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Schneider family land donation hits bureaucratic road block in Wilmot Township

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“No good deed goes unpunished.”

The Schneider family, along with a local conservation organization, might agree with that old adage.

Since 2020, the Schneider’s have been trying to donate over 230 acres of land in Wilmot Township.

“It's property that has been owned by the Schneider family for well over 40 years, and they have done an absolute outstanding job in terms of stewardship of the wetlands and woods and everything that can be found here,” explained Stephanie Sobek-Swant, the executive director of the rare Charitable Research Reserve.

The family has allowed the public to use the land for recreational activities like hiking and cross country skiing for decades.

Map from the rare Charitable Research Reserve.

Despite their willingness to give away the property for free, the transfer to the rare Charitable Research Reserve has been bogged down in bureaucratic mess.

“It's a big gift the family is making,” said Sobek-Swant. “This should be really a good experience for them, it should be celebratory. They have given so much to this community already, so it's been a frustrating experience to be met with this level of red tape and these delays.”

The issue is over parking.

The Township of Wilmot said in order to keep the land open to the public there needs to be adequate and safe public parking.

CTV News reached out to the Township of Wilmot for an interview but no one was made available.

The township did provide a statement, which said: “The Township of Wilmot follows provincially regulated municipal best practices as they relate to planning policies and permit requirements. These best practices are applied neutrally to everyone despite the size and scope of the project to ensure fairness and equity.”

They added: “While we are immensely grateful for this generous donation to the rare Charitable Reserve, we must follow best practices and apply the same requirements we would apply to anyone in Wilmot. In this case, there has been an application for an amendment to the township's zoning bylaws and it was concluded a parking solution is required to ensure the safety of local residents and limit taxpayers’ liability. Additionally, the township has previously said they will not be footing the bill for the parking lot.”

“We were not very happy to learn that the township continues to make demands for additional parking at the property, because we feel there is no ‘change in use’ proposed,” Sobek-Swant said in response.

Stephanie Sobek-Swant, executive director of the rare Charitable Research Reserve, skiing on the Schneider lands. (Jeff Pickel/CTV Kitchener)

The charitable organization said they don’t know what a parking lot would cost but based on previous projects they estimate it would be over $100,000.

Making the matter more urgent, the entire deal depends on the health of the Schneider family matriarch.

“It's just moving too slow. Jane Schneider, who is the head of the family and who owns this property, she's 94 years old, and the family has been clear. It has to happen during her lifetime, and we really want to honor Jane's wish in that regard as well,” Sobek-Swant explained.

A letter from the Schneider family, shared on the website for the rare Charitable Research Reserve, said if there’s no agreement before Jane’s passing they will be forced to sell the property.

“With the passing of our mother, taxation will be triggered that would necessitate the sale of these lands and, therefore, the loss of access to all,” the Schneider family said in a statement.

The Township of Wilmot said they continue to work with the applicants and the City of Waterloo to find a solution, but they do not know when the matter will be put to council.

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