Lanarkist

‘Incredible asset that’s underutilized’: Smiths Falls looks for partnerships to make Canal District dream a reality

The Canal District has been a topic of discussion for Smiths Falls council as they look to implement a revitalization plan that will take strong partnerships with surrounding landowners and more than 20 years to come to fruition. – GSP Group drone photo

It’s a huge asset that’s underutilized, but will take more than the town’s nod to come to fruition.

Smiths Falls Town Council examined the Centre Street Area Revitalization Master Plan (Canal District) at a committee of the whole meeting on June 24.

Project manager Raj Mohabeer from GSP Group emphasized that this is an implementation plan, not just a planning document. The plan, which may take 20 years to complete, requires flexibility and strong infrastructure to succeed. He stressed the importance of building partnerships, as no community can afford such an investment alone.

Mohabeer highlighted the town’s underutilized asset, and part of the revitalization plan suggests extending the network from the downtown core into Centre Street and toward the water. He presented visionary goals from a public session held 18 months ago, focusing on celebrating the past and promoting sustainability.

The plan builds on previous town efforts and involves targeted engagement with surrounding property owners of the hotel, Giant Tiger, and the bus line, as well as with Parks Canada.

Resolving minor property issues is essential to create the necessary infrastructure for development, the consultant said.

“The property owners need to be successful to help implement the vision because nobody can do this on their own,” Mohabeer noted.

He presented a drawing showing potential park areas and a boardwalk along the waterfront, considering the 30-metre setback from the water that is required for development.

Ownership of the canal wall is a critical issue, as it is unclear who owns it. The wall’s maintenance and possible reconstruction are priorities, which will impact decisions about boat docking and canal wall plates’ depth. The hotel currently within the 30-metre setback will be affected by this plan.

Mohabeer suggested two-lane streets with on-street parking and grand boulevards without curbing to create an accessible and intimate space for walking and cycling. He proposed paying homage to the old water tower as a centrepiece for a roundabout, potentially featuring a farmers’ market or grocery store. An iconic bridge or pedestrian bridge could also be significant.
“This is a 20- to 25-year plan or ‘build-out,’ but there are some things that need to happen soon, like in the next two years, to build on this revitalization plan,” Mohabeer said.

The two-year plan includes:

  • Advocating for Canal District
  • Aligning regulating documents
  • Resolving property ownership issues
  • Modernizing utilities
  • Assessing the canal’s state and needs
  • Understanding property disposition
  • Planning the waterfront trail

The five-year plan includes:

  • Maintaining relationships
  • Investing in municipal infrastructure
  • Planning for relocating Lock Gate Manufacturing
  • Extending Bay Street and open space
  • Repairing the canal wall
  • Obtaining planning permissions for buildings
  • Extending Market Street
  • Building the waterfront trail

The 10-year plan includes:

  • Maintaining relationships
  • Relocating Lock Gate Manufacturing
  • Developing event lawns, boardwalks, and festival streets
  • Facilitating building construction
  • Programming events
  • Transitioning to a business district

Mayor Shawn Pankow praised the plan as “very inspiring,” emphasizing the opportunity it represents and the need for council’s commitment. He acknowledged the importance of influencing partners like Parks Canada to execute the vision.

Pankow raised concerns about the community’s ability to justify the investment required, seeking a confidence vote.

Mohabeer noted that the private sector needs to undertake most of the building, with the town incentivizing development through streamlined planning processes and infrastructure investments.

Economic development manager Julia Crowder estimates an investment of about $9 million from the town over the next two to five years for road expansions, easements, and infrastructure work.

More analysis and cost estimation are needed for a long-term plan.

Coun. Jennifer Miller requested input from the Downtown Smiths Falls Business Association, which will discuss the plan in July.

Pankow stressed the importance of resolving canal wall ownership, as significant investment might be required, potentially delaying the project.

Crowder outlined the next steps, including investigating land ownership and easements. Starting a trail along the side is a small but achievable win.

Council opted to move the discussion and any decision to the next council meeting in two weeks, and if there are any further issues or discussions then it will come to the next committee of the whole.


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