At its meeting next week, Sackville Town Council is expected to be asked to approve a new, five-year master plan that would set priorities for recreation within town limits.
The 47-page plan outlines a detailed approach to planning for recreation facilities including parks, sports fields, walking trails, the Civic Centre, school gymnasiums and the town’s 18-hole disc golf course.
Matt Pryde, Sackville’s manager of recreation, says that if it’s approved, the master plan would set priorities giving town staff long-term direction and avoiding the tendency to chase grant money as individual projects pop up.
“This way if we have something on paper that helps us prioritize our long-term vision for recreation, then we have a reason to turn down other opportunities if they don’t fit within our overall vision and scope,” he explains, adding that a recreation master plan can guide decision making.
“That’s the biggest thing for me,” Pryde says, “giving us a little bit of direction so that we know where we should be focusing our work.”
Few new projects
Pryde says the draft master plan focuses on things the town is already doing.
“There’s a lot in the plan, but a lot of it isn’t really new,” he says. “It’s stuff that’s already been looked at — it’s just a lot of ways to prioritize what we’re already doing or look at better ways of doing.”
During a brief presentation at this week’s council meeting, Pryde mentioned a few of the new plan’s highlights:
- improving connections between the town’s walking trails and its parks
- exploring the possibility of establishing a park in the old quarry near Mount Allison
- pursuing development of a fenced-in, off-leash dog park near the downtown
- establishing privately-run canoe and kayak rentals at Lillas Fawcett Park
- looking for new groups to use the Civic Centre
- holding the Sackville Street Chalk Festival every year
- evaluating development of mountain bike trails near Beech Hill Park and the Crooked Tree/Ogden Loop trail systems
During an interview later, Pryde acknowledged that some ideas in previous plans are not included in the new one such as setting up a walking track at the Civic Centre, building a pedestrian/bicycle walkway over the highway to connect the TransCanada Trail from the Waterfowl Park to Lillas Fawcett Park and establishing an 800 metre walking distance from any house in town to a park.
In putting the new plan together, town staff solicited the opinions of more than 430 people during two focus group sessions, a public consultation meeting, three online surveys as well as a booth at the Sackville Farmer’s Market.
“Everything that’s in that plan was shaped out of the data that was collected,” Pryde says. “The number of people that we had through the consultation process was quite impressive.”
To read the results of these surveys as outlined in the recreation master plan, click here.
During a six minute discussion, Councillors Bill Evans and Andrew Black expressed strong support for the new recreation master plan, while Councillors Shawn Mesheau and Bruce Phinney voiced their doubts.
Mesheau questioned why half of those included in the surveys were young people, while the draft plan itself acknowledges that most of the town’s population is over 40, with nearly a quarter over 65.
He also referred to the most recent census figures showing a 4.1% decline in the town’s population between 2011 and 2016.
“There’s discussion in that draft about a decrease in population happening,” Mesheau added, “and yet we’re talking about adding to our (recreation) infrastructure.”
He also questioned why the plan talks about a permanent Street Chalk Festival while acknowledging problems in getting people engaged in events that the town is already offering.
Both Mesheau and Phinney called for more public consultation, perhaps a public question-and-answer session that would allow people to determine whether the new plan is heading in the right direction.
Councillor Bill Evans disagreed. He said staff had done “a really good job of consulting widely” in coming up with the plan.
“If the public provided feedback, we’d have a whole bunch of different opinions that wouldn’t help us,” Evans said. “You provide the general (public) input to start with and then staff brings together a recreation master plan.”
Evans added that he liked how the process was conducted and would support approving the plan when it comes up for a vote next week.
Councillor Black said staff had pulled together information on population and age trends to come up with recommendations that he called “spot on.” He added that he liked the fact that the plan is not full of new things.
“There’s a lot of stuff that we’re doing already and anything that’s new is just fleshing out what we’re already doing,” he said, “and I think it was really well done.”
Councillor Phinney said people he’s talked to have never heard of the recreation master plan.
“They have no idea what I’m talking about,” he said, adding that the town’s communication process is not working.
“There’s a lot of people being left out,” he added, “and I think we really need to develop that before we turn around and actually approve something that only has been approved by 420 people.”
To read the draft recreation master plan, click here.
For information on how to provide comments to town staff about it, click here.