The Kinsmen Centre will be demolished next year and replaced by five residential building lots fronting Lakeshore Road, a move that will close one of two public access points to Baxter Park.
In a 5-3 vote, city councillors decided the land sale and tax assessment it will generate trumped the wish of residents to keep it in public hands.
“We have to look at making decisions for this city for everyone involved that are economically sound,” said Coun. Cindy Scholten, who advocated selling more of the land for nine new building lots.
“We are not in a good shape financially,” she added. “Our operating budget is hurting, our assets are hurting.”
City officials have argued the two-acre Kinsmen lands are technically not part of the adjacent six-acre Baxter Park, a point strongly disputed by a disappointed citizen group that collected a 500-name petition opposing the move.
“Why did you chose to sell perfectly good parkland when it’s the building you claim is the issue?” resident Giselle Owen asked in a final pitch to councillors.
“Last July, when you declared the land surplus you did so with no public input,” she added, noting that was a contravention of the city’s own 2006 parkland protection bylaw.
“It was put in place to prevent scenarios such as this one,” she said.
The future of the Sarnia Kinsmen Community Centre at 656 Lakeshore Rd. became doubtful in the fall of 2015 after mould was discovered in its ceiling and walls.
Tenants forced to vacate included the Sarnia Kinsmen Club, which had helped convert the former elementary school into a community centre in 1981.
The building will now be referred for an environmental site assessment and demolition in 2018.
City staff will initiate a plan of subdivision which, when complete, will leave Colborne Road the only access to Baxter Park and the Lake Huron beach.
Suggestions from the community, including the citizen group’s proposal for a covered picnic pavilion and washrooms, will be referred to a parks and recreation master plan process, also scheduled for 2018.
Voting in favour of the five residential lots were councillors Andy Bruziewicz, Bev MacDougall, Matt Mitro, Cindy Scholten and Brian White.
Voting against were Mayor Mike Bradley, Dave Boushy and Mike Kelch.