(Bill Bowick is a community activist who lives in Sharbot Lake. A member of the Sharbot Lake Business Group, he has been comtemplating the future prospects for the local community in the face of changes that may come as the result of a train or a major upgrade to Hwy. 7, and the potential for growth in the region.)
The following paragraphs address planning issues for Sharbot Lake. They are inspired by some discussions on economic development and the potential for a high-speed train to pass through on its route between Peterborough and Ottawa. They reflect a personal view but, I hope, not an unreasonable one and they advocate for a longer-term view than we usually take.
In a small community, perhaps in every community, economic development and community development are nearly inseparable. Without a reasonable economy, community development is not achievable. Without a stable community, economic development is not sustainable. So anybody looking at economic development must also look at the community. In fact, I would argue that they should look at the community first.
People will be the drivers of our economy and we must have a long-term vision which recognizes that. The community must grow if we are to provide the passenger base to justify a train stop. And it’s not just population. It’s a particular kind of population. We need people from middle management and the professions who will take the train to Ottawa and back every day. How many? My guess is at least 50. We will get them here by providing a very attractive community in which to live. This means good services, good schools, good neighbours and a secure environment in which to make a half a million-dollar home investment. Tourism alone won’t do it.
This has got to be, first and foremost, a nice place to live. Last year, one of Sharbot Lake’s biggest success stories was new ownership of our largest B and B. The new owners are good people playing an active role in the community and making their business a success. What brought them here was not an economic analysis or a market study. They liked the people they met and the look of the place. Yes, it was a good business decision but they wouldn’t have gotten that far if they didn’t like it here. We must recognize that the things that will make this a nice place to live are the very ones that will make it a nice place to visit. So if tourism alone won’t do it, it certainly helps.
Our growth can start with people we know. From a purely economic point of view, if someone lives in Central Frontenac and works in Perth or Kingston, that’s a plus for this community. If someone lives elsewhere and works in Central Frontenac, that’s a minus for this community. In the first case, they draw their pay elsewhere and spend most of it here – on services, groceries, home maintenance and meals out to name but a few. This supports local employment and makes local businesses profitable. If someone works the day here and goes home at night, they take their pay cheques (usually our tax money) with them.
We can’t legislate where teachers, policemen, medical support staff and social service workers live. We can look at why they don’t live here and try to fix that. We can make this a better place to be. This is community development driving the economy. But there’s a double pay-off. These are the kinds of people who contribute to a community. They join the Little Theatre and the Heritage Society. They put their children in Little League and take pride in their homes. If we can make the community attractive to them, they, by being here, will make it more attractive for others. And that’s a much bigger gain.
We need popular support for a vision statement for Central Frontenac. For present purposes, let’s focus on Sharbot Lake as it has the potential for a train stop so is most likely to experience significant growth. We need a vision statement for several reasons. First is to set a target for our future. Second is to show that we understand what’s required to justify a train stop and that we have some sense of how to achieve that. Kelly Pender made this point in his remarks at the business meeting in December. A third reason is to state what aspects of the community are important to us so we can protect them. It is not realistic to expect the train to change nothing but if we are prepared, we can play a role in the process of deciding what will change. What we do not want is a high-speed train splitting our village and leaving nothing behind but noise and dust.
One of the most vulnerable aspects of our community is our set of contiguous parks. In fact, they can be seen as a single park running from the causeway, past Oso beach, through the cut to the Government dock and Railway Heritage Park. Preservation of these as a single system with lots of safe access is extremely important to tourism and to quality of life in the village. A passing train is not a problem but blocking access to the park or converting it into a parking lot certainly is.
The medical centre is a nice addition to the park system but could be located elsewhere. It should have a place of prominence in the community, though, because it is symbolic of the caring nature of the place. We are a comfortable home for seniors, with or without handicaps, and we should maintain that. Nothing will keep tourists coming back like the thought that this might be home when they retire. We should do nothing to our transportation system that makes it unsafe to cross Road 38 in the village.
Another important institution is our school (GREC). It is a wonderful state of the art building but is it a great school? If not, we need to get the community behind making it great. It has had some leadership programs such as the drone project but it is not widely recognized for scholastic or athletic leadership. This will be one of the first concerns of anyone thinking of building a half million-dollar home here and commuting to Ottawa for work.
Access to nature, on land or water, is probably our biggest single tourist draw and it should remain so but it needs to be protected. We’ve had big (good) investment in trails but they must be maintained and they must be patrolled for misuse. We have more bicycles in Sharbot Lake than we have ever had and people cycle here from other places but we do not have good cycle trails. In fact, there are those who say we don’t have good snowmobile trails either, that the closer you get to Sharbot Lake, the worse the shape of the trail. We need an active snowmobile/ATV club to promote proper use and support trail maintenance.
We are fortunate in having good property owners’ associations in our larger lakes. These are generally positive groups who actively support conservation and responsible use but there is still a lack of understanding around issues of fish spawning and water pollution and these issues need enforcement.
And finally, there is the village itself. For both tourists and residents, we must maintain the village flavour – narrow curved streets with small buildings at random angles. Many of these buildings are residential but that is not essential. We could still enjoy the village flavour with usage converting to small businesses, pubs and boutiques. These would be within walking distance of a growing inventory of hotel and B&B accommodation. We should not allow the village center to be flattened to provide parking for large retailers or bulk food stores. Plans and by-laws put in place today should ensure these are placed outside or at the periphery of the current village.
All of the above contribute to the impression that the people here are proud of their community and want to make it better. And this makes it more attractive for people thinking of moving here. Now we need to advertise this point. We need to get people to be more vocal in their community pride and to be greater ambassadors when they travel elsewhere. And we need to sensitize everyone to the need to be great hosts. Remember the old Montreal slogan, “Tourists tell; treat them well”.
As for the big issues, we’d better start discussing them now, for they’ll be on us before we know it. First, if the train is going to stop here, where would we put the station or passenger shelter? Well, it should not be in the middle of the village or at the old station location near the government dock. It should not be on Oso Park or in the Railway Heritage Park or replace the Medical Centre. Anyone taking the train from Sharbot Lake today would drive to the station so it would need a parking lot for about fifty cars. This means that most of the places mentioned in the last sentence would be too small anyway. Reasonable places might be North-East of the Railway Heritage Park before the train goes under Road 38 or South of the lake and West of the K&P Trail. Regardless of where the station is placed, there will probably be a need for taxi service. How’s that for economic development?
And where will the fifty half million-dollar houses go? Well, they could go anywhere but the Township Council better decide how they’ll deal with severance applications and permits efficiently and at reasonable cost, and they’d better be prepared to pave some cottage roads. If we want them to come, we’d better make sure they feel welcome. A bigger problem might be finding twenty-five million for mortgages, but that’s only money.
Strangely enough, building major commercial facilities might be an easier problem. The County’s Community Improvement Plan (CIP) has already identified major blocks of land, both North of the current village and South of it, that are suitable for development. And if the builders are Canadian Tire or Costco, they probably already have financing, so our only problem will be learning to live with them.