Mayor Boddy, members of the City Council, Staff:

My name is Faith Leitch. I live on 3rd Avenue East in Owen Sound.

More specifically, I have been clamped to the side of the subject property, the county Courthouse / provincial jail, for over 36 years.

Our property runs 240 feet along its northern boundary and everything that happens at or around it affects us and our lives.

Previously, we lived on 2nd Avenue East for seven years, across the street from the former YMCA, so we are more than familiar with living on a busy street with an institution in the area.

We have never experienced a commercial business dumped into the midst of residences – not until now.

When the County of Grey was looking for a site to put its new buildings in 1853, it wanted to find a location that would be befitting of its stature.

Victoria Park was discounted as it was owned by the County and they wanted a property that they could purchase. The site on 3rd Avenue East was spacious, surrounded by small family farms. 

The County of Grey opened the Courthouse in 1854 with a few cells for drunks and misdemeanours, and added three sections over the next few years as more inmates were incarcerated – and some managed to escape (still were during our time). 

In 1976, the Province took over Corrections, re-designated it to a Maximum-Security Provincial Jail and leased the property from the County, on a rolling 5-year basis.

It was a "cash cow" – at the end, the lease garnered $12,000 a month in return for keeping its hands off, including the jail's behaviour and any remedial action on contamination due to asbestos, lead and chemicals most of us have never heard of.

The County and City calculated that they would never have to face the cost of cleaning it up.

Time after time, I was told that "the jail will never close", despite its age. 

In 1960, the Courthouse left after signing a two-part agreement  with Owen Sound that it had to purchase the Courthouse then, and eventually the jail section when the County no longer needed it (in other words, when the province terminated the rolling lease). 

The City forgot about that second part of the March 4, 1960, bylaw agreement.  I reminded them in the early 2000's, but they laughed it off. 

The province kept stating that it would close the old jails – 1996, 2001, 2010. With no new jails being built and the inmate population growing, the bigger locations ran out of room and started to rent space in the smaller jails. This kept them open as they struggled to "update" the operation and physical attributes of the operation.

Everything grew exponentially. 

The small blue van was turned over to a white one, complete with a loud backup beeper that made the mechanics at the local garage cringe when it came in for maintenance and repairs. 

The transfer of inmates from out-of-town (Barrie, Guelph, Toronto) and the local courtrooms, were carried out by diesel-powered paddy wagons, occasionally a 45-seat coach bus, dropping off inmates for bathroom breaks, returning to the bus with a packed lunch in a paper bag.

Garbage, that was hand-carried to the front lot, was picked up by huge dumpster trucks that shook the bins high in the air alongside the fence, alongside our rhododendrons (sometimes a tossed garbage bag flew over our fence into the gardens).

We forced the Province to move it out of the side alley to the front parking lot where it attracted pigeons and seagulls to the bulging, open bins. We had to pay for the fence in the mid-section to shelter us from the dumpster bin.

The County and the Province refused to build the fence,  the County claimed that they would not pay for the fence mandated in the 1985 zoning bylaws before we arrived (they only hold the lease), and the province/jail wouldn't pay as they were only leasing the property. 

In 2004, we forced the Province to replace the sagging chain-link ends with the balance of the fencing. Their fence ran along beside ours – a few inches away – filled with weeds and eventually saplings that caught in the fence boards.

Personal visits from prisoners' family members, quiet during the first years, became noisy as the visitors increased in relation to the increase in inmate population, and then became young "friends" loitering along our fence, the language getting even more offensive.

The  small local delivery trucks became large diesel trucks, some as large as 53 feet long. They started to show up in the early hours of the morning, violating the bylaw restriction of 8:00 a.m. 

The snow was removed during the day by a pickup truck when we arrived; by the end, it was done by a huge, front-end loader at 4:30 a m., over a 40-minute process, complete with a flashing light and backup beeper as it struggled to clear snow out of the small alley along the old garage and the under-sized parking lot of the jail section.

The staff would have to come out to the parking lot to move their vehicles in and out of the lot, laughing and shouting to each other and the operator, key fobs going off throughout.

In the middle of the winter, the front-end loader, accompanied by a series of dump trucks, moved the accumulated snow out of the front lot, over a period of three hours. 

Over the years, I grew to fear the coming of winter. Sometimes, I would have to drag my pillow to the office, on the other side of the house, to sleep on the couch.

The staff used their snowblower to blow the snow in the entrance area and along the north wall over the fence onto our flowerbeds, killing our silver lace vines, the benjamina and chain trees and eventually  the rhododendrons and the azalea bushes that we had lovingly planted in our meditation garden.

To keep the operation of the jail low key, there was no lighting in either the front parking lot or the back area. 

No signage declaring the real purpose of the jail, no eight-foot chain-link fence with barbed wire on top to protect the public from the inmates that managed to flee (installed in all other facilities). 

The property originally had a white board fence enclosing the entire property. When it rotted away, no replacement was made, from our information.

The province refused to put a sallieport entrance into the outer wall (like the Walkerton Jail) to provide egress in and out of the vehicles transporting inmates, instead loading and unloading prisoners along the fence, at the front of the old garage, along our fence. 

They put large lights on the north courtyard exterior walls that flooded our yard at night – against the bylaw preventing light spilling onto an adjoining property and destruction of the night sky provision. 

We had to force the province to put scraps of aluminum sheeting over them to cut down the resulting glare – you can still see them there.

Every time something happened at another provincial jail, it started the same chain reaction here at the Owen Sound jail. That is how razor wire got added to the top of the entrance walls when inmates escaped – but only in the entrance area at the side (so people wouldn't get alarmed and ask what was happening  here). 

Eventually, a roving camera appeared at the front corner of the old garage. While working outside in our yard, we looked up and saw the camera following us around. 

The City and the police told us that we should be happy that we were being watched over in case an inmate escaped into our yard.

The camera got moved to  the south-east corner – with a shield to protect the privacy of the adjoining house.

There was no problem with the hydro going out but another jail got a generator, so a large one got installed on the south side, outside of the kitchen.

For years, the runoff from the jail's parking lot, full of oil and grit, poured onto our lawn, killing the grass and plants. 

A report by City's engineer, John McKay, proved that the City had full knowledge of it. In 2004, we forced a continuous cement curb to be put in. It was to be five feet from the property line, graded away from our property and filled with large caliper fir trees.

The Jail refused to comply with any City bylaws that did not suit them , claiming Queen's Right.

I have a letter from the Province that they would comply but their representative blocked it. 

The first section was installed less than the mandated five feet (three men stood there scratching their heads and then shrugging).

Near the end of the old garage, the Province asked to push the curbing in towards the fence with a 12-foot opening (they had been pulling the curbstones out all winter until they got the right width).

With fingers crossed that it wouldn't be noticed (after all it's easier to beg forgiveness than permission) they had it installed at 17 feet.

The trees were never planted along the fence in 2004 because the Jail didn't want to maintain them.  By now, they would have been a good size and would be affording us protection. Now, I am told by the City's Planning Department that it is impossible to plant trees large enough to do so. 

The trees were also to protect our property from snow being blown through the fence or over it. Part of the damage that we sustained was because maintenance and staff poured bags of Sifto salt along our fence then blew it over and through the fence onto our gardens and flowerbeds.

Their practice of blowing the snow through the slats of the fence along the parking lot caused us to pay for extra boards to be added to prevent that. Between the original area and the parking lot, we paid out $3,000 of our own money (at that time) – money that should have been reimbursed to us. 

Over the years, we abandoned the property along the boundary fence as people peered at us through the top and foul language overpowered us along the fence.

Eventually, we bought a trailer and moved to a campground for the summers, abandoning our home and yard.

The grounds deteriorated with the lack of care. I found it hard to care. For the last couple years, I have been struggling to clean up the yard. It's hard at my age and a diagnosis of Afib and Rheumatoid Arthritis has exacerbated my problems. This proposal has brought all the fear and angst to the forefront.

Since the jail closed and its activity stopped, our neighbourhood has returned to peace and quiet, pigeons and seagulls no longer feeding on the garbage surrounding the dumpster have disappeared, replaced by the songbirds driven away with all the noise generated by the jail functions. No backup beepers, no diesel fumes, no foul language, no prisoners yelling at me from the jail's cell block and former Governor's Residence, no maintenance work by prisoners on the sidewalk beside our fence, alongside the meditation garden that we had to abandon.

Just peace and quiet, decency.

Now, you might ask what all this experience has to do with all this situation. 

What is the connection? What has all this history to do with the current situation? 

Well, except for the razor wire (I hope) it will be a repeat performance, all the anxiety of loss of quiet enjoyment of our property will be violated.

It is a Provincial Offence to cause harm to someone or their property, including loss of privacy and enjoyment of property.  A possible fine of $5,000 can be laid.  From reading all the materials supplied by the owner, attending two meetings with the City's Planning Department, and making enquiries, I have gleaned a ton of information. Not only will there be a loading dock at my side (the delivery drivers, for the most part, kept their trucks out in the parking lot) but there is a second one planned on the south side. Due to lack of space, the snow removal will be accompanied by dump trucks most times to clear it.

I have seen the site plans, preliminary as they might be.  There are elements missing:  curbing ( I was told that the current one was from an old 1985 zoning bylaw and not required -- no, it is bylaw 5.23.2 from the current 2010 set) , fencing (in order to do its job of screening us, what is the height and material and will our trees be damaged) , lighting (where, how many, what kind -- there are bylaw requirements),  dumpster and enclosure locations, proper tree and plants lists including names, sizes, etc., storage of snow in the front lot, the problem of the small 5-foot strips in the back lot that are totally inadequate for the amount of snow we get in Owen Sound.  Where are the two condensers actually going to be put along the north side, affecting us.  Why is a loading dock being allowed at the side of our property?  Will there be cameras placed on the property, where? Is the 100 parking spaces inclusive of staffing needs -- their literature seems to imply that staff should come and leave by bus (local and municipal).  Their literature also recommends that traffic should avoid the bridge over the Sydenham river, pouring onto the side streets.

The owner is being allowed  to use the excuse of "spatial constraints" ( the City picked him because his company promised to keep all the buildings intact making it impossible to accommodate the 100 parking spaces required for this size of facility).   The majority of the parking will be permitted along the sides of the street, beside our homes. Shuttle buses and valet services will shuffle the guests back and forth to distances up to 500 metres from the facility, disturbing the peace in the wee hours of the morning. Guests are to be warned that on-street parking stops at 1 am until 7am.  Will the owner pay the fines or the cost of towing the vehicle of a tardy guest?

Noise will be an interesting problem. We suffered for 23 years with noise -- 24/7 (people, machines). Will the air be filled with diesel fumes and backup beepers again?  This is an event venue. There will be music and noise pouring over the stone walls, into the night, seeping out of buildings and the open entertainment areas at the rear.  This is a residential area.  Noise is to stop at 11pm.  There is to be NO amplified music at any time.   The  owner has produced lots of reports showing the spread of noise from the property. They have determined that whatever the noise of activity, it is "acceptable" to us (whether from guests or operations such as condensers, movement of trucks, etc.).

Traffic is another unknown. Third Avenue East is a busy thoroughfare to places like the Bayshore Arena and Inn on the Bay -- both busy spots with lots of busy traffic. Imagine weekends with this facility added to the mix.  The Aquarium was sunk on the traffic issue alone. Imagine our surprise when reading the owner's report suggesting that we should all help with traffic congestion by using bikes to move around town! This area has one of the oldest populations.  There are children getting off and on buses twice a day on this block. Currently, we have trouble getting out of our laneways with vehicles pouring down 15th Street like bingo balls.  When the light changes at 10th and 3rd Avenues East, it's like the hounds have been released as vehicles hurtle down the street towards us.

We are told that we won't mind the dust (from the re-construction and daily activity), odour (from the kitchens, garbage bins), vibration (from re-construction, condensers). Their reports have determined that it also is "tolerable".

The people surrounding this property know, from years of experience, what noise and activity will pour over their homes and affect their lives -- not the professionals, with their reports, claim will affect them.

Yet, we are being asked for our input to allow this rezoning from Institutional to Commercial. What if the new owner decides that he can't make it on these small margins or demand doesn't meet expectations. Will the effect of the change allow something even more sinister to be allowed or will the fact that  the property has already received a change of zoning make it more attractive for flipping?  People that I talk to are asking this question.  Are we naive? 

The mayor,  et al., keep bringing up the fact that this proposal will make this area more attractive.  Maybe to some, after all it will probably clean it up, but at what cost to the residents of this area? This property is almost completely surrounded by homes, except for the corner occupied by the fire hall and ambulance buildings. It was interesting to read the assessment of the new owner's people.  They remarked that the City did a survey of people in the area (October 2019) at the Bayshore Arena, presenting five options.  Despite pretending to be taking a poll, with our little blue dots to be put on the board, the City knew the decision -- as the report said, it was to "do nothing".  The report, probably to absolve itself of blocking low-cost housing to be built on this land, mentions that there has been plenty of time for the City to act on building said housing (action where the City would have to pay for the cost of remediation and reconstruction).  Again the City opted to "do nothing" (per the same report). The City had let the County of Grey get away with not keeping this property in good, healthy condition, making sure that the contamination was removed before they had to buy it.  The City has had this property since the end of 2013, refusing to clean it up and allowing the building to continue to deteriorate, putting plywood on the windows, the stonework to fall out and the grounds to fill up with overgrowth and garbage.  Any new owner has to maintain the grounds to the City's standards.  Since the City has owned it, the buildings have been broken into and vandalized as no one has made the effort to secure it properly.  The City has abdicated its duty and trust to maintain the site in good order, preserving its heritage. Like an old hooker, it was sold to the lowest bidder and left on the side of the road.  The new owner has two years to bring the property to fruition, during which we have to live with its shabbiness.  I have been told that the Bylaw Department is driven by complaints.  I have made complaints over many years, as have others, to no avail.

When we sat in the Beaver Lumber parking lot in July of 1987, across from the old house we were anticipating to buy, we were filled with hope that the lovely, but worn limestone building, bereft of its original front verandah would make a grand accompaniment to the home that we planned to renovate. We had no idea of the hell we would experience.  This latest incarnation is hard to bear. You talk about the area being artistic and a wonderful place to live yet you are willing to put a facility with drinking facilities and partying in the midst of our family homes.

Mr. Ainis knew that this property was "Institutional" when he bought it.  He must have been astute enough when he and his people assessed it to know that things like parking were impossible to comply with.  Most properties have to contain parking within their own lot; the expansion of that to another lot no more than 100 metres from the property was dismissed and the City expanded that to on-street parking up to 100 metres away.  The owner then declared that he thought that a limit of 500 metres would be more suitable to his purposes due to his willingness to preserve all the buildings. The Courthouse complex was never designed to accommodate that volume of parking and trying to pretend otherwise does a disservice to its original purpose.

For  me, on a personal level, this will be a repeat of the pain that we experienced during the tenure of the Provincial Maximum-Security Jail.  From what I have seen and heard, there is no way to mitigate the problems of noise pouring from a facility like this.  It would have to be entirely enclosed and soundproofed.    Placements of activities would require adjustments to the structure or purchase of the old Land Registry.  Any dumpsters and loading docks would have to be placed at the rear of the property -- not at the side of our property, including areas for staff breaks. Snow removal would be done during the day when the facility was not holding events.  Someone once remarked that if our destruction had happened today, "they" would not have gotten away with it.   Is there some avenue that I have not explored yet?

In case it is not obvious, personally, I don't want this here.  I vote NO to the change to the Official Plan and Rezoning of this property.  Leave it as "Institutional" or, if you can, return it to its 1986 zoning of "Residential".  I am requesting, nay demanding, that the rezoning and change to the Official Plan be denied. The proposal is not compatible with our neighbourhood -- it will completely destroy it. I invite the members of City Council and the new owner, with his people, to come to my backyard to see the proximity of this facility and the effect of his proposal on us.


CopyRight ©2015, ©2016, ©2017 of Hub Content
is held by content creators