Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Beaconsfield City Talking about Yacht Clubs

The City Council of Beaconsfield holds sessions prior to its Council meetings called "Insights into Your City". This Monday, June 18th, the topic will be Yacht Clubs. Beaconsfield owns the properties on which two private yacht clubs lease and operate. Those are the Lord Reading Yacht club and the Beaconsfield Yacht Club. It begins at 7 pm at 303 Beaconsfield Blvd. There is no detailing of the topic beyond its title. However, Beaconsfield has been undergoing a debate with some of its citizens about the city's expenditures related to the clubs. It appears some would prefer not to spend money on property upkeep where the yacht clubs operate. This goes hand in hand with anger over the amount of taxation residents are paying since the agglomeration of cities with Montreal, and higher costs.

As a member of Beaconsfield Yacht Club, the criticism of some taxpayers in the city's investments there is of direct interest.

In an article published by the Chronicle, some of the expenses and criticisms were reported. "Repairs to the Lord Reading Yacht Club's aging seawall and building are listed in the city's 2007-'09 capital program. Beaconsfield could earmark $500,000 in 2007 and again in 2008 for the project. The city owns the yacht club's property, but non-members have limited access.

"Why are they spending all that money on that (land) if other people don't have direct access to it?" said Beaconsfield Citizens Association secretary Larry McKinnon. "(Beaconsfield) needs the money."

Also, the city has also spent $800,000 to maintain the heritage property it owns, where the Beaconsfield Yacht Club operates. That project was initiated after a long period of no investment at all.

There are some interesting issues for citizens and planners alike in Beaconsfield. The city has an enviable shoreline, yet almost all of it is private property, namely housing, obviously an injustice. The small proportion of this property on which the yacht clubs operate are thus extremely valuable, but the real problem is more that private development was allowed to remove such a large amount of waterfront from public use. Compare this laissez faire approach to nearby Lachine or Lasalle, where a large public shoreline is hugely popular. The current issue of whether to invest public money in the yacht club properties is insignificant compared to the lack of proper public planning. What Beaconsfield really needs is a long term strategy to re-claim some of the shoreline used to house the wealthy few, and instead allow everyone's enjoyment of it. The yacht clubs could become an integral partner in the overall plan. The idea of not supporting the maintenance of public properties because of the expense benefiting a private club is legitimate, but misses the longer term issue of public access to the water. The yacht clubs are private, but democratic, member-run, non-profit organizations dedicated to providing boating pleasures. Anyone can apply for membership. The idea of some critics to further privatize the waterfront by replacing yacht clubs with condos, and thereby collecting more taxes is remarkably short-sighted. Resolving financial issues by giving up your assets is a desperate measure of last resort, not reasonable, long term planning with the public interest in mind.

Indeed, the method of public ownership and private non-profit management of recreational facilities is very common. From Associations that run swimming pools, tennis clubs, parkland, soccer and other various sports or recreation, public oversight together with private, non-profit, democratic organizations produce much of what we depend on for quality of life. If the yacht clubs in Beaconsfield didn't exist, would their be any organized watersport in this riverfront community?