Smiths Falls continues to be on a roll as town officials unveiled their vision for the community in 2030 and the priority areas for the next four years at a strategic planning open house on Thursday, March 7.
The strategic planning meeting held in the upstairs hall at the community centre drew 100 members of the public. They were invited to submit written suggestions for improvements to the town based on the key priorities identified in a presentation.
Chief Administrative Officer Malcolm Morris led the meeting and showed a PowerPoint presentation summarizing 32 town initiatives. He discussed both the opportunities and the threats that have come out in the last term, where the demand for housing has created the problem of a lack of affordable housing.
Members of the community opposed to the elimination of angle parking on Beckwith Street also attended the meeting and took the opportunity to ask councillors some questions.
Mayor Shawn Pankow explained a current lack of housing in Smiths Falls is not unique. “This is a problem across North America that our town is finally catching up to,” Pankow said. Council plans to reach out to housing developers to construct enough housing to entice workers who commute from Ottawa to make Smiths Falls their home base. Creating affordable housing options is also a priority as gentrification occurs and the cost of rent increases.
One construction project that has been at a standstill for past few years is finally being addressed, the Confederation Bridge. Council will decide in the coming weeks on how to move forward with the project. Another intersection that causes disruption in the summer months is at Abbott and Lombard streets. “Every time the boats come in the whole intersection shuts down,” Morris said. “We plan to add turning lanes to help ease the disruption and make it better.”
On the topic of tourism, the town’s presentation focussed on the cannabis tourism industry. Tweed presents many opportunities for other businesses to make Smiths Falls their headquarters. Morris emphasized creating pedestrian-friendly spaces to serve as an official walking tour to enjoy “the gorgeous UNESCO heritage sites across town.”
Council also plans to redevelop some abandoned heritage sites, including the Bascule Bridge, and to install overhead lights to increase accessibility day or night. One priority includes rehabilitating the land surrounding the decommissioned locks in the hope that it will become another tourist destination.
Council envisions the town hall to serve as the starting point for visitors to Smiths Falls. The Kinsmen Park beside town hall will be a hub for town activity, extending to the library and making the space better equipped for public gatherings.
Along with the mayor, town councillors Chris McGuire, Lorraine Allen, Wendy Alford, Niki Dwyer and Peter McKenna were in attendance.
Although the meeting was intended to gather input on future strategic planning, many questions from the public focussed on the redevelopment of Beckwith Street and council’s vote to replace angle parking with parallel parking.
When repeated questions and expressions of outrage over the planned complete street design were asked, the mayor responded that the meeting was about future plans for the town and not about the parking issue.
One questioner stated that bringing in parallel parkingwould turn downtown into “a ghost town.” Although he doesn’t live in Smiths Falls, the man said that he shops in town and the loss of angle parking would cause himself and others to stop shopping downtown.
Photo caption: Mayor Shawn Pankow speaks at the strategic planning open house Thursday, March 7 along with Chief Administrative Officer Malcolm Morris, left.