Special to Niagara Now/The Lake Report
With the pending sale of the Parliament Oak site, the contentious issue of dense residential development on the property appears to be closed. Good.
Now it's time for a plan to avoid this happening again in the future and the key to that is every level of government agreeing that residents' voices come first.
As anyone listening to me will have heard, building homes is one piece, and only one piece, of the immediately needed solutions to the housing affordability crisis that keeps our kids, and seniors looking to downsize, out of the local housing market.
Despite this need, I firmly believe there are some areas of our province that we should carefully consider development on. That includes protected greenspaces, environmental landmarks, and yes, cultural heritage sites.
It is not hard to find the history of the Parliament Oak site or the Old Town itself. Our Greenbelt should not be sold off for mass development and I feel the same way about losing our cultural heritage in a space that played such a crucial role in the founding of this country.
These spaces are special to our nation and our community – and that needs to be recognized.
That isn't to say the space cannot be developed. In fact, there have been development ideas for Parliament Oak that I supported. A number of years ago residents wanted to use the space as a community centre to give back to the town — I thought that was an idea worth pursuing.
That is a night and day difference from selling the property to a developer who seeks to create as many units as possible, not to address the housing crisis, but in the pursuit of profit.
So what's the solution? Well, if we could turn back time, we'd reverse the detestable decision of the Wynne government to shutter the school and cut the neighbourhood off from easily accessible education.
How ironic that a space supposedly shuttered due to population issues is now being considered a solution for a rapidly growing population. However, fond wishes and nostalgia won't bring the site back, so we must look forward.
I believe the residents who surround the site are the stewards of the Old Town. Go ahead, talk to them and see. They love the area and know its history better than anyone not from the community.
Any future developments should bring them to the table. They've proven they're reasonable and willing to discuss future options that give back to the community so long as the historic nature of the Old Town isn't torn down and cut up.
To me that's reasonable. Any approvals should have them at the table. That way we redevelop the historic site without ripping up the history.
I do give the lord mayor, town councillors and staff credit for hosting the meetings they did to give these residents a platform. I think many of us appreciated hearing the voices shared in those platforms set up by our local representatives.
Now we must look toward what mechanisms we can put in place to ensure those voices have a true impact on future developments before the projects are planned – not after.
Like the Greenbelt, once you develop on it, you can't get it back. These spaces were preserved by our ancestors, who built the community we love. We shouldn't be the generation that refused to offer our kids the same thing.
Wayne Gates is the New Democratic Party MPP for Niagara Falls riding.