City steps back from Silver Birch boathouse plans

After a high-intensity public meeting at the Balmy Beach Club on March 28, Ward 32 councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon and the city’s Parks, Forestry and Recreation department have announced they will be backing off on a plan to evict boats from the Silver Birch Boathouse.

For those without personal watercraft, the boathouse may be best known as either the start and finish line of the annual Beaches Spring Sprint, or alternately, that white garage-type building on the beach just east of the Balmy Beach Club.

Those with boats stored in the facility received letters from the city in February informing them the boathouse would be the subject of an upcoming Request For Proposals process, and requesting the removal of all watercraft by the end of October.

Some at the public meeting voiced concerns about the potential “commercialization” of the Beach. McMahon said she heard “loud and clear” that both those with boats stored in the facility and other Beach residents were not interested in seeing a private operator take over the management of the building.

Possible uses that had been proposed included boat rentals and a café.

McMahon had heard from some constituents that the facility should be more accessible to the general public, not just the users of the 140 boats stored in the space. Parks staff also mentioned that the city had no interest in being in the business of boat storage.

However, many at the March 28 meeting decried the lack of any public consultation ahead of the decision to open up the building to other uses.

McMahon said over the coming weeks, the city will organize a citizen group to come up with recommendations on ways to activate the boathouse. There will be public consultation before any ideas are implemented.

“We’re going to slow it right down, we’re going to form a working group which the city will lead,” said McMahon. “We hope to attract all stakeholders, community groups, key residents, boaters, whomever, and we’ll just continue the conversation on what to do.”

The Beaches Recreation Centre’s Advisory Council had presented its own recommendations to the Parks department before the letter was sent out, in order to increase usage of the facility. Those suggestions included evicting unused boats, automating and charging a small fee for the waiting list and increasing rent to something closer resembling market rates.

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