Neighbouring residents urge council to hit pause button on Lions Park redevelopment

KINGSVILLE — A group of Kingsville residents has asked council to pause future development of Lions Park, citing the continued unruly behaviour at the park beyond the dusk-to-dawn curfew.

Justin Lafontaine, representing a group of residents whose backyards border the park, said the steps taken by the town to curb rowdyism — the curfew, barriers to block cars driving into the park and increased police patrols — have not worked.

He said that over the last two years residents along Division, Elm and Queen streets have put up with noise, foul language, aggressive behaviour, loud music, littering and “inappropriate activities.”

“Even with those efforts, the issues have kept occurring,” Lafontaine said. “This tells us the current plan is not working. Further redevelopment would exacerbate the issues we are dealing with.”

The request for a pause comes two weeks after council approved the second phase of a four-phase plan to expand the number of attractions and uses at the park. Lions Park currently has a basketball court and a paved walking path. The second phase calls for expansion of the paved trail, addition of a multi-use court, the building of a shade structure and more landscaping. Subsequent phases include children’s playground equipment, a courtyard area near the parking lot, a washroom, creating an access point to Division Street and paving the parking lot.

Lafontaine felt the development plans are not compatible with the small size of the park. He said the park is set back from Mill Street and provides “a secluded, unsupervised gathering area.”

Lafontaine and the 18 residents he represented feel the park should be “repurposed” to include more native trees, natural areas and gardens to attract butterflies and pollinating bees. He said the basketball court should be moved to another Kingsville park and the remaining paved surface used as a chalk painting area for young children. He also suggested natural plantings along the perimeter of the park to act as a buffer for surrounding homes. A Park Watch program, to be operated in co-operation with the OPP, the town, residents and volunteers was also recommended.

Coun. Tony Gaffan said the park upgrades have been at least six years in the making. He said he has spoken with families who enjoy the park because they don’t need a car to use the basketball court, walking trail and open space. “I don’t believe in putting a pause on it because we have some issues. You fix those issues and you move forward,” he said.

Gaffan said the more the park is used by young families with children the less it will be used by teenagers and young adults looking for a place to be unruly. The town has already tendered the work for the second phase and Coun. Larry Patterson expressed concern about whether the town could legally pause, delay or cancel the latest redevelopment.

Town COA John Norton said he would have to speak with the contractor about the starting date for the latest phase and any legal obligations the town may need to observe.

He said there were other steps the town could take to help clamp down on rowdyism and unruly behaviour.

“I know that we put up some temporary barricades to stop hooligans from driving in the park when they’re not supposed to. That was really a temporary measure that we did quickly with some planters but I think we can put up some more permanent barricades to stop that.”

He said signs can be “amended” to include more prohibited activities. At least one car owner has been ticketed by police for ignoring the barriers and driving into the park.

Lafontaine said the pause would allow town staff, council and residents to review and evaluate the current plans for the park and develop uses “more appropriate for its unique setting.”

He said the residents were not in favour of adding security lighting at night and cited the town’s goal of being night-sky compliant.Councillors will make a decision on the residents’ concerns at the next council meeting.

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