Despite being unable to solve traffic problems plaguing the neighbourhood around the site of a new medical centre, councillors voted Monday at their last meeting of the current term to rezone the property and allow the project to go ahead.
Council also handed over responsibility for site plan approval, which covers many of the details of the building, parking lot and landscaping, to the Town's planning director so the developer won't have to delay construction waiting for the site plan to come back to the new council for approval.
Last fall, 10 Niagara-on-the-Lake family doctors from the Niagara North Family Health Team announced they had chosen Lloyd Redekopp's property beside Crossroads Public School for their new two-storey medical centre. The site backs on to Niagara Stone Road, with an entrance from Line 2.
In addition to the medical clinic, which will bring all the NOTL doctors under the same roof, the project will include a pharmacy, laboratory, optometrist, physiotherapist, imaging and professional offices. The doctors, now split between the NOTL hospital building and the Niagara Medical Clinic down the road from the chosen location, will require new offices by the end of 2019.
But before the project could move ahead, the property required rezoning and Official Plan amendments to allow for commercial use, instead of residential.
A majority of councillors voted last month to defer their decision as they struggled with the need for safety measures at the busy intersection at Line 2 and Niagara Stone Road. They were also concerned about the problems of residents living on Henry and Andres Streets and Line 2, who are already dealing with increased traffic and cars parked on side streets in the area, and they had hoped a meeting with regional and town representatives and the property owner might find a solution that would make them comfortable with the rezoning.
They learned Monday the Region has said a flat-out no to traffic lights or a crosswalk on Niagara Stone Road, which is a regional responsibility, so although the Town and Redekopp have agreed to put some money behind fixing traffic concerns, councillors heard those particular solutions aren't going to happen.
Lawyer Tom Hanranhan, representing Redekopp, told council the developer was willing to put aside $75,000 for a traffic light if the Region had allowed one on Niagara Stone Road at Line 2, but a Regional traffic count and a traffic impact study initiated by Redekopp and confirmed by a Town-initiated peer review indicated numbers don't warrant one.
Since councillors agreed it is unlikely the Region will reverse its decision, they asked as a condition of rezoning approval that the $75,000 be secured for two years, for any traffic-calming measures that might help the neighbourhood.
Coun. Martin Mazza continued his opposition to the Official Plan and rezoning amendments of the residential property, stating there is sufficient commercial office space available in town for the doctors, and nothing to indicate traffic concerns could be solved.
“Voting on this today without knowing how those concerns will be worked out is not responsible government,” he said.
“$75,000 is not going to buy my vote.”
He also pointed out that if the medical centre owners decide to charge for parking, visitors to the site will use either Crossroads Public School or neighbouring roads to avoid the fee, and will only exacerbate the current problem, and that the staff report said the town has 57,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space that could be used for a medical centre without rezoning.
Coun. Maria Bau-Coote also turned down the rezoning, saying she knows from her former work with the doctors there are other appropriately-zoned areas to build the facility. In one of those “tough moments around the table,” she said, “I wouldn't be able to look myself in the mirror if I support this.”
Coun. Paolo Miele also opposed the rezoning due to traffic and safety concerns at what he considers a dangerous location.
Coun. Terry Flynn, who put the motion for deferral on the floor last month, said he didn't want to hold up the development any longer, and that he hoped in the future everyone involved can come to the table and find a solution to traffic problems.
Flynn, Coun. Jim Collard, Coun. Betty Disero and Lord Mayor Pat Darte voted to approve the rezoning.