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The slings and arrows of grotto outrage

By Carol Martin
Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The controversial grotto dedicated to Virgin Mary proposed for Prince Island in Bellevue Park is gone.

For now, anyway.

City Council has decided to first create a master plan spelling out appropriate uses of recreational City land.

City staff say it's likely to take upwards of two years to create such a master plan.

Councillors elected for a time-out to make a plan before the grotto issue can return for further review of the terms of an appropriate use and maintenance agreement.

"This places it on hold and on the back burner until we develop policies and procedures for our public lands," said Mayor Debbie Amaroso.

Only Ward 4 Councillor Lou Turco voted against the motion.

Ward 6 Councillor Frank Manzo was absent due to a scheduling conflict.

Turco argued that the motion was inappropriate because it was improperly revisiting a decision made by City Council in the past.

Council had already decided to allow the grotto if a use and maintenance agreement could be worked out, he said.

"This is one step backward in terms of the process," Turco said. "We should discuss the grotto and do this as well."

The goal, said Mayor Amaroso, is to design a process with attached policies that will ensure that public recreational lands are used appropriately.

"This is a huge subject," said Ward 3 Councillor Pat Mick, mover of the motion. "We should have some sort of master plan here."

The motion's seconder, Ward 1 Councillor Paul Christian, said the motion would correct past missteps and ensure they are not repeated.

Christian said he's sure that proponents of the grotto have absolutely the best intentions in mind, but the community should have had an opportunity to have input about the project before City Council makes any decisions about it.

"I hope that this moves forward in a timely fashion," Christian said.

The motion by Mick and Christian asks staff to come back to City Council with a report outlining how long it would take to make a master plan for City recreation lands, how much it will cost and how best it can be done.

Ward 4 Councillor Rick Nero wanted to know how long it would take to draft such a report.

"This could get very complicated," said Commissioner of Public Works and Transportation Jim Elliot. "The fall would probably be a reasonable time to get the report back before council."

Planning Director Don McConnell also said he didn't believe the report City Council was asking for in this motion could be completed before the fall.

As for the plan itself - McConnell said that it would be a major undertaking that would consume much time from many staff members for at least one-and-a-half to two years.

Niro also asked City Corporate Counsel Lorie Bottos whether the grotto could somehow contravene the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

He said he had received a letter from a local lawyer saying approval of the grotto would be against the charter and wondered whether the project could be challenged on those grounds.

Bottos told Niro it would likely be disputed for a long time and could go through the courts all the way to the Supreme Court.

Ward 1 Councillor Steve Butland, who volunteered to chair the public meeting on the grotto held on June 16, said his personal feeling was that the grotto shouldn't be in Bellevue Park mainly because of the amount of public outcry against it.

"We suffered a lot of slings and arrows of outrageous fortune," Butland said of the meeting. "It was a tough meeting.... There was a tremendous push-back against this."

Butland also said he was disturbed by the divisive nature of the issue and hoped a mutually acceptable site for the grotto could be located.

He said he liked the plan for the grotto (other than its proposed location) and admired the courage and initiative of the grotto proponents.

Amaroso agreed, saying there appeared to be a general feeling both on City Council and in the community, that the grotto was a wonderful and positive idea - just not in Bellevue Park.

Niro said he would like to see City Council deal with the grotto issue first, because it had already been passed by an earlier council, then follow up with a much-needed master plan for City lands.

No motion to separate the two issues came forward, so all City Council members present with the exception of Turco went on to vote for the motion as it was.
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