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Saturday, November 26, 2022
Council approves new-look for Old Town gateway

A new gateway design has been chosen for the entranceway to Old Town that does not feature a controversial obelisk and aims to be of a design more reminiscent with Niagara-on-the-Lake’s heritage buildings.

The obelisk design, its size and the modern look of the wall received overwhelmingly negative reactions on social media, letters to The Lake Report and an online survey done by the town.

With the removal of the obelisk, the project is now moving forward and donor Gerry Kowalchuk couldn’t be happier.

“I couldn’t feel better, it’s as simple as that. I’m elated,” Kowalchuk said in an interview Tuesday.

Kowalchuk initiated the project with a $250,000 donation through the Gerald Kowalchuk Family Fund.

The new design was presented by Seferian Design Group during a council meeting on Monday. There were three options: Option one had the obelisk, option two did not and option three was to scrap the project entirely.

Council unanimously voted for option two, getting rid of the much maligned structure once and for all. About 75 per cent of survey respondents did not like the design of the obelisk. The option was passed in principle.

“Proposal number two, it's a concept and I'm expecting the consultants with staff to flesh out that concept,” Coun. Allan Bisback said.

“If something comes out that's astronomical, i.e. a huge increase in operating costs or a huge increase in costs assocaited with the plaza that the wonderful donor is saying he can't do, then they would come back to council.”

Kowalchuk credited Seferian for working hard to produce a design appropriate for the town.

“Seferian were supposed to provide us with two or three conceptual drawings in their contract. They made eight,” Kowalchuk said.

The new design shown at council brings the total to nine.

Representatives from Seferian produced a new design based on the comments collected on the town’s Join The Conversation page.

“We took the survey results to heart and we really tried to create a redesign that reflected the heritage of the area better than the first design,” Brad Smith, a senior landscape architect with Seferian told council.

Kowalchuk said it was important the team took the public's comments seriously.

“I don’t want to be labelled with this as just greedily getting what I want,” Kowalchuk said. “I respect the fact that people did participate.”

The new design focuses on a stone wall built using historic-looking building products such as dry stone or brick to evoke the history of buildings such as Fort Mississauga, said Haig Seferian, principal architect for Seferian.

Smith said the rock would be Queenston limestone or whirlpool sandstone, which are both indigenous to NOTL.

The designers said they tried to bring the design within the dimensions of the existing gateway.

The current signage reaches a height of 2.1 metres and the landscaped area stretches 25.3 metres along Queen Street.

The chosen design will be 24 metres along Queen and reach a maximum height of roughly 3.2 metres where the town’s emblem will be installed. Most of the wall is 2.1 metres high, according to the conceptual drawings presented by Seferian.

An arched doorway along the left side of the wall could be slightly taller, Smith said. He repeatedly stressed the design is conceptual and can be adjusted now that the project is guaranteed to continue.

The design also features extensive planting along the wall and proposes redesigned corners on the south side of Queen Street at Mississagua Street.

“We’ve proposed an enlarged plaza/gathering space on the southeast corner. That would allow some congregation to view the sign across the road and take pictures,” Smith said.

There will also be low shrubs planted around the street corners to deter pedestrians from crossing to the north side of Queen, he said.

Coun. Gary Burroughs was worried shrubs planted on the corners of the intersection would obstruct the view of drivers.

Seferian, said the shrubs will be no higher than 30 or 40 centimetres and would have no impact on driver visibility.

Smith said the team wanted to bring the same expertise to the gateway project as it did to the Pillar and Post’s “Monet Gardens.” The company plans to create “nothing less than an absolute horticultural marvel.”

Burroughs asked Seferian if four-season or perennial plantings were planned.

“Absolutely four seasons. It has to have a seasonal change every couple of months throughout the year,” he said.

“Wow. OK, I’m sure (parks and recreation manager) Kevin Turcotte will come to us with a budget,” Burroughs answered.

Fears about the added price of the extensive planting required were slightly allayed by Kowalchuk, who said he was pleased to see the slowed-down project making gains.

“It was a wise choice, number two. And the reason I say that is any savings by not putting the obelisk up will automatically go to the plaza on the other side of the street,” Kowalchuk told councillors.

Lord Mayor Betty Disero, Coun. Clare Cameron and Burroughs were worried about the removal of the changeable signage sitting at the top of the current gateway.

“Many of our cultural groups have always enjoyed the benefit of being able to put a little advertising on that sign when there are events going on,” Burroughs said.

Seferian said the design could include a place on the wall for rotating signage to promote events around the municipality.

“These are things that will still come out in dialogue as the drawings develop,” he said.

Besides the obelisk, the other most controversial aspect of the gateway has been the three-way stop associated with it. Coun. Sandra O’Connor wanted to raise the issue during the meeting but chief administrator Marnie Cluckie said it was a separate issue.

The intersection change was made to accommodate traffic concerns in Chautauqua and its effects will be considered as a part of the Transportation Master Plan, engineering supervisor Mike Komljenovic said in an email. That means its association with the gateway project is purely by proximity.

Gracia Janes of the Niagara Conservancy spoke against the project even after reviewing the new designs.

“Although (Seferian) has the nerve to show images of Fort Mississauga there’s no mention of the view being blocked,” Janes told councillors.

Kowalchuk noted trees near the present gateway already block the view of the fort.

Seferian showed a picture in the presentation taken behind the current signage, facing north through the golf course toward Fort Mississauga.

“(The fort) is still completely blocked by the trees on the golf course,” Kowalchuk said.

Janes also felt the building materials did not accurately represent Old Town.

“Dry stone walls have nothing to do with the buildings in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Our heritage homes are wood and brick. Dry stone walls have to do with Queenston,” she said.

Seferian said the concept is to use dry stone but the company would be willing to use whatever building materials it is directed to as discussions on the design continue.

Janes pushed for council to accept option three, which would have stopped the project entirely. She said the wall is not beautiful and has a “depressive and oppressive” feel.

She also had issues with how the project came about.

“This project was not started by council, and it was not started by the people in council or strong opinion from a heritage group or the heritage advisory committee,” she said.

“It was started by one person and this, in our view, is not the way to do it.”

Kowalchuk said he had no problems with the criticisms regarding the project over the past few months.

“I’m not offended at all,” he said. “I’m not doing this to turn people off. I want to be happy about this.”

The approval of the design puts to bed a months-long debate over the gateway project.