Even though many Grape Island residents voiced dismay and pleaded for a different outcome, city councillors forged ahead this week to “resolve” a longstanding dispute between mainland residents and those who live on the island in Lake Simcoe.
Essentially, the city is repealing a 1950s era policy that granted islanders access to the Forest Avenue road allowance and allowed them to install their own temporary dock each year.
That will no longer be the case after the majority of city councillors (only Coun. Mason Ainsworth voted against the plan) agreed to spend $60,000 to buy a dock that will be put in Lake Simcoe - by city staff - each spring and removed each fall. The dock, at the Forest Avenue road allowance, can be used by all Orillia residents.
In 1956, the municipality established a policy to authorize the property owners of Grape Island to erect one temporary dock at the pier to allow residents to get to and from Grape Island. Up until 2016, that worked well.
It “generally served the needs of the residents of Grape Island while protecting the municipality’s rights to its road allowance and water lot,” noted a report from city staff.
In recent years, a conflict developed between the Grape Island Property Owners Association (GIPOA) and surrounding mainland property owners.
That conflict spawned a three-year battle that sparked the creation of a working group, multiple meetings, potential resolutions, a breakdown between the sides, a temporary bylaw to allow the status quo amid talks and, eventually, a $3.1-million lawsuit from GIPOA against the city, alleging the changes diminish their property values.
During a council committee meeting earlier this month, eight long-time Grape Island residents made virtual presentations to council asking them to reconsider their decision.
Essentially, they want to continue to have “unfettered access” to the road allowance, the pier, two docks (including one they installed without asking council’s permission) and unlimited barging.
Amanda DeGroot, who lives on the island, explained to city councillors that the road allowance and dock constitute her driveway.
“The only way I can access my property is the dock at the foot of Forest Avenue,” she said.
Opening up access to all residents of Orillia is “like the city placing a park at the foot of your driveway.”
Glenda Gilbert, who has lived on the island for more than 50 years, said islanders need “unfettered access” to the road allowance.
“The need for this historic access point is essential,” she told city councillors, noting many islanders work in Orillia and “require flexible access to their homes” and to “support businesses in Orillia.”
Jim Mitchell, who has been a full-time Grape Island resident since 1951, said the city “hasn’t thought it through,” adding he doesn’t believe the city’s plan will work.
Laura Thompson, the city’s senior manager of business development and council’s point-person throughout this process, disagrees.
“Council’s decision continues to allow access to the municipal water lot to all residents of Grape Island as well as the City of Orillia,” said Thompson. “This is a fair, just and equitable use of the city's assets and resources.”
She noted the timeframe for the placement of the dock has also been extended to on or about May 1 to on or about Nov. 15 each year, which she noted goes beyond the Sept. 1 timeframe in place previously.
“The City of Orillia has considered, among other things, the topography, location, usage etc. of the site and has come to the conclusion that in view of the applicable constraints only one community dock should be installed at the said location,” Thompson explained.
“This dock would be purchased, maintained, installed and removed by the City of Orillia and be accessible to all residents of Grape Island and Orillia residents.”
Barging will be allowed on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays when the dock is in place.
Coun. David Campbell said he had hoped for a more amicable solution.
He recalled how in his “very first media interview” after winning the election, he told OrilliaMatters that his top priority was resolving the Grape Island dispute.
“In fact, I was looking forward to joining the working group and doing everything I could to help resolve the issues,” Campbell said, adding as a “fresh voice,” he hoped to bring a “unique perspective” to the table.
The working group collapsed, however, and was disbanded.
“Needless to say, I’ve been very disappointed with the way things have unfolded,” he said.
He said he had spent “countless hours on this file” over the past two years, while his fellow ward councillor, Ted Emond, had invested even more time, while staff have also worked hard to broker a deal.
“What we as a council are trying to do with this motion is to ensure all residents of Grape Island have access and use of the dock at the Forest Avenue South road allowance,” he added.
“As a councillor, I always try to view an issue from as many different perspectives as possible. I try to only deal with facts and I always try to find a solution that is fair and equitable and I believe this motion does just that,” he said of council’s decision.
After the meeting, DeGroot questioned how hard city councillors worked on a resolution and said the decision “will negatively impact our city.”
Fellow Grape Islander Glenda Gilbert lamented the decision, saying: “I can see our basic needs aren’t being met” through this new policy.
The city has a section of its website dedicated to the Grape Island issue. Click here to read more.