would be obligated to demolish the old buildings and structures; (6) the Town and Estate would build a mutual driveway off Ninth Line to serve both parties; (7) the park would be named “Coultice Park” after the donor; and (8) the Estate had until January 1, 2011 to establish a valuation for the property for the purpose of determining the amount of charitable receipt that was to be issued by the Town.
The first trimester, or due diligence stage, had taken 3.5 years.
The second trimester is called the “honeymoon period” for good reason: the aches and pains associated with rapid development – or the learning curve – is past. Things are now more relaxed, details around the baby’s new life are planned. Except this trimester unexpectedly took an additional 4 years.
June 15, 2010: Council endorsed the James Coultice Estate property as the preferred candidate site for the purposes of consultation. Staff again would meet with the Community of Musselman’s Lake on July 22 to ensure their buy-in and that their needs be met.
August 17, 2010: Council confirmed its interest in acquiring a neighbourhood park and the environmentally sensitive lands from the James Coultice Estate, that the Municipality clears its Conditions on the Offer of Purchase and Sale Agreement, and that staff begin budgeting and forecasting the necessary items linked to this project, including provisions for park design and phasing process. The demolition was estimated at $250,000 and another $940,000 to fully develop the park (2009 dollars).
Bumps in the road occurred from 2010 until 2014, while one extension request after another were filed and accepted. The transfer of land was not projected to be complicated, but there were issues with the survey and land title. In undertaking the update to the Reference Plan, the Town’s Ontario Land Surveyor encountered some difficulty in establishing a proper description of the transfers arising from the earlier lot line adjustments.
Apparently, individual Property Identification Numbers (PIN) were not established for each of the earlier transactions by the Registry Office. This was a unique situation and it was not understood how or why it occurred. Multiple land owners and their lot lines had to be sorted out.
Too, the Estate was trying to enroll in Environment Canada’s Ecological Gifts Program. The program provides a way for those with ecologically sensitive land to protect nature and leave a legacy for future generations. It offers significant tax benefits to landowners who donate land or a partial interest in land to a qualified recipient. Recipients ensure that the land’s biodiversity and environmental heritage are conserved in perpetuity. The Eco Gifts Program automatically involves policies and procedures set out by Canada Revenues Agency.
The learning curve for participation in Eco Gifts was steep. The parcel slated for the park, being a “development”, did not qualify for the program, the proposed third party oversight of the larger parcel complicated things, and by the time the Reference Plan was filed and completed (years later), the property valuation needed to be revisited under law. Yes, it was a snail’s pace, but no blame could be laid as everyone involved proved to be champion of endurance.
The last trimester is full of contrasts: you’re revved up for the homestretch, but you’re tired. You’re thirsty, but you often have to go to the bathroom. One celebrated aspect of the park project is that public washrooms were added to the plan. It was determined that children who spend hours at a splash pad and park would eventually need facilities.
In 2014, members of the Coultice Family were present at Council to celebrate the naming dedication for a park on lands that had now been transferred. By August, the old farm buildings on the site had been removed.
On July 15, 2015 staff hosted an Open House at the Cedar Beach Pavilion at Musselman’s Lake to review the initial design and receive feedback on the park amenities. Council had already approved a phase II site preparation and design amount of $250,000. The construction phase of the Park was planned for 2016. Staff was hoping to complete the construction of Coultice Park in the fall of 2016; however, after 10 years of planning another 6 months of construction seemed miniscule.
In the end, Council had allocated up to $2 million for the park project, including the addition of the washroom facilities (in 2017 dollars). The Park design incorporated many storm water management features; in so doing the Town qualified for a LSRCA contribution award of $103,260. [More to come on the LSRCA in a future edition of On the Road.]
Birth of a new park for Musselman’s Lake – Coultice Park – is scheduled with the same precision as a caesarean section for June 17, 2017 at 10am. Armed with the rest of the story – the ribbon cutting, fitness demos, games and prizes will have more meaning.