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'Band-Aid' beach plan in Georgina aims to stem tide of overcrowding

'Drastic changes’ could be on horizon under waterfront strategy
April 25, 2019
Heidi Riedner

Ramped up enforcement, garbage cleanup and park patrols for the summer season are some of the stopgap measures the town is putting in place to stem the tide of numerous issues raised last year at Georgina’s busiest waterfront parks.

But “drastic changes” could be on the horizon next year under a long-term waterfront strategy being developed by consultants in conjunction with a town working group and newly created council subcommittee.

A pilot action plan approved by council April 17 includes spending $70,000 for additional parking enforcement, increased garbage collection, enhanced maintenance of washrooms and reassigning bylaw staff to address peak periods -- particularly at De La Salle, Willow Beach and Holmes Point Park. New mobile washroom units approved this year for Holmes Point are expected to be up and running by the end of June.

Other measures include putting up A-frame signs at key areas within the municipality to give advance notice that beachfront parking facilities are at capacity, "escalating" parking enforcement, and cannabis or vaping signage added to existing no-smoking signage.

Designated resident-only parking spaces at the town’s pay-and-display lots is off the table for this year, but will be further evaluated by the subcommittee that includes councillors Rob Grossi, Dave Neeson and Dave Harding.

It will look at factors such as loss of revenue, traffic flow, accessible parking provisions and the health and safety of staff if a number of dedicated spots of a total 591 parking spaces were to be recommended.

The town’s acting deputy chief administrative officer Ryan Cronsberry -- who penned the report tabled April 17 -- acknowledged this year’s action plan is what Grossi called a Band-aid stopgap measure, but added mitigating issues raised over packed beaches last year was the intent of the staff review tabled earlier this month.

Numerous big-picture questions and possible long-term solutions raised during the discussion will be addressed through a waterfront strategy being undertaken later this year. The town set aside $125,000 in this year’s budget to hire consultants to study waterfront assets and develop a strategy to address overcrowding issues, which is expected to come back to council in 2020.

While scorching long weekends may have exacerbated the situation last year, Cronsberry said local beaches are getting close to capacity on standard weekends and a long-term plan needs to address that.

That includes looking at all factors and possible solutions -- such as acquiring additional waterfront lands, possible partial and/or seasonal lane closures on portions of Lake Drive in front of Willow Beach and De La Salle. Others include controlling individual access versus vehicles, increased parking and no-stopping fines and/or towing on streets surrounding waterfront parks, food vendors, creating overflow parking lots and innovative solutions like Rover.

“We can’t take those steps this year,” Cronsberry said, but added the question of restricting waterfront access, and how, is among the "drastic changes" and "difficult decisions" council will have to make moving forward.

“Our waterfront parks are a key asset in our community, whether you live here or are visiting,” Mayor Margaret Quirk said.

“With more people coming to Georgina every year, the demand for access to our beaches and waterfront parks will only continue to grow. We need to find a balance between using our waterfront parks as a tourist destination, while also ensuring the quality of life for our residents is at the forefront. Council is committed to exploring different solutions and we feel this plan will help address concerns that were raised last summer.”

Acquiring land and adding it into the town’s beaches and parks system “is the only way that we are going to take the pressure off of our beaches and parks that we have now,” Ward 4 Coun. Frank Sebo said.

He added there is no denying Georgina is a tourist destination and it “gets a piece" of the estimated $200 million in economic spinoff related to Lake Simcoe, according to conservation authority statistics.

Noting all spaces in parking lots are available to Georgina residents, Sebo cautioned against the "ripple effect" of turning people away in any fashion.

An update on the planned actions will be provided to council before the May long weekend. Staff were also asked to look into the potential of a tow truck licensing bylaw and to review parking fines on both town and regional roads. Discussions with the Lake Simcoe Conservation Authority will also be pursued regarding opportunities at Willow Beach park -- a majority of which is owned by the authority and leased by the town.