Protecting Pointe Beach in Cupids

Public briefing attracts large crowd; generates plenty of discussion

Terry Roberts
Published on February 22, 2013
Some of those who attended a public briefing in Cupids earlier this month. Pictured here are, from left, Suzanne Break, deputy mayor Harold Akerman, Robert Bishop, planning consultant Arvo McMillan, and Mayor Ross Dawe.
Photo by Terry Roberts/The Compass

Editor's note: the following article was first published in the Feb. 19, 2013 print edition of The Compass.

A public briefing in Cupids last week to seek input from residents about an intention to protect and enhance an area of the historic harbour known as Pointe Beach generated plenty of discussion and varying opinions.

But municipal leaders believe a vast majority of the town's roughly 760 citizens overwhelmingly support the concept, and vow to push forward with plans to acquire ownership of the Crown land and develop a recreational marina that will sustain itself through user fees and other revenue sources.

It's argued that a marina will evolve into yet another "key community asset" in the town, which was thrust into the national spotlight in 2010 during celebrations to mark the 400th anniversary of the establishment of Cuper's Cove, considered by historians as the first English settlement in Canada.

The celebration has left a lasting imprint on the town, most notably a renowned heritage interpretation facility known as the Cupids Legacy Centre.

The Feb. 12 meeting attracted more than 50 people, which is a healthy turnout by most standards. It was hosted by municipal planning consultant Arvo McMillan, who has been hired by the town to oversee a proposed amendment to the town's municipal plan and development regulations.

Council approved the spending of some $25,000 at a public meeting earlier this month in order to acquire McMillan's services. The money will come from revenues received through the town's share of the federal "gas tax."

Docks and harbours

The proposed amendment will add the term "transportation" as a discretionary use in areas zoned as rural. Specifically, the amendment will allow, at the discretion of council, the construction of docks and harbours along the shoreline.

Under the current regulations, such activities are prohibited.

Council has applied to the provincial government to take full ownership of Pointe Beach, a unique peninsula of land that juts into the harbour from Seaforest Drive, and protects a small barachois known as Saltwater Pond.

The "beach," as it's known locally, was considered a eyesore until significant government funds were used to upgrade the site prior to the 2010 celebrations. It is now home to the annual Cuper's Cove Soiree summer festival, and is a popular area for boaters seeking a sheltered and accessible place to moor their small craft.

A newly formed Cupids boat owners association - comprised entirely of volunteers - has been formed to administer the beach on behalf of the town, but its mandate is stalled until the town can take ownership of the site, and the zoning amendment is made.

"Right now we have no say," Deputy Mayor Harold Akerman stated after last week's meeting. "We just want to maintain what's there. We don't want it to fall down. And we can't do anything until the word 'transportation' is included in our discretionary use."

User fees

Mayor Ross Dawe said the town does not have the financial wherewithal to maintain the property, so a user fee system is necessary.

"If we don't get revenue it will all fall down like it did before," Dawe said, adding, "Ninty-nine per cent of the boat owners are willing to pay a fee to have a place to tie up their boat."

A spokesman for the boat owners association, Robert Bishop, said the potential at Pointe Beach is tremendous.

Dawe said the intent is to "facilitate community development and sustainability," and the effort seems to have widespread support.

McMillan received a petition signed by some 60 people, backing efforts to "create a long-term legacy of harbourfront infrastructure" that will meet the needs of both residents and non-residents.

There were also seven letters of support, including one from Peter Laracy, who manages the Legacy Centre. Laracy said a well developed harbour is an essential component in efforts to establish what he called a cultural destination.

"The assets of Pointe Beach are an important component in reflecting our culture, as well as our past and current way of life," Laracy stated.

"It is truly a special place, uniquely positioned directly across from the archeological site. One can stand there and truly get a vivid sense of our rich history."

In private hands

Meanwhile, support for the concept is by no means unanimous. One speaker at the meeting, Leonard Martin, suggested the town was planning to develop a "commercial marina" and questioned whether some traditional activities may soon be a thing of the past.

He wondered who would operate the marina, how much it would cost to develop, and how much it would cost the town?

Martin is worried the marina will be operated by a "private individual," and reminded those at the meeting that "landowners have been threatened with expropriation."

"If this becomes a commercial marina, will there be a chain put across?" Martin asked.

Indeed, there is plenty of evidence along the shoreline to suggest a land battle is brewing. New fencing has been installed in recent years, land pegs have been slammed into the ground, and "private property" signs are about as common as the ducks in the pond.

When asked about the vision for Pointe Beach, Mayor Dawe said those decisions will likely be made by the next town council, which will be elected in September.

"In the future there will be a plan drawn up for the pond, in conjunction between the town and the boat owners," said Dawe.

To which Deputy Mayor Akerman added: "It will never include a commercial marina. It will be classed as a recreational marina."

If the town chooses to proceed with the amendment, a formal public hearing, chaired by a commissioner appointed by council, will take place. That's likely to occur sometime before the end of March, said McMillan.