The Estonian Summer Homes Association (ESHA) at Jõekääru has decided, with membership approval, to wind itself down, to sell all its private landholdings and hand over its 50-per-cent interest in 144 acres of parkland to the Estonian Children’s Camp. At the same time it aims to create a ratepayers association that would welcome all property owners. The new ratepayers association would be in charge of managing the community’s roads and ditches, but with no say in the management or have guardianship rights over the parklands. These changes are considered by most folks on the ESHA board to be in the best interest of all Jõekääru property owners.
ESHA says these actions are needed because it cannot financially support the land taxes and other charges related to the operation of the community.
If the issues for the Jõekääru community are only financial, there is another solution that members might want to consider, one that protects Estonian interests, that greatly resolves most financial issues and that maintains the equal partnering relationship ESHA has had with the Estonian Children’s Camp overseeing and protecting the parklands, for more than 50 years.
My proposal for the community of Jõekääru has been vetted with the in-house counsel for the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), Howard Hamilton. NCC is Canada’s leading national land conservation organization. Also assisting in my proposal is Mark Stabb, NCC Program Manager for Central Ontario. Mr. Stabb also works closely with the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA). LSRCA concerns itself with protecting natural resources in the Lake Simcoe watershed, in collaboration with community, municipal, and other government partners.
My proposal is as follows:
Under the guidance of the Ontario Conservation Land Act, ESHA, together with the Estonian Children’s Camp, could enter into a “conservation agreement” or “conservation easement agreement” with the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (or possibly another environmentally focused non-profit group such as Ducks Unlimited), which would place restrictions on Jõekääru’s parklands preventing development, while protecting its natural features and ensuring the current passive use forever.
A conservation agreement is a voluntary, legal agreement between a landowner and a conservation organization that would permanently limit uses of the parklands in order to protect its conservation value.
Conservation agreements allow private landowners to continue to own and use their land and even to sell it. Each conservation agreement’s restrictions are tailored to fit the particular property, the natural features to be protected and the interest of the landowners. The agreement would state that no financial benefit would accrue to Jõekääru property owners in the event the parklands needed to be sold. Environmental easement agreements are perpetual in duration, ensuring long-term conservation.
Once the easement agreement is in place, the financial burden on ESHA would ease as land taxes are reduced, sometimes to zero, ditto for capital gains taxes. Organizations involved in environmental protection are eligible for a wide variety of grant money.
If the parklands are ever sold, and with a conservation agreement in place, the onus is on the future landowners to abide by the agreement and for the other agreement holder (ie. Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority) to monitor the use of the land into the future.
The costs involved in creating such an agreement are shared by the agreement holders, both donor and receiver. The cost to ESHA and the Children’s Camp to create such an arrangement is estimated to be about $30,000.
Tax receipts are available with donation of easement. Capital gains taxes can be reduced and under special circumstances completely mitigated.
The environmental easement proposal avoids the need to create a new organization to replace ESHA. The Association can carry on as is without the fear of future members, Estonian or otherwise, selling the land for personal financial gain. It has the benefit of making all property owners and the camp equally responsible for the parklands, which was the original intention when Jõekääru was created. For the camp this proposal, if adopted, shows REAL goodwill toward the Jõekääru community. Indeed, I believe, partnering as equals with the community in its guardianship of the parklands will greatly assist the camp in achieving its much-desired charitable status.
The environmental easement agreement scenario allows the management of Jõekääru, split between the children’s camp and ESHA, to remain as it is now, but with Canadians joining in on the ESHA side.
With general costs reduced, ESHA will have no need to sell its private landholdings as it now plans to do. Further land development for housing is the last thing the community wants or needs.
Saving the environment is all the rage these days, and it is something the Jõekääru community can get behind. Under my proposal ESHA would see its membership increase (as would its revenues) because there is something solid and real for people to stand behind and believe in. ESHA’s current proposal, however, to create an organization that has no say on parkland management, where the year-round community users of the parklands are relegated to “maintenance-fee-payer” status, is not going to fire up anyone’s imagination, let alone motivate more Canadian property owners to get involved than the handful that currently participate now. I’m hard-pressed to believe that as a community we will be better off or that we will be a stronger community by giving away our precious parklands.
An environmentally based alternative proposal for Jõekääru (38)