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May. 19, 2019 | Sunday
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Residents speak out on official plan
Public meeting for the official plan took place at NOTL community centre on Feb. 25. (Dariya Baiguzhiyeva/Niagara Now)

Niagara-on-the-Lake residents took the podium to speak their minds about the town’s official plan.

The meeting took place at the NOTL Community Centre on Monday night.

The town held two open houses and one public meeting this month to hear the public's opinion on the official plan. Members of the community now have until March 15 to submit their written comments to council before it goes to the region for approval.

There were a number of top issues brought up at the meeting.

Intensification was one of such topics.

Pat Rapone listed a number of benefits the plan would have if it allows intensification. Rapone used the example of a St. Davids’ block between York Road, Concession 5 Road, Warner Road and Tanbark Road. He said the land is scarcely populated, isn’t being farmed and remains underused despite a number of services provided in the area.

He suggested considering including this block within the urban boundary or at least to allow creating one acre of estate lots.

“Allowing development makes the most sense to me and all the area property owners (with) whom I expressed my opinion," he said. "(It) should make good sense to municipal and regional planners as well.”

On the other hand, Gracia Jones, president of NOTL Conservancy Group, said the town has already met its 15 per cent intensification target.

“We feel strongly that to make the intensification target ‘the minimum’ invites an increase later on, and that the town must take a strong position that our 15 per cent intensification target for all new dwelling units is the maximum,” she said.

Jones also pointed out any intensification development should be directed towards the areas where it will not impact cultural heritage resources.

Among agriculture issues, John Kirkby said he was “disappointed” in the proposed official plan and suggested it recognizes the impact of enhancing and restoring natural features on specialty crops.

“When the Greenbelt plan was developed, we understood it was to protect the best farmland for crop production,” he said. “We did not know it was to increase unmanaged vegetation that will impact our crops we’re trying to produce.”

Some St. Davids' residents expressed disappointment at the lack of their inclusion in the plan.

Mike Pearsall from St. Davids Ratepayers Association said the official plan cannot be accepted as it is. He listed a number of issues in St. Davids, such as a need for school and swimming pool improvement, and said the village should be included in the official plan.

“There is no way you’re addressing a significant portion of your population,” said Pearsall.

Dorothy Walker also had concerns with the plan as she said she felt St. Davids “was left in the shadows” within the plan.

St. Davids needs a community centre, a “bricks and mortar library” and a sustainable bus route as the village has a mixed population, she said.

“Currently residents cannot move freely between the communities without having their own transportation. And an increasing number of senior residents have deteriorating eyesight problems and cannot drive,” said Walker. “We all pay taxes and it seems that these taxes are not used in a uniform way to benefit all equally.”

Walker said the town promised to provide walking and biking trails, to replace felled trees and to provide benches in and around the village but these plans and promises were never fulfilled. Sidewalks and the community swimming pool also needed upgrading, she added.

As the wine industry plays a vital role in NOTL, there were quite a few numbers of wine-related questions addressed to council.

Jamie Slingerland, director of viniculture at Pilliteri Estates Winery, said the official plan should require farm wineries to have a minimum of 10 acres and estate wineries to have a minimum of 20 acres. He also said 75 per cent of the land should be planted to have tender fruit or specialty crops of grapes.

Debbie Zimmerman, CEO of Grape Growers of Ontario, said “locally grown” wines should be clearly identified as “grown in Ontario.” She also expressed her support of the requirement of a minimum acreage and said it was important to integrate the natural heritage system with the agricultural system.

“The naturalization sites need to be managed as to protect them from becoming reservoirs or harbour sites for noxious weeds, invasive pests and other fauna that might negatively impact on the surrounding properties,” said Zimmerman.

On the contrary, John Henricks from Niagara Planning Group said the wine industry and agriculture-related businesses need more flexibility as they are already “heavily regulated by the province.”

“Don’t close doors for developers,” he said. “Wineries are making more money than farms and we want to be comfortable where we’re going. Farms need to be viable by making money.”

One of the last presenters was a lawyer Patrick Little from Heelis, Little, Almas, and Murray LLP of St. Catharines. He was speaking on behalf of his client group, Save Our Randwood Estate. Little said there were site-specific policies regarding the estate that weren’t included in the new official plan. He said it could be an “inadvertent error” and that his clients “request that specific policies be carried forward.”

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