MNBP Council Reporter’s Notebook:
Crowding Everywhere on Weekends

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The Head Street/Brock Street intersection in Tobermory on Labour Day Weekend. Traffic was backed up for a block and a half at Highway 6. These people are not having fun.

Special Council Meeting Sept 16 on Traffic Management

By John Francis

Overcrowding at Northern Bruce Peninsula’s shoreline access points has been a steadily increasing problem for decades. But in the last few years, the quest for the perfect social media selfie has taken that to unimaginable levels. Crowding and parking have changed from an inconvenience a few days a year to a daily safety concern from spring to fall.

MNBP’s first step into activism happened a few years ago when the municipality partnered with Parks Canada to solve the crowding problems on Dorcas Bay Road. Parks built an off-street parking lot for its Singing Sands beach and the municipality put up (and enforced) No Parking signs on both sides of the road for a mile in each direction.

2017 photo of Dorcas Bay Road. This traffic problem was solved when Parks Canada put in an off-street parking lot and the municipality put up (and enforced) No Parking signs on both sides of the road.

Residents of Moore Street in Lion’s Head have been complaining for many years about parked cars blocking their driveways and choking off access to emergency vehicles. The last couple of years, the problem has gotten much worse, with lineups of cars inbound looking for parking, outbound cars who have given up the search and hundreds of pedestrians weaving  through the chaos, heading for the trail.

MNBP Council acted on those complaints this summer, banning street parking on Moore Street and taking steps (including hiring a security company) to enforce that ban. 

Crowds walk up Moore Street on their way to the Lion’s Head Lookout. Photo Credit: Joanne Rodgers, Bruce Peninsula Press.
MNBP Council banned street parking on Moore Street earlier this summer, even hiring a security company (shown here) to enforce that ban. Photo Credit: Joanne Rodgers, Bruce Peninsula Press.

Many residents of Big Tub Road and Grant Watson Drive in Tobermory have similar problems. They view the Moore Street action with approval and hope that a similar solution can be found for their neighbourhoods.

Council also moved to limit (and enforce) parking on Little Cove Road, near Tobermory. That did not entirely solve the problem as parking spread across the highway to Warner Bay Road. People seem quite willing to walk several kilometres to get to Georgian Bay.

Crowding problems are not limited to the abovementioned places. Letters to MNBP Council are included in the Agendas for Council Meetings. Over the last few months there have been traffic/parking/garbage/vandalism complaints from residents of most shoreline access roads in the municipality.

Council has a Special Meeting on Wednesday, Sept 16 to discuss “Traffic Management Issues”. Many stakeholders have been invited. It begins at 9:00AM and can be “attended” on Zoom. Navigate through the municipal website.

Bay Street in Tobermory on Labour Day weekend. A very narrow stretch of road that handles hundreds of cars per hour and thousands of pedestrians on a blind hill. It might have been much more dangerous but the high traffic volume and the row of illegally parked cars slowed things down quite a bit.
Bay Street in Tobermory on Labour Day weekend. Cars parked illegally on both sides of the road and traffic at a standstill while the black sedan at the front of the line waits ten minutes for a parking space to open up. MNBP Council plan to address the traffic issues in North Bruce at the Sept 16 Traffic Management Meeting.
The Tugs dive site in Tobermory Harbour, where swimmers, divers and clueless kayakers all share the same very small area of water.

These issues are not unique to Northern Bruce Peninsula — many other locations are having similar problems. In an article in the Sudbury Star (www.thesudburystar.com/opinion/columnists/hard-to-welcome-trash-strewing-visitors), a writer from Kagawong on the Manitoulin notes that “…it’s hard for locals to welcome people with open arms when they leave such a mess behind.”

Aug 24 — Illegal Cabins

MNBP’s August 24 Council Meeting began with a Committee of Adjustment Public Meeting concerning a Minor Variance zoning request from Adventure The Bruce Inn in Tobermory. The request concerns six cabins built by a previous owner. The cabins were built without building permits and construction was halted when an Order To Comply was placed on the property by the Municipal Building Inspector.

The motel’s new owner wishes to install bathrooms on the cabins and be permitted to rent them out. 

Public comment and questions from Councillor Smokey Golden focused on the fact that the cabins were built illegally.

Bruce County Senior Planner Jack Van Dorp noted that the new owner is in no way at fault in the situation; the cabins were already there when he bought the property. This application is simply a request to increase the number of legal outbuildings from three to seven. He noted that the property would still meet all setback and lot coverage criteria and offers adequate buffering for the neighbouring properties. The Planning Dept notes that the variance is, indeed, minor and recommends approval, with a Site Plan Agreement to manage any conditions Council would like to impose.

Councillor Golden argued against the proposal, saying it would encourage other business owners to build cheap cabins out behind their motels. 

Councillor Megan Myles suggested that if a proposal meets the criteria of our Zoning Bylaw, Council would be overstepping its bounds to oppose it.

Councillor Golden continued her argument, saying that if everybody was allowed to build a bunch of rental sheds out behind their businesses it would have “huge implications” on the people living around such developments. If we’re going to allow this, does that mean we allow everybody to rent their accessory buildings?

Council passed the motion to approve the Minor Variance request, subject to conditions in a Site Plan Agreement.

The Future of Fathom Five

A delegation from Parks Canada (as requested by Council) was led by Bruce Peninsula National Park/Fathom Five National Marine Park Superintendent John Haselmayer. (The Powerpoint slides from his presentation are available on the Meeting’s Agenda.) He explained how the Fathom Five National Marine Park planning process was conducted and what changes to the plan were implemented after consultation with stakeholders. He pointed out that the proposed reduction of visitor numbers on Flowerpot Island from 1,000 to 650 would only affect a few weekend days each summer. Weekday numbers would still be allowed to rise to 650. Park staff have observed that most destruction and trampling occurs at times when there are more than 650 people on the island.

Deputy Mayor Debbie Myles pointed out that when the National Parks are at capacity, the overflow puts more pressure on the municipality.

Superintendent Haselmayer stated that Parks Canada takes the long view on things like this. “We can’t build our way out of this.” Parks Canada needs “to work with our regional partners to develop a regional offering”.

Councillor Golden complained that Parks is cutting back at peak times while Tobermory is facing the same pressures. “Trying to train tourists is not all that successful…” People are looking for Parks to find other places for people to go.

Superintendent Haselmayer again suggested the long view, noting that turnaways at the Grotto parking lot are down 50% over the last few years. “People do get the message; they do learn.”

“They just go somewhere else,” Councillor Golden responded, “but we’re out of places.”

Superintendent Haselmayer did not disagree, but continued to expound the long view, suggesting capacity limits and enforcement; “we need to think ahead as a region”. If Parks were to build a 500 car parking lot for Driftwood Cove, “it would be full in a year and then you’d have to build more.” He advocated for sustainable planning — setting limits and sticking to them.

Mayor Milt McIver informed Superintendent Haselmayer about Council’s Sept 16 Special Meeting on traffic management.

Councillor Megan Myles had filed a Notice of Motion at Council’s Aug 10 Meeting. Her motion proposed expanding paid parking beyond Tobermory, to generate a tourism-specific revenue stream for the municipality. After discussion, Council amended her Motion to broaden its terms and passed it. The issue will receive further discussion at the Sept 16 Special Meeting.

Sept 16 Traffic Management Meeting 

Under Other Business, Council discussed the terms and scope of the Sept 16 Special Meeting. CAO Peggy Van Mierlo-West stated that she will provide a spreadsheet detailing all complaints and a map of the hotspots and where things might overflow to if No Parking signs are installed. On the subject of Little Cove Road, Mayor McIver noted that “we’re pitting local people against local people” and that’s not right.

Councillor Myles asked about using gas tax revenues to fund a shuttle service. CAO Van Mierlo-West responded that buses don’t solve capacity issues.

Future of Cabot Head Road

At MNBP’s Special Council Meeting on Sept 2, Council discussed a proposal to turn Cabot Head Road into a multi-use trail. A resolution was passed that “Council supports in principle the collaborative submission of an Ontario Trillium Fund application submitted by the Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory, Friends of Cabot Head Lighthouse and Bruce Peninsula Biosphere Association pending conversations and further information being brought back to Council.”