If success is measured by the attempt as opposed to the result, Ruby Rowan is well on the way to claiming victory in their bid to prevent Morrow Park from being home to Peterborough’s new twin-pad arena.
A co-administrator of the Facebook group Friends of Morrow Park, the Braidwood Avenue resident has been on a mission to pressure the City of Peterborough to reconsider constructing the $62-million complex in the west portion of the park fronting Park Street south of Lansdowne Street West.
With construction scheduled to begin by the fall of 2022, it’s projected the complex will open in September 2024, complete with 633 new parking spaces to augment the existing 594 spaces in the two parking lots bordering Roger Neilson Way. Also included in the site plan is an allotment of land for the future addition of an eight-lane indoor swimming pool.
As of Wednesday (October 6), Friends of Morrow Park had 96 members while an online petition, calling for a reversal of the city council decision to proceed with the complex’s construction at Morrow Park, has garnered 254 signatures to date.
This past Saturday, plan objectors — Rowan among them — were at the Peterborough Farmers’ Market, where another 103 signatures were added to a paper petition. In addition, close to 350 petition signatures were presented to the city earlier in the summer.
“We’ve been doing the city’s job telling people about this,” contends Rowan, adding “We can only grow support as quickly as we can personally inform people.”
Rowan points to what they categorize as a flawed public consultation process as being the reason so many who want to keep Morrow Park as is have been late to the game.
A public information process was held virtually April 28 to solicit feedback on the designation of Morrow Park as the site of the arena complex. In addition, from April 21 to May 14, a survey, accessible online and by phone, saw 374 people respond — 80 per cent in favour of the Morrow Park site, 16 per cent against, and 4 per cent with no opinion.
“I attended that (public information session) thinking it was a consultation,” says Rowan, adding “The plan was already made — that’s not a consultation.”
“One of the slides said no speaking allowed,” Rowan adds. “It was very difficult to access. And it was online, which isn’t accessible to everyone. I thought I must have missed some of the consultation process but later I found out there was no other process.”
A subsequent city council meeting, held July 30, saw some city politicians share Rowan’s view that more consultation is needed. A motion to put the brakes on the project until more public input is gathered was defeated by a 7 to 4 vote. Councillors Kim Zippel, Kemi Akapo, and Stephen Wright, along with Mayor Diane Therrien, voted to defer in favour of wider public consultation — a move city staff advised would delay the complex’s construction by a year.
It was subsequently moved that the twin-pad arena be built starting in 2022, with the eight-lane pool to be added later. It was also moved that a third ice pad, planned as part of an eventual third phase of construction, be dropped to preserve additional green space. Both motions were approved by council.
Also approved at that council meeting were the following recommendations from Sheldon Laidman, Peterborough’s commissioner of community services:
- City staff undertake the planning work to offset the loss of three ball diamonds and determine solutions to address the impact to the Peterborough Agricultural Society (which presents the annual Peterborough Exhibition at Morrow Park)
- $61,500,000 be pre-committed in the 2022/2023/2024 capital budget, including a pre-commitment of $4,000,000 from the 2021 Federal Gas Tax fund, to proceed with phase 1 of the project
- Toronto-based Perkins + Will Architect Canada Inc. be approved as the prime consultant at a total cost of $3,245,145.
Long on the list of potential sites for the twin-pad arena, the Morrow Park location moved to the top of the heap after plans fell through for its construction at Trent University and at Fleming College. The university location was deemed threatening to adjacent wetlands while the college, due to the financial implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, chose to put on a hold on any development.
Along with their concerns about the loss of the Morrow Park green space that will result, as well as increased traffic and flooding worries, Rowan notes there’s the matter of the Morrow family having gifted the 27-acre property to the city in 1938 on the condition that it always be the location of a fairground — a trust reaffirmed in 1984 in the Peterborough Act.
The act states “that the (Peterborough Agricultural) Society, the Corporation (of the City of Peterborough), and the trustees of the R. A. Morrow Memorial Park Trust believe that it would be in the best interest of the Society and the Corporation that the property be conveyed to the Corporation to be used for park and recreational purposes and to be used by the Society as an exhibition grounds for an annual exhibition and for other purposes … in perpetuity”, adding that if the terms and conditions are not met, the property reverts to the Morrow family. However, the act does not specify what “park and recreational purposes” means or how much green space must be maintained.
kawarthaNOW asked the city for an update on the status of that agreement and what impact, if any, it has on the twin-pad arena being developed at Morrow Park, but that information was not provided by deadline.
“Harold Morrow gave the property in trust to the city on the condition that it be used by the Agricultural Society to share and nurture around food production,” says Rowan. “Somebody has got to care about this.”
In its online petition, Friends of Morrow Park lists a number of reasons why the decision must be made to leave Morrow Park as is and search for another site.
Among them is “Natural green spaces in and around urban areas are a key tool for CO2 sequestration. Morrow Park could be one of those places. In this time of climate crisis, action is required to keep this 27-acre natural site for current and future generations of Peterborough citizens.”
“The city hasn’t invested, in any real way, in Morrow Park in maybe 30 years,” says Rowan.
“It’s essentially been left fallow. When you ask people, it’s like ‘It’s a weird open space with a chain link fence around it.’ Over a decade ago, there was a plan to turn it into something beautiful. If they had done that, people would fight more for it. Inverlea Park has mature trees and benches, so people were willing to fight for it.”
Rowan is referencing Friends of Inverlea Park which mobilized in a very big way earlier this year when a consultant shortlisted the park as a possible location for Peterborough’s new north-end firehall. The firehall was eventually approved by council for the former Northcrest Arena property.
“I see Morrow Park as being a forgotten soul,” Rowan says. “This space, that has all the potential, that could host so many trees and so many pollinator gardens, that could have gardens and have playgrounds and all these beautiful things — people would want to steward it and defend it.”
The city, adds Rowan, “is unnecessarily pitting the need for need for an arena against the need for green space. They don’t need to be in conflict with another.”
“I think this is an egregious dismissal of the voices of citizens who live in the neighbourhood (of Morrow Park). I’m doing this because I feel passionate, especially now, about this land, about food sovereignty, about the heritage of the space. This is a values issue for me.”
“They (city councillors) know there’s insufficient park space here from the consultation that was done back in 2011. They know what people care about. There’s been a real disregard of that.”
Rowan plans to make a delegation to city council at some point. In the meantime, the gathering of as many petition signatures as possible will continue.
What happened to the Morrow Park Master Plan Design Study?
In August 2011, Brown and Storey Architects Inc. completed the “Morrow Park Master Plan Design Study” for the City of Peterborough.
“This study recognizes both the long history of the Peterborough Agricultural Society and the Peterborough Exhibition, and the substantial potential for Morrow Park to become a major open
space of the city — connected to the larger context of parks and trail networks for pedestrians and cyclists, and a place for year-round recreational use,” the study states. “The goal of the Master Plan recommendations is to strike a balance, improving facilities for the activities that occur there now while opening up the park to the city as a year-round major open space, creating opportunities for new programming and a new cohesiveness for present programming.”
Among other elements, the study proposed a “linear park” — “a new 25 meter wide zone along the park perimeter, establishing an everyday use of the park for the city, creating a new edge and boulevard on all streets; contains major tree planting, track, paths, and built facilities (public washrooms, offices, barns, trellis with grandstand provision)”. The idea of the linear park was to create a “park within a park” by establishing a “green membrane” around the property.
The study also proposed a “new trail system connecting the trail system in the new linear park to city-wide cycling and pedestrian networks, with particular links to the railway trail and to the Y.M.C.A.”
As for parking, the study “does not suggest additional surface parking on the site, while the current parking layout could be optimized marginally.” The study proposed underground parking be considered, although it recognized this would be a costly option.
In December 2011, Peterborough city council voted to adopt the Morrow Park Master Plan Design Study “as a guide for future planning and budgetary decisions.”
The study was still recognized as the city’s planning guide for Morrow Park as late as May 2017, when the city was negotiating with the Peterborough Agricultural Society on future development of the park. However, the only element of the study that had been implemented by that time was the demolition of the grandstand, as the city determined other options would require additional funding.
By September 2018, Morrow Park was being considered as a site for future development. That’s when Sierra Planning and Management completed a “locational analysis report” for the city with respect to a proposed multi-use sport and event centre. The report shortlisted Morrow Park as the top four out of six possible locations. The report concluded Morrow Park was a “leading site” because it was all city owned, with no third-party negotiation or acquisition required.
The report noted the city would have to pay a $500,000 “without cause” relocation payment if it terminated the Peterborough Agricultural Society’s licence agreement, and cautioned “other extant conditions built into the City of Peterborough Act may place limitations on development at Morrow Park and will require careful consideration” — a reference to the agreement between the Peterborough Agricultural Society, the City of Peterborough, and the trustees of the R. A. Morrow Memorial Park Trust that the property be used in perpetuity for a park, for recreational purposes, and for an annual agricultural exhibition.
“It is likely that any consideration of the Morrow site would provide the opportunity to revisit the existing Morrow Park Master Plan,” the report added.
In the July 2021 staff report to council recommending Morrow Park be approved for the twin-pad arena, the only reference to the Morrow Park Master Plan Design Study is as follows:
“The linear park element of design from the Council approved Phase 1 of the Morrow Park Master Plan Study 2011 as presented to Council through Report CSAD11-011 dated December 5, 2011, continues to retain high value in concept and remains as a design element to be implemented in the overall conceptual design of Morrow Park.”
In its July 5, 2021 presentation to city council, Perkins + Will Architect Canada Inc. referenced the Morrow Park Master Plan Design Study by proposing a “continuous linear park and promenade along the street front” — but as a scaled-down version of what was originally proposed in the 2011 study.
— By Bruce Head