CBRM Council: Recreation, Rapid Housing, Self-Appreciation

The CBRM council meeting on Tuesday began with an acknowledgement of the passing a former alderman in the City of Sydney.

This will probably be an unpopular opinion, but I’m not sure about this tradition of noting the passing of anyone who ever served on a municipal council in CBRM. No disrespect to the man in question, who sounds like a fine person, I just find it all a little too clubby.

And speaking of clubby, did you see where the CBRM presented Queen Elizabeth Platinum Jubilee Medals to 16 of its own employees—including the municipal clerk, the municipal solicitor and the municipal communications person—and 12 police officers for, essentially, doing their jobs during and post-Hurricane Fiona? (I realize the medals were awarded by the province but am assuming it was the CBRM that submitted the nominations, although I stand to be corrected.)

What about the people who were still homeless a month after Fiona? What about the grocery store clerks and delivery people and nurses and cleaners who worked through the earliest, scariest waves of COVID? Where are their medals?

Bah humbug, I think is what I’m trying to say.


It’s fun to stay at the…

Before I go any further, I should note that the meeting was held via Zoom because of yesterday’s snowstorm and District 2 Councilor Earlene MacMullin sent her regrets.

Sabrina Vatcher, CEO of the YMCA of Cape Breton, made a presentation to council that seemed to be designed chiefly to remind councilors of the Y’s existence.

In keeping with modern practice, she managed it without once mentioning the word “Christian” which always kind of cracks me up—like the way KFC decided to stop mentioning the word “fried.”

But I don’t mean to be snarky, I’m a big fan of the YMCA (and the YWCA, at least, the one in Montreal, which is the only one I’ve been to) and I thought Vatcher had a nice presence and gave a good presentation.

She said the YMCA, which has facilities on Charlotte Street in Sydney, in Membertou and in Port Hawkesbury, is at 92% of its pre-COVID membership numbers and its childcare program is “filled to capacity.”

She recounted the organization’s efforts during Hurricane Fiona, which saw it opening its Charlotte Street and Membertou facilities the Monday after the storm to anyone in need of a shower, a cup of tea, something to eat or a chance to recharge their electronic devices and was able to assist 4,000 visitors over the week.

Then she got to what I think was the heart of the matter: YMCA municipal partnerships. She offered a list of programs frequently delivered by Ys on behalf of municipalities:

Then she ran through a slideshow of YMCAs, all of which seem to enjoy more support from their host municipalities than ours does. These included:


Ches Penney Family YMCA, St. John’s, Newfoundland

This facility (which looks rather spectacular and includes a double gym) is YMCA-owned but receives “annual grants from the municipality to run programming.”

Photos of the Ches Penney Family YMCA, St. John's, Newfoundland




Marystown YMCA, Marystown, Newfoundland

The Marystown YMCA receives an annual grant from the municipality to operate this 33,000-square-foot facility owned by the municipality. “This model,” Vatcher suggested, “serves well for towns with small populations where a membership-based model would be a challenge.”

The Marystown Y also works with a local community advisory committee, made up of representatives of the Y, the municipality and the broader community, to “advise on local needs and community programming.”


Photo of the Marystown, Newfoundland, YMCA


YMCA of Cumberland, Amherst, NS

This is a YMCA-owned facility that receives contributions both from the Town of Amherst and the Municipality of Cumberland to provide services “and most importantly, to ensure that the pool remains open to the community.”

Photo of the YMCA of Cumberland, Amherst, NS.


YMCA-YWCA of Kamloops, BC

The City of Kamloops provides the Y with an annual grant to provide programming for “in-need populations” and a further annual grant to subsidize pool operations and provide “municipal swimming opportunities.”

Photo of the Kamloops, BC YMCA-YWCA

Sarnia-Lambton YMCA Jerry McCaw Family Centre, Sarnia, ON

Both the municipal and provincial governments contributed “generously,” said Vatcher, to the construction of this $7 million YMCA which provides municipal swimming programs, public recreational swimming and “other programs to the general public.”

Photo of the YMCA of Sarnia-Lambton


YMCA of Cape Breton

The CBRM contributed “generously, as well to the tune of $1.5 million” to the renovation of the Frank Rudderham YMCA on Charlotte Street in 2010, said Vatcher. The municipality also gives the YMCA an annual break on its property taxes and CBRM employees are part of the YMCA’s corporate membership program. This past year, she said, the CBRM also gave the Y a municipal grant (she didn’t say what it was worth) for the purchase of pool equipment.

Photo of the YMCA of Cape Breton, Charlotte St, Sydney, NS

Vatcher concluded with this message:

We’re here to help and we’re ready to partner.

Her list of areas in which the Y could potentially partner with the CBRM began with this:

As you think of expanding C200, think of your YMCA as a partner, a stakeholder in which to consult, a leader in the community in delivering health and wellness facilities and programming.

Other areas included delivering programming on behalf of the municipality’s recreation department and serving as a “safe place to gather ” in an emergency.

Following the presentation, Mayor Amanda McDougall-Merrill noted that it was time to revisit the CBRM’s recreation master plan in light of our increasing population, which could obviously involve consultation with the YMCA. She also asked Vatcher about the availability of the YMCA’s sports courts, given the much-discussed  shortage of such facilities in the community, and Vatcher said she felt the Y could help with that.

District 1 Councilor Gordon MacDonald complained the YMCA had “absolutely no” presence on the Northside and wondered if there was any thought of remedying this. Vatcher said she couldn’t speak to why there was no presence there (she’s only been on the job for 13 months) but said they have some programs—like a seniors’ nutrition and fitness program and an exercise program for people living with cancer—that they don’t require “a 60,000 square-foot-building in North Sydney” to offer. She said they’d be happy to partner with other organizations to do so.


Rapid Housing Revisited

The CBRM is making an effort to put the “rapid” in “Rapid Housing” and I have to say, I’m here for it.

As you may recall, New Dawn Enterprises is applying for funding from the federal government’s Rapid Housing Initiative (RHI) to build 40 units of supportive housing for people with mental health and addictions issues in CBRM (but outside of Sydney). On January 31, the organization’s project manager for housing development, Alyce MacLean, appeared before council to ask it to sell New Dawn 11 properties previously declared surplus for the sum of $1.

A photo of Sheila Kolanko, CBRM property manager.

Sheila Kolanko

CBRM property manager Sheila Kolanko said the matter required council approval because New Dawn wasn’t going to pay market price for the properties. Kolanko said CBRM staff were in the process of reviewing the properties to be sure they could be sold (why this wouldn’t have been done BEFORE adding them to the surplus properties list escapes me—especially given these properties have been on the list for 11 years, but whatever).

Kolanko returned to council on Tuesday to report that staff had completed an internal review of all 11 properties and determined that seven are not required for municipal purposes, have no issues, and are, indeed, surplus.

Three of the properties are not required by the CBRM, but are subject to “possible encroachment” and the final property is not required by the CBRM but staff recommends “retaining a portion” of it for future maintenance.

Kolanko also added that any proposed transfer of land would be subject to surveys, title searches, compliance with land use by-laws, land-use permits and any other applicable legislation and any costs related to any of this would be the responsibility of the purchaser.

The assessed value of 10 of the properties is $127,700 while an 11th property is not currently assessed. Kolanko said the municipal tax department has contacted the Property Valuation Services Corporation (PVSC) which is working to add it to the assessment role.

Because the property is being conveyed at less than market value—something the municipality may do if it feels the project will be beneficial to the community—a public hearing must be held. Kolanko says the municipal clerk’s office is working to schedule one in line with New Dawn’s deadline to apply for funding, which is March 15.

New Dawn’s Erica Shea was in attendance and had to offer two “clarifications” to statements made by councilors, first, that the project envisions the construction of 1, 2, 3 and 4-bedroom units not 1, 2, 3 and 4-unit buildings (the biggest unit planned will be a duplex) and second, that New Dawn has not “sold off” all its rental housing. She said it has sold off some older units to allow it to re-invest in new ones.

List of surplus CBRM properties

Asked if New Dawn planned to consult all the neighbors around these properties about the proposed housing, Shea noted that public consultation is part of the CBRM’s process and while New Dawn would be happy to participate in the public hearing it will not be conducting its own public consultation. She also said that in all the years New Dawn has been providing supportive housing they’ve had few problems with neighbors and she pointed out that some municipalities have actually chosen to forgo public consultation on such projects to avoid any not-in-my-back-yardism.

District 5 Councilor Eldon MacDonald was very concerned about what would happen to these properties if they weren’t developed as planned and Kolanko explained they could attach a covenant to the transfer saying that if development didn’t happen within the 18-month period allowed under the RHI program, the properties would be returned to the CBRM for $1. (Where, presumably, they’d continue to sprout weeds as they’ve done for the past 11 years.)

In the end, council voted to approve the transfer of the properties to New Dawn as requested so next up is that public hearing.


File Under: Say What?

The province just—as in, this past December—paid the CBRM $900,000 it was owed for cleanup of the 2016 Thanksgiving floods (the result of Hurricane Matthew) and it still owes the municipality $900,000 for cleanup from Hurricane Dorian (2019), however this claim needs to be resubmitted.

But that wasn’t even the strangest part of this brief discussion of the municipality’s finances, the strangest part was District 5 Councilor Eldon MacDonald’s saying that the CBRM had “just received a scathing letter from our provincial government on the inability of our municipality to be sustainable.”

Scathing letter from the province? I think we all need to see that.