When my family moved to Milton five years ago, what is now Sunny Mount Park was just a field. My kids and I would play at the playground on the south end of our neighbourhood, where I’d talk to many other parents while our kids played.
I had no idea, at the time, that there was another playground slated for our giant neighbourhood. Neighbours excitedly shared with me that they lived on properties a stone’s throw from where a new park would be built, with an off-leash dog-park, playground and splash pads just atop the hill off Ruhl. They bought their properties because of their proximity to the park, and when the town began building it, neighbours rejoiced. Finally, their park, the one that had been waiting years for, the one they intentionally bought properties across the street from, was finally getting built.
The park is amazing. It has accessible swings, a wonderful splash pad, a giant dog park, and basketball courts. But it’s just not a park.
Let me explain.
Sunny Mount Park sits on old farmland, with a beautiful old farmhouse nestled among the trees the dog park backs on to. It also sits just metres from where 1,000 children attend Anne J. MacArthur Public School. What that means is that this historic location is accessible to the overflowing school to bring children for play time and nature walks. What it also means is that teachers, like grade 8 teacher Mr. Osborne, take children there for Mindful Mondays. Osborne explained at a town hall meeting back in March what it is that makes this opportunity so valuable to his young teenage students. He spoke of the rates of anxiety in children in this age group and the value of mindfulness. Sunny Mount Park, he explained, was an antidote to the stresses that young teens face on a daily basis.
My daughter spoke at that same town hall meeting. She is 8 years old and shy but she loves the park. A student at AJM, my daughter Abigail has spent a lot of time in that park. There is an owl there, she explains. His name is Sammy, she says.
Now, let me back up.
About a year ago, a sign went up at our beloved park. It seems a parcel of the land atop the hill, adjacent to, and including the historical property, had the potential of being rezoned to allow a commercial property. That the land had been sold by the town to a developer was news to everyone in the neighbourhood. That such a sale could result in the development of a 3-storey, 30,000 square foot behemoth of a medical building, smack dab in the middle of the park, well, that was news to everyone too, including the town who sold the property in the first place.
And so, there we were, standing room only in town council chambers back in March of this year, dozens of delegates from the town raising concerns from traffic to safety to taking away Sammy the owl’s home.
That my shy child got up in front of this room, that other children did too, that resident after resident after resident got up and voiced their concerns about the proposal speaks highly of the value we in this community give this park. What felt evident at that meeting is that the developers did not care that my child cried, literally cried, asking them to leave her park alone. They didn’t appear to care that we don’t want their property in the middle of our park.
They said at that meeting that they heard our raised voices at a meeting held at the Milton Sports Centre earlier in the year and that they were going to provide a revised plan, taking the building down a storey, so it would only be 2-storeys, and down 500 square metres. But they never did submit that revised plan, and when the developer appealed to the OMB because the town had not responded to their initial proposal while waiting on the revised one, they went to the OMB with the original, 3-storey plan.
It feels like they don’t care about our neighbourhood, our concerns, or that park. That they don’t care that kids cried, begging them to leave that park alone. That they don’t care about the traffic concerns or the safety concerns or the fact that park is a focal point of the school’s daily programming. That they don’t care that a proposed medical building, just around the corner from this proposed medical building failed to secure enough interest to be built. That they don’t care that a medical building in the middle of a park makes no sense. It also feels like they don’t seem to care, at all, about the historical building that they were supposed to incorporate into their plans. The building which has fallen into complete disrepair since they bought the property.
Did they ever plan to incorporate the historical building? Look at their plans. It’s not there. Given its current state, I don’t know how it will survive without a serious financial investment to repair it.
This past Monday, on September 11, community members once again filled Town Hall chambers to reiterate their concerns and to have their voices again be heard loud and clear, against the proposed building. Council heard and echoed the sentiments of the delegates and officially voted against the plan. They, like the rest of us, were less than impressed that the builder saw fit to appeal to the OMB just a month after the council meeting in March. Not exactly the mark of a company who is genuinely considering thoughts about our raised voices or our children’s tears, nor our legitimate concerns.
The meeting at the OMB is set for October 25 and members of our neighbourhood and our town council plan to be there to continue our fight. To the developer, maybe it’s just a property. To us, it’s our park. It is the centre of our community. It’s where Sammy lives, our kids play, our dogs run free, our children pass through en route to school, our students learn about nature and have time for mindfulness. It’s not real estate to us. It’s our Sunny Mount Park.