Special to The Lake Report
Town councillors chose to honour a handshake agreement purportedly made between Grace United Church and the town in the 1960s to provide the church with total access to the four parking spaces outside the church on Victoria Street.
Town staff have been unable to find any documentation relating to the agreement. “Without a written agreement, town staff is challenged to validate that such an agreement existed,” according to a report to council's committee of the whole on March 15.
Some councillors felt a written record of the agreement was unnecessary in order for council to honour it.
“Years ago, when things were done in municipalities – all municipalities – a lot of things were done by a handshake. No agreements had to be signed,” Lord Mayor Betty Disero said.
“I believe in my heart of hearts that an agreement was made back in the '60s.”
The report recommended that one of the parking spots be reserved for the minister and the other three have a one-hour time limit, in order to ensure turnover in the already crowded downtown district. One of the spots would be reserved for people with an accessible parking permit.
At Disero's suggestion, council on March 22 approved an updated motion and decided to lease all four parking spots over to the church, “at a cost of $1.”
Coun. Wendy Cheropita argued against deviating from the original motion, saying she felt the staff recommendations were a “win-win solution, one that provides benefit for everyone.”
Grace United Church has been complaining to the town since at least 2010 that the spots outside of the church had been co-opted for public use, even going so far as to install signs last December delineating the spots as being the property of the church before seeking municipal consent, according to the report.
The church was able to produce a receipt showing that it had paid for the curb to be installed outside the church on July 11, 1960. The church argued this was done in order to accommodate church parking and the designation has been lost in the flow of time, the report said.
Town staff conceded that this is indeed proof that parking spots were installed outside the church, but provides no proof that they were designated for exclusive use by Grace United.
“The staff’s opinion is that this curb was installed in 1960 as a delineation between the gravel shoulder and grass boulevard,” the report states.
During the committee of the whole, Coun. Clare Cameron argued for the importance of the church as a municipal heritage site and social hub for the residents of NOTL.
“I am disappointed, I guess, to hear about the importance of parking turnover, which I don’t recall being a strategic goal in our strategic plan, compared to the importance of preserving our heritage culture and community assets,” Cameron told councillors.
And, though originally resistant to the updated motion, Cheropita agreed the church deserved council's help, as an essential reflection of the NOTL spirit.
“People take care of each other here. We live in a kinder, nicer, gentler society, and I think that’s something we should all try to uphold,” Cheropita said in an interview Tuesday.
“In this crazy world, with such divisiveness globally, it’s so nice to be living in a community where people really take the time to take care of each other, and respect each other, and build our community toward the greater good, rather than for the individual.”