Sudden Impact

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by Craig Stevenson

The imposition of a correction facility on Kemptville’s agricultural borderlands demands a tough and creative response from municipal officials. The suddenness of the announcement and the potential consequences for this area have left residents in shock. Set aside for the moment thoughts of danger, and of who knew what in this development and when, and of various economic and social consequences for the area. The truth will unfold eventually in those matters. Let us discuss what this facility will look like — because it will have a tremendous impact on the community’s character.

The south end of Kemptville bears a distinction from the north, east, and west approaches to the town. It is the one side of Kemptville that retains a smooth blend of rural and small town, and that transitions into and out of the surrounding countryside landscape in a manner that is visually pleasing. To phrase it in opposite terms, it is the one side of town whose entrance is not characterized by the jarring suddenness of urban sprawl.

Exactly how we quantify that pleasant visual landscape is another matter altogether. What is it worth to North Grenville, and what will be lost when it disappears or is altered significantly? Those questions are worth considering as a community — and they are essential questions for the current council to contemplate.

It’s difficult to pinpoint this council’s relationship with Kemptville’s rural south. One does, however, see signs of indifference. The Kemptville Campus project remains slow-moving and quiet considering its potential importance to the community. By contrast, the focus on re-imagining the downtown core as “Old Town Kemptville” is a fascination of some council members and their vocal acolytes that simply gets the relationship backward. Instead, the focus in the community should always have been to develop the campus as the hinge between Kemptville’s rural regional surroundings and its town core. A properly utilized campus would bring along the old downtown in its wake to provide the most effective relationship between town and country. And yet here we are, with that rural south end under imminent threat.

Nothing indicates that the province’s decision will change. Residents will be given chances to voice their concerns, but those expressions will be constrained by what is within the realm of the possible. And council must vociferously and creatively push the limits of how it can affect this project for the betterment of the community, even if it strains its relationship with Minister Clark’s office.

First to the matter of sightlines. We have no way of knowing what built form the correctional facility will take, or how it will change the current view of the east-side farmlands as seen from the road. It may be possible to limit the footprint of the complex to an area that does not exceed the current built-up area of the farmland, and that does not rise above the treed canopy in a way that creates an ugly view out of keeping with the farm’s character. Council must make it clear to the provincial government that it wants input into the built character of the complex.

Second is the matter of the agricultural lands themselves. Council must not allow the acreage to be swallowed up behind fencing. There is considerable acreage to the north and south of the farm, and council should fight hard for the option to acquire any lands that can be severed from this deal.

Third is the question of how to manage an increase in the volume of area traffic. If allowed, much of this traffic will flow through Van Buren and Prescott Streets. This would add pressure to roads not well suited to what may be a mix of heavy equipment and delivery vehicles, and congest a direct route to schools and the hospital. By whatever means necessary— speed bumps and traffic lights at the corner of Concession and Prescott come to mind— excess prison-related traffic must be discouraged from using this route.

Finally, what of the buildings currently on the farm? The buildings offer a pleasing agrarian view that is consistent with the buildings across
the road at the Campus. If left to the devices of distant bureaucrats and planners, they will suffer only one fate: the wrecker’s ball. This would be a shame, and it must be communicated forcefully to the provincial government that the wholesale destruction of the farm is unacceptable. The architecture of comparable detention centres in other locations suggests that they are not likely to be incorporated into this facility’s design. Some effort must be made to identify which buildings east of the road have legitimate heritage value through connection to the former college—or to agricultural heritage in general—in order to seek their preservation.

Here, then, is a quartet of starting points for a council that must now move beyond the symbolism of governance and embrace the difficult
realities of pragmatic, gritty deal-making. Caught unawares by a development that they might have seen coming, the council must now work to rediscover purpose and value in Kemptville’s agricultural south end, create a vision for it, and salvage what it can from this situation.

The municipality and the provincial government are now at cross purposes, and the imposition of this facility will strain the relationship between council and Steve Clark in ways that other events have not. How hard the five councillors are willing to push the province—and how adeptly they force this facility to adapt to community expectations— will be a considerable test of their future electoral value, and a matter of legacy.

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