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City drops grotto idea into an exceedingly deep hole

By Carol Martin
Monday, June 27, 2011

Sault Ste. Marie City Council is expected to decide tonight whether it wants to review its past and current policies on the use, development and naming of public lands, including but not limited to parks.

Of course, that would include the controversial grotto dedicated to the Virgin Mary, proposed for Prince Island in Bellevue Park.

Part of that review process would include input from the public, as well as the City's municipal heritage committee, historic sites board and its parks and recreation advisory committee (PRAC).

In recent years, PRAC has developed a reputation as a kind of Bermuda Triangle of local politics - any hot-button political issue sent there by City Council is in danger of never being seen again for many months, even years.

The question of what to do with the Sault's beloved locomotive, Porter is an example of an issue on which PRAC deliberated for years.

PRAC took many months to make a recommendation on a leash-free dog park.

A feud between local swim clubs also moved like molasses through whatever labyrinthine process PRAC uses to reach its decisions.

So, if City Council passes a motion before it tonight, the grotto and anything else to be placed in a City park may well disappear into the inner workings of PRAC for at least another term of City Council.

The motion to be place before Council follows:

Mover: Councillor P. Mick

Seconder: Councillor P. Christian

Whereas a group of local businessmen approached the City in late summer 2010 regarding the possibility of receiving approval for "the development of a historic religious grotto dedicated to Saint Mary on Prince Island in Bellevue Park for residents and tourists at no cost to the City, subject to an appropriate use and maintenance agreement"; and

Whereas the request was received by City staff which determined that the location would not interfere with the burial site of Colonel John Prince and also that the proposal was consistent with the City's Bellevue Park's Master Strategy, last updated in 1999; and

Whereas the proposal was presented and considered by City Council at its meeting of September 13, 2010, where it received support from the Economic Development Corporation and Tourism Sault Ste. Marie, given its potential as a
destination attraction in a growing religious travel market; and

Whereas the past City Council approved the request, subject to the matter returning for further review of the terms of an appropriate use and maintenance agreement; and

Whereas since this preliminary approval, the current Council, which includes six new members, has received considerable negative feedback about the appropriateness of the location for the proposed grotto, resulting in a public meeting being held on June 16, 2011 to allow an appropriate forum for the discussion of such concerns; and

Whereas it appears prudent for the City to review its past and current policies, as well as processes which determine the appropriate use, development, and naming of public lands, including but not limited to parks which are located
throughout the City; and

Whereas such a review should include an update of the City's Bellevue and Strathclair Park Master Plans, as well as master plans for neighbourhood parks in light of the consolidation of schools and disposition of school properties which have provided recreational opportunities throughout our community; and

Whereas the review should include an opportunity for input to be provided by the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee, the Municipal Heritage Committee, the Historic Sites Board and the general public;

Now Therefore Be It Resolved that staff provide to Council a further report setting out the specific steps and timeframes, as well as costs, if any, for such a review;

Further Be It Resolved that final approval for any new non-traditional uses of public lands in Sault Ste. Marie, including the use and maintenance agreement for the grotto, be deferred until such review has been concluded.

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