Downtown on path to becoming a soulless, random discordant mishmash of development...


There's a scene in Pee-wee's Big Adventure when the childlike, little man in the grey suit and red bow tie rescues all the animals from a burning pet store.

Risking life and limb, Pee-wee rushes into the smoking store time and again, emerging with kittens, puppies, bunnies, budgies and goldfish.

But the most dramatic moment is when the unlikely hero, his face contorted with revulsion, bursts out of the inferno with two handfuls of writhing snakes.

This moment of triumph -- overcoming deep-seated fears and doing the right thing in a moment of crisis -- has remained with me ever since.

And I often feel like Pee-wee Herman standing alone outside that flaming pet store as I watch the destructive forces at work in this human zoo we call Orillia.

Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one who can smell the smoke and see the flames. Where are the rescue units? Why hasn't anyone raised the alarm?

Sometimes there are so many fires burning at once, I don't know where to start.

There is definitely smoke seeping out the windows of the proposed new official plan. If approved, there could easily be a palisade of eight to 12-storey buildings along a 10-block sweep of the waterfront from Tecumseth Street to Cedar Island.

Orillia as we know it will be transfigured. This is a gold mine for developers, cashing in by providing exclusive waterfront views for the well-heeled and obstruction, shadows and the loss of a delicate balance for the rest of us.

The charming prospect of church steeples rising like lighthouses above a rolling sea of sugar maples will vanish as the money-generating highrises rear up like oil rigs.

Done properly, downtown Orillia's historical, early 19th-century character will be tightly locked into a few narrow blocks, while the rest of the downtown and surrounding neighbourhoods become the soulless, random, discordant mishmash of development that Barrie has perfected.

This is all happening with little attention from council. They didn't even know that half of Centennial Park had mysteriously ended up in the new downtown, highrise development zone.

As well as opening the gate to a stampede of highrise, council is hastening the disintegration of historic neighbourhoods by letting hundreds of sugar maples die off with no plan to replace them.

These magnificent trees which make up most of the green canopy you see rising north and west from the waterfront were planted along the streets by a far-thinking municipality almost a century ago.

They are nearing the end of their days and a new generation is not being planted.

The lush canopy is being steadily shredded apart.

To protect the almighty power lines, the city now plants only pigmy trees that will never overarch the streets and can offer nothing but patchy shade.

I see these and many other fires threatening to consume much of what we hold dear in our community.

As Pee-wee Herman must have wondered outside the burning pet shop:

Who's minding the store?

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