BRANTFORD – Brantford Mayor Chris Friel and Brant County Mayor Ron Eddy fielded some tough questions by angry citizens at a public meeting last week in Brantford’s Lions Park.
The citizens are unhappy with what they believe is “selling them down the river” in the proposed land transfer deal between the two municipalities.
The long-negotiated transfer of lands came to a head when the County of Brant and Brantford reached a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) regarding the transfer of 2,454 hectares of mainly Brant County farmland to the City of Brantford.
The most troublesome of the phased transfer is the 446 hectares of Tutela Heights land, which is slated for residential development. Many residents of the Tutela Heights area are vehemently opposed to the transfer, which would result in a development project by Walton International. Residents fear the Walton development will significantly impact the aesthetic appeal of the current estates’ lot sizes and semi-rural character of the neighbourhood.
The way the transfer proposal was done has many Brant Citizens up in arms, having not been consulted before the MOU was signed.
The Lions Park auditorium was full to the walls on Thursday night, with the audience mainly consisting of Brant County residents, even though it was the Brantford leg of two such information sessions. The second public meeting will be held in Brant County at the Grand Valley Christian Church at 379 Golf Rd., on Jan. 21. There will be two open houses from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., and from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
When concern was voiced regarding the potential of a Six Nations-lead protest similar to the one at Douglas Creek estates in Caledonia in 2006, Friel tried to play that down saying the Caledonia situation was created by one person, and not to worry about that.
However, contrary to Friel’s statement at the meeting, those involved in the Kanonhstaton (Caledonia) land reclamation may recall that both the Elected Council and the Confederacy Council initially gave approval and encouragement to the protesters to oppose the Douglas Creek Estates project.
“We are furious,” said one Tutela Heights resident, “To me it’s a betrayal of the voters of Tutela Heights area, with no consultation. We don’t appreciate being sold down the river.”
Gail Bury, a resident of the area and a member of the Tutela Heights Phelps Road Residents Association, has been spearheading the opposition to the transfer and imminent development of her neighbourhood.
She challenged her council by reading an excerpt from the County of Brant Code of Conduct for elected officials which states, they “will be committed to performing their function with integrity, accountability, transparency, avoiding improper use of their office,” and stressed the next point, “and to avoid conflict of interest, both apparent and real.”
At that point, Brantford Mayor Chris Friel interjected and tried to take the mic away from Bury to stop her from saying more.
“No, I’m going to stop this. You are not in charge of this meeting,” Friel stated.
The room responded with boos and cat-calls, telling Friel they wanted to hear what Bury had to say. Friel took the mic and suggested that it was improper to call conflict of interest into question, saying it [conflict of interest] is a legal issue and to do so in public crosses lines. With those instructions, he gave the mic back to Bury who didn’t miss a step.
“Optics are everything,” she continued, “it doesn’t feel okay when the city is conducting surveys before the deal is done. What’s the hurry?” she asked. “We have only had five days to respond to this [Tutela Heights add-on to the transfer]. We don’t understand how Tutela was thrown on the table.”
Bury then referenced Walton International’s plans for what she called a “mega sprawl”, saying the development drastically reduces the quality of life and value of the homes of current residents.
“With all due respect Mr. Friel,” she continued, “You talked about estate housing, I have seen the plan and that is not estate housing. This does not feel good.”
She received a round of applause from many like-minded county citizens in the room who will be directly affected. Brant County Mayor Ron Eddy seemed empathetic with the Tutela Heights residents.
“I can understand the reaction, in that it was so sudden and that it (Tutela Heights) was not on the map before,” said Eddy. “So, naturally there is a reaction.”
He also indicated the Tutela Heights add-on was requested by the city, which his council must still consider.
There were also concerns raised about additional traffic being created by a development of this size —which may make creating new corridors difficult to handle —using the land-locked residents of West Brant’s Empire Estates Community and Shellards Lane as examples. Many of those residents have complained to the city about how hard it is to get across town to the 403 and the 401 in the north end.
Friel listed four possible solutions including revisiting the Glebe Lands debate to complete the Brantford Southern Access Road (BSAR) bypass project which has been left undone for decades.
Following the meeting, when the Two Row Times attempted to interview Friel, he declined an interview citing “personal differences”.