Central land transfer sparks legal challenge

CENTRAL MANITOULIN—The transfer of just over an acre of municipal park property to private businesses has raised alarm bells with descendants of the original donor of the property and sparked a legal notice from a lawyer’s office that a challenge of the sale may be forthcoming, but the municipality maintains those concerns are unfounded.

“A little over two acres” of property was sold to two Mindemoya businesses whose properties abut the 44-acre Wagg’s Wood, as the property is generally known locally in Mindemoya, leaving 42 acres remaining in the park.

“What we had originally, was that (a local business) came to us with a request to purchase the land. They had purchased the old Martin home next door and they wanted to straighten out the lot lines,” said Central Manitoulin Mayor Richard Stephens. “That involved about an acre and a half all told.” Another local business approached the town following the first request asking for similar consideration.

There were three properties involved in the transfer, which the municipality maintains did not require a severance due to the severed land being owned by the municipality and not subject to the provisions of the Municipal Act governing the disposition of public lands. According to municipal officials, the town’s own bylaws permit the transfer.

“We discussed it at committee and decided that it was a good business decision for our community,” said Mayor Stephens. “It was a good opportunity for development of our business community and a good use of that property.”

“It involved about two-and-a-half acres and doesn’t impact on the use of Wagg’s Park,” said Mayor Stephens. “There is still another 42 acres there.”

But the Manitoulin Nature Club (MNC) say they are concerned about the impact the removal of trees will have on a seasonal stream bed that runs through the property.

“We felt that we needed to express our concern,” said MNC vice-president Marcel Beneteau. “We felt it was kind of shocking.”

The club wrestled with a wide range of rumours and whether the land in question had been donated as a park, but in the end they based their concerns on what they knew—the impact the changes to the property in question would have.

“There is a stream that runs through that property that is quite active in the springtime, but which is almost non-existent by this time of year.” The heavy forest through which the streambed runs shelters a number of plants that do not thrive in direct sunlight, he pointed out.

“We also realize that two acres out of 44 might not seem like much in itself, but we are concerned about the precedent and the whittling away of the property,” said Mr. Beneteau. “What’s done is done,” he continued of the current state of the property.

In another development, the law offices of Patricia L. Meehan have been retained to deal with concerns about the property and her office placed a legal notice in The Expositor warning “persons and entities who purchase from the Municipality of Central Manitoulin any of the above noted lands do so at his/her/their own risk and subject to the potential title issues and claim.”

Ms. Meehan alleges that the municipality did not follow proper procedure in disposing of the property, in spite of assurances from the municipal office.

“They can say whatever they want,” she said. “There are laws governing the disposition of public lands.” Those regulations, she maintains, dictate that the property being contemplated for sale must be advertised prior to the bylaw and then must be placed on public offer. “There was no notice,” she said, “the Municipal Act was not followed.”

Ms. Meehan maintained that municipal business must be conducted with transparency and that accountability through process is paramount when it comes to dealing with public assets.