"It was the best of times. It was the worst of times ...," wrote Charles Dickens in his great novel "A Tale of Two Cities." Something about that line has stuck with me as it might describe two villages that are part of Fort Erie Township. Back before amalgamation in the late 1970s, Fort Erie proper, whose business area was dubbed Bridgeburg Station, and Crystal Beach were very separate entities. Each had its own character and demographics; each had its own council, budget and tax base. Crystal Beach, sandwiched in between Bertie Township which comprised Ridgeway and Bay Beach/Point Abino, was a very prosperous village because of its tax base provided by the Crystal Beach Amusement Park and its large percentage of seasonal home owners. These home owners, especially the ones who owned lakefront "cottages," paid high yearly taxes, yet most lived in the village for a just few months in the summer. Most were Americans, some cottage owners for several generations.
Of course, we all know what happened in 1989: The Crystal Beach Amusement Park closed forever. We also know that the village of Crystal Beach, Bertie Township as well as Stevensville and Crescent Park were all part of the Township of Fort Erie which had assumed the treasuries and the taxes upon amalgamation. Crystal Beach was pretty much set adrift after the amusement park closed. A couple of groups were formed to lobby for help for Crystal Beach which had been left devastated by the closure of the park. A developer seized the amusement park land for a song and built a gated community right in the heart of Crystal Beach. The rest of the area was red-lined so that few could afford to buy the now bargain basement homes available in The Beach. A lifeline was thrown in 1996 in the form of a C.A.U.S.E. Study that recognized Crystal Beach as a "hidden gem." The recommendations offered by the prestigious panel were a blue print for the future of The Beach. A template that was used later in a volunteer group brought together to write a neighbourhood plan for The Beach. That award-winning neighbourhood plan gave specific recommendations regarding building height and the retention and acquisition of waterfront property. Many believed that the plan was very clear that there would be no private development of the former Rebstock Family owned Bay Beach Properties, bought by the town in 2001.
The C.A.U.S.E. recommendations and the Neighbourhood Plan of 2005 formed the basis for the opposition over the high rise project planned for the Bay Beach Properties' south, lakefront portion.
Almost on cue, a group from what could be called Old Fort Erie decided to go after those who opposed the Molinaro Tower project. They put down everyone who was against the project and lumped everyone together as NIMBYs and blamed summer residents, mostly Americans, for stirring up trouble. They're still at it even though the deal has now been canceled by the Molinaros.
Meanwhile, they fail to do anything about the blight and devastation in their own end of town. Jarvis Street looks like Crystal Beach did back in the 1990s. One of the idjits even made a video in an effort to disparage four councillors he disagreed with. The video showed empty store fronts on Jarvis Street - in fact, all through Old Fort Erie. Duh-oh. The only argument it represented is that Old Fort Erie is in a huge economic slump - hardly the fault of those opposed to one high rise at the other end of town.
Maybe the slump is due to the opposition to a privately-built truck bridge at that end of town. The Ambassador Bridge was quashed by the efforts of the so-called Peace Bridge Authority and certain council members and the mayor. The PBA cited its exclusivity to the international corridor and presented a companion bridge plan that was quickly shelved once the threat of the Ambassador Bridge was killed. Now that would have been a project that would have brought jobs and more jobs to the town. Oh well.
The point is that Crystal Beach is coming back stronger than ever. New builds; cottage rehabs and new businesses are changing the demographics and the face of Crystal Beach. In the past couple of weeks alone, a new and very popular Chinese Restaurant has opened and the Fifth Annual Polar Bear Dip and Chili Cook-off brought out more people than last year. Fall brings the ever-popular 5K Walk/Run and, all summer long, The Beach is crowded with people. The Crystal Beach Business Improvement Association is a strong, diverse group that has moved The Beach ahead through hard work and organization. Members of the BIA do not all agree on the embattled Bay Beach Project, but they still work together for the betterment of the community. That is truly admirable.
Perhaps the anti-NIMBY crowd could put their efforts towards improving their end of town instead of attacking those who are expressing their opinion about a now defunct development project. We're ready to move on. We have a lot of work ahead of us to prove that we were right about Bay Beach. We want to see our public waterfront land become an example of community spirit and co-operation to make it a great public space for generations to come.
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