DARRYL KNIGHT The Standard UXBRIDGE: Councillors voiced their frustration and ongoing concerns with the York-Durham Heritage Railway when recently reviewing a road closure request.
At a special council meeting on Monday, July 31, councillors review a request from YDHR to close off Railway St., from August 26 to Sept. 3 to facilitate the YDHR's upcoming Dino Train Experience, which will see more than 40 life-sized dinosaur models on the street to offer an immersive experience for train riders.
However, several councillors noted that with the event just a few weeks away, they were frustrated with the last-minute nature of the request. Appearing before council, YDHR's John Perks explained that the closure is necessary for the safety of the approximately 15,000 to 17,000 visitors expected over the course of the event.
Mayor Dave Barton opined that the potential is there for YDHR to be a “This is an incredible tourism asset right in our downtown core that can have a huge, positive affect on our residents and especially our downtown businesses. The concern that we continue to have is when it's not done correctly.” The mayor noted ongoing parking issues with major events at YDHR having a negative impact on businesses in the area, calling parking a “disaster” that can force potential visitors to look elsewhere to spend the day when there are major railway events. The mayor compared downtown to a “gift shop on the way out of a tourist attraction.”
The mayor added that the township operates with reduced staff in the summer months due to vacations and the limited council meeting schedule of one meeting each in July and August.
“We want you to be successful, but we need time to plan and work out staffing. When we hear with a few weeks notice that you want to close down a major road in downtown Uxbridge, especially when I've heard about your dino festival since March. I'm amazed at how last-minute this is,” added Mayor Barton.
Mr. Perks noted that the railway has been under tremendous economic pressure in recent years and it was questionable in March if the railway would still be in operation when the dinosaur festival was scheduled. In response to parking concerns, he noted that the railway has a threshold for parking and when more than 400 riders are anticipated, an alternate parking and registration area are used.
Ward 5 councillor Todd Snooks also noted his frustration with communication from the railway, noting that his last correspondence with the railway came on April 6. Snooks also questioned the timing of the YDHR's plan to offer 'Dino Packs' to local businesses through the BIA with the event just a few weeks away. “All of this planning should be done before marketing,” added Councillor Snooks.
Mr. Perks replied that the railway would like to be included in future BIA meetings so that these issues can be addressed for future events at the railway. He added they are currently planning their fall and winter schedule, and would like to have greater involvement from local businesses to attract visitors from the railway's events to local businesses and restaurants.
Prior to voting on the road closure, township CAO Kristi Honey estimated the approximate costs to the township would be between $5,000 and $10,000 for additional services from the public works and bylaw departments. She also added that YDHR is currently in arrears in payments to the municipality.
The original motion presented by the mayor would have YDHR pay $5,000 for the extra costs associated with the road closure and an additional $10,000 currently owed to the township. However, after discussion and negotiation, the parties agreed to an $8,000 payment, as well as to have YDHR submit a parking and communications plan to the township.