Napanee will not sell triangle of land next to school

Napanee Town Council voted to remove the land pictured above from their surplus list instead of selling it for use in the expansion of the adjacent school. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

The Council of the Town of Greater Napanee has decided to remove a small piece of green space from its surplus land list, to the detriment of a local Catholic school.

The Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board (ALCDSB) had offered to purchase the surplus land adjacent to J.J. O’Neill Catholic School, worth between $100,000 and $130,000 based on appraised values, according to a report from Town staff. Still, at its regular meeting on the evening of Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2024, Council sided with the appeals of people living in the neighbourhood who didn’t want a parking lot in their green space.

As previously reported, the land in question had been a park before the 1990s, with a ball diamond and swing set. However, once a softball complex was built at the local fairgrounds, the baseball diamond next to the school was dismantled ,and other playground equipment fell into disrepair and was removed. The only remnant left to testify to this is a rusty baseball backstop.

In April 2022, the province of Ontario selected J.J. O’Neill Catholic School as a ‘Rapid Build Pilot Project’ site as part of Ontario’s 2022-2023 Capital Priorities Program, and granted nearly 10 million dollars for the expansion of the school. 

Then, on July 12, 2022, following a closed session, the former Town Council enacted Resolution 357/22, declaring the triangle of land — described as Con 1, Part Lot 19, Roll # 1121 060 020 26700 — “surplus to the Town’s needs” and authorized staff to obtain an appraisal for the property.

In April 2023, Bryan Davies, Controller of Plant and Planning Services for the ALCDSB, attended a meeting of Council on behalf of the school board and provided information about the expansion to the J.J. O’Neill school, which is to include new classroom and daycare space. 

“The intent to purchase the property was in the interest of additional on-site parking and improved traffic flow both on the school site as well as on the surrounding road network in the local neighbourhood. The key focus was to provide safety for the area,” a spokesperson for the ALCDSB explained on Wednesday, Feb 28, 2024.

“With respect to our discussions with the Town of Greater Napanee, ALCDSB did submit an initial offer of $100,000 for acquiring the property, and the Board would also be responsible for covering all costs related to the sale. The Town also had an appraisal completed that listed the property at a slightly higher price.”

On Tuesday evening, Council heard from two people who made deputations supporting the Town retaining the land: Jeff Chestnut, who was quoted in Kingstonist’s previous coverage, and Christine Dibb. There were also several letters in the Council agenda package from townspeople on both sides of the debate. 

Dibb pointed out that the backstop was not dismantled, although the ball diamond was gone, and that it is sometimes still used by students at the school.

“As Napanee grows and subdivisions are built, parkland with very nice playground equipment is allotted to them. It seems very unfair that ours is being taken away and made into a parking lot,” she said, noting that, had she known she could have asked for replacement playground equipment, she would have.

Further, Dibb suggested that the number of parking spaces would only decrease by 18 if the school board couldn’t buy the land, and wondered aloud why the school couldn’t pave over its Peace Garden instead.

Those in favour of the land sale noted that the parking lot expansion was not about the number of parking spaces, but meant to facilitate safer access to the school for families with babies and toddlers who will use the new daycare — without the expansion, those families would have to contend with buses while crossing the parking area at dropoff time. 

Anne and Doug Kerr wrote that they, their children, and others who attend J.J. O’Neill are also citizens of the Town. They proposed a “shrub-sheltered pathway that leads to the trail and the fairgrounds” that could resolve leisure seekers’ concerns.

“We have noticed pedestrians using the school grounds after school hours, so we are not sure how that little chunk of land should matter to them for leisure. Our children’s safety and wellness should come first,” the Kerrs wrote. 

Furthermore, Stephen Pitt argued that the Town could use the extra money, saying, “Residents in the Marilyn Avenue neighbourhood have easy access to parkland and open areas at the Napanee Fairgrounds, [Napanee District Secondary School,] and J.J. O’Neill. All of these areas are within 500 to 800 metres and meet the standard parkland provision of Urban Area as listed in the Town’s Recreation Plan… Sell the land and use the money to make improvements to park space already within the Town’s limits.”

Councillor Dave Pinnell expressed opposition to removing the property’s surplus declaration. He pointed to the ample leisure space in the neighbourhood, including the playground equipment, baseball diamond, basketball courts, and Peace Garden provided free to the community by the school. He said he agreed with a proposal by Councillor Mike Schenk that the money from the sale could be used to create better leisure opportunities for the neighbourhood. He also expressed his concern that having a public park next door to a school property could be problematic for the security of the children.

Those on Council who opposed the sale, including Mayor Terry Richardson, contended the Town should hold onto green space whenever possible.

In the end, no minds were swayed on Council since the last meeting on the subject, and the decision was made to remove the land from the surplus list and not sell it to the school board. In the final vote, Councillor Pinnell was the sole member of Council to vote against removing the plot of land from the surplus list.

Meetings of the Council of the Town of Greater Napanee can be viewed virtually (or watched afterward) on the Napanee Town Council YouTube channel or attended in person in Council Chambers at Napanee Town Hall, 124 John Street. Further information about Council meetings, including agendas and reports, is available on the Town’s CivicWeb portal.

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